Sunday, June 19, 2011

Poetry: The Very Monastery of Language

William Butler Yeats' highest poetic ambitions (however dubious) seem to have been encapsulated in these words:
I must find a tradition, that was part of actual history, that had associations in the scenery of my own country, and so bring my speech closer to that of daily life. Prompted as I believe by certain dreams and premonitions I returned to Ireland, and with a friend's help began a study of the supernatural belief of the Galway and Aran cottages. Could I not found an Eleusinian rite, which would bind into a common symbolism, a common meditation, a school of poets and men of letters, so that poetry and drama would find the religious weight they lacked since the Middle Ages, perhaps since Ancient Greece ? I did not intend it to be a revival of the pagan world, how could one ignore so many centuries, but a reconciliation, where there would be no preaching, no public interest. I could not like a Frenchman look for my tradition to the Catholic Church for in Ireland to men of my descent, organized Catholicism, with its Guido Reni, and its manuals, does not seem traditional; and in cottages I found what seemed to me medieval Christianity, now that of Rome, now that of the Celtic Church, which turned rather to Byzantium shot through as it were with perhaps the oldest faith of man. Could not a poet believe gladly in this country Christ?  (305-6).
Enter Ryan McDermott's ambitious article on the theology of literature, Poetry Against Evil: A Bulgakovian Theology Poetry, from where I obtained the felicitous phrase that makes the title of this post.  The article is worth working through, but the payoff is tallied up in this paragraph:
A Bulgakovian theology of language integrates the concerns and overcomes aporias of two recent streams of thought about the human situation in the world. In one preeminently modern stream, the post-Kantian hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer stress humans’ capacity to create the world by always-prior acts of interpretation. A more ambivalently modern stream from Edmund Husserl through Martin Heidegger, culminating in Jean-Luc Marion (who writes this genealogy himself), stresses the givenness of creation, ruling out subjective constitution of the world in favor of an always-prior “crash landing” of the given that constitutes the subject to begin with.  Mediating between these two extremes, a Bulgakovian theology of language allows us to conceive (once again) of language as a principle of connaturality between humans and the world, by which we receive the gift of creation and create the gift of the given.
Heady stuff I know, but in short - had Yeats read Bulgakov (the best Patristic scholar of the first half of the twentieth century), he might have sailed to his Byzantium (classical Christianity) far more swiftly, thereby encountering that country Christ he was after.