JUXTAPOSITIONS Les Murray “Science Fiction”

Les Murray New Selected Poems (2012), p. 266

“The deeper sources of terror are not simply in approximate grievances. They are in the void space of our nothingness that we know in the intimate universal. For our being given to be in the intimate universal brings home to us the endowed character of all our power, that is, its absolute impotence to be absolute as endeavoring to be. Our nothingness is known in the intimate universal because as being at all we are not nothing but live and move and have our being in virtue of an endowing power that communicates beyond every void. That is why there is something rather than nothing, why we are at all, rather than being just nothing.”
William Desmond, “The Intimate Universal,” p. 147.

Les Murray is a subtle maker of poems that explore the chiastic “reversibility” of the world of flesh; indeed he is an outstanding ecological poet. His range is enormous. Occasionally he will deploy a light style that uses the “lyric I” to parody advanced “progressive” consciousness. His long poem “Freddie Neptune” belongs with the writings of Czeslaw Milosz as essential diagnoses of our captive minds. As a writer of short poems, Murray has mastered the game of the lyric narrative and moves deftly from givens to perplexity up to the edge of the abyss. And beyond.

In “Science Fiction,” his parodic journey from speculative gnosis to one of several destinations, the old terror awaits us. We can’t connect; flesh becomes a broken promise, a wasteland, a field of empty dreams. Communication, made effortless and autistic, is the false double of the communication conceived by the chiasmus, the doubling of self and nonself beyond self in the Metaxy.

Our phones are us. We are voids. (Chiasm.)

We are safe, saved by our devices from “the nothing that can hurt us.” Yet mindful awareness is open to the truth of the paradox of nothing. This is where the text of Desmond becomes useful.

What of Terror? As a concept it has a rich contemporary history—-again we can’t quite do without the figure of paradox (contemporary history sounds jarring). Terror shares roots with our dreams of sovereignty. The COVID-lockdown is superficially prefigured in our digital insulation for those of us lucky enough to live in “advanced society.” Desmond who always seeks the relevant backstory finds original terror in the primordial, shapeshifting ontology of the intimate universal. The void can be the fertile void. Every concept has its double, even its counterfeit double—-good poetry assumes this porous polyvocity. Fluidity disarms conceptual clarity and determination of its modern sovereignty. This allows for terror, this allows for grace.

This is Les Murray country. His poetry is a vast resource of good sense. If education were centered on the lyric narrative Les Murray would be our contemporary Homer. Just sayin’.

Terror is part of conscious life. Dictators use it to gain and keep power for themselves. But fidelity to the openness of Being makes possible the conception of life free of terror. Leave your phone home and you may begin to see that possibility. Love of the other creatures in your niche may bring out the best in you. The endowing power communicates beyond every void.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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