Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Uncertainty and Poetry

Contemporary psychoanalysis has sought to deconstruct the authority of the analyst as ‘the one who knows’ and, instead, struggles to open itself to uncertainty, spontaneity, and surprise in the analytic situation. In struggling to become more open to uncertainty, I was pleased to see on PBS Newshour an interview by Jeffrey Brown on March 4, 2013 of poet and renowned translator David Ferry. Now 88 years of age, David Ferry was given the Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 and recently won the 2012 National Book Award for Poetry for his most recent collection of poems, titled Bewilderment.  When asked by what he was bewildered, Ferry answered,

Everything…just as everything we say to one another is an attempt to try to get something clear to the other person or to ourselves and.... that's always a partial success and a partial failure. … [T]he title [Bewilderment] acknowledges that.

I thought how like the attempt between analyst and analysand that is, or between any two people really, in any relationship, striving to approximate ever closer, and accepting that inevitably it fails, as it must fail, for we retain our otherness.

Jeffrey Brown noted, “ This is a man clearly obsessed with connections and links,” when referring to how Ferry integrates with his original poetry lines from famous classical works [Ferry is  an acclaimed translator of the Babylonian epic "Gilgamesh" and of Latin texts by Horace and Virgil, and is presently working on an English version of Virgil's epic, "The Aeneid"]. Ferry explains. “One reason for doing that is what it says in my own poem [See below], its usefulness for that poem. It also, I think, does mean that there's a kind of motive to connect what you're saying to the past of writing, that you want your own poem to be part of that kind of enterprise.”

Talk about the intersubjectivity of poetry: Ferry is influenced by Virgil and then he changes Virgil when he includes the classic work in his modern poems.  Ferry says it like this:  “When you read something, and especially when you're reading compellingly great [poetry],  that becomes part of your identity, at least while you're reading it. You become changed by reading it.” Though Ferry adds, “And then you're finished with it. Then you're lost again. Then you're back to just who you are.” I know that a number of analytic patients feel that way between sessions as if the change within us is too imperceptible to be held.  I think who we are now includes how the poem had changed us then. Our impact on our patients, and theirs on us, remains, however imperceptible. [You can never stand in the same river twice.]
I will close with an excerpt from Ferry’s "Ancestral Lines" which talks about our connection to the past:

It’s as when following the others’ lines,
Which are the tracks of somebody gone before,
Leaving me mischievous clues, telling me who

They were and who it was they weren’t,
And who it is I am because of them,
Or, just for the moment, reading them, I am,

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