Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Aesthetic Experience, by Lucas Hunt

[Editor's Note: We at TLM have been fortunate to have made many friends in literary circles around the country and the world.  One such friend is Lucas Hunt, who both writes beautiful, critically-acclaimed poetry and contributes from time to time to our meager efforts here at TLM to spread the good word.  Enjoy.]

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. --T.S. Eliot

Our reactions to works of art differ from our reactions to other things in a remarkable way. We look at paintings, listen to music, read poetry, and grow conscious of the distinct impressions they have on us. In a perhaps more tangible way, we stand near buildings with architectural presence, watch films with emotional resonance, and come to realize how powerful representations of life can be.

We become aware of something in ourselves as we experience works of art. There may be a strange, yet familiar, force at play, which changes our understanding of things. There may be a sudden clarity, or wild disorientation, as we participate in a dialogue with an artist who is neither present nor sure of our existence. And we pass a subjective judgment, deeply informed by the unconscious, on a work of art, that might last forever.

To better identify the aesthetic experience, let’s look at poetry, for a poem can burn brighter in the dark. It is a foot in the door of time, a kind of entry that makes uncommon sense to the soul. Poetry is a threshold to possibility, which incorporates all things, even death. Who does not want to come into more direct contact with life, especially thru words?

Poetry is the most exceptional form of human language. It expresses our passion with an exactness that defies rational thought. It is the man who is alive, and the man who is dying, walking in the same direction, down the same road. When you read a poem or hear one read aloud, a lyrical transformation occurs in the heart. The rhythm of breath and pulse alter to receive the message of the poem. Its essential feeling becomes yours for a spell. It all depends on how you take it.

It was his nature to suppose,
To receive what others had supposed, without
Accepting. He received what he denied.
But as truth to be accepted, he supposed
A truth beyond all truths.

This passage from Landscape with a Boat by Wallace Stevens fits perfectly with the notion of aesthetic experience as it differs from other experiences. There are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and sexual experiences, to name just a few. Such experiences can be described in terms that are recognizable. We can be relatively certain that our bodies, thoughts, feelings, religious attitudes, and erotic appetites can in some way be shared with others. Aesthetic experience has another dimension.

It occurs to the artist that there is something more to life than already exists. They use the inspiration to create, and suffer from it. It is generally perceived that all people experience a type of artistic motivation at some time in their lives, but often, the impulse gets diverted to other types of experience. However, that does not mean the desire or appreciation for a purely aesthetic experience disappears in those who do not personally express it. On the contrary, the hunger grows. Witness our passion for popular music, cinema, and sporting events. (The latter is an experience with multiple aesthetic qualities, the beauty of athletic performance just one.)

Because the artist makes and does things, others can get a sense of their own creative powers thru the various forms of art. Artists act as mediums to the great aesthetic experience human beings crave. We are mortal, but that’s not it. There has always been a sense of something more, beyond ourselves, that finds expression in the notes of a song, the colors of a painting, or the words of a book. There is a fleeting thing that takes flight when we experience a work of art that comes to represent our very souls.

We were born with the ability to appreciate things not just for what they are, rather for what they might be. Aesthetic experience goes back to childhood, when our imaginations were more potent than the world. Nothing really mattered; it was what you made of things. There was an active, participatory, wildness about experience that swirled in a mix of uncontrollable fascination. If we could have spoken during our early lives (but why break the silence?), it would likely have been in poetry. The poetry of aesthetic experience.


Lucas Hunt was born in rural Iowa, and is the author of Light on the Concrete, published in 2011 to critical acclaim. He studied at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, and in the M.F.A. program at Southampton College. He is the recipient of a John Steinbeck Award for poetry, and lives in East Hampton, New York, where he works at a literary agency.

1 comment:

  1. “poetry evokes the "mereness" of things. It is this experience that provokes the mood of calm and releases the imaginative insight we need to press back against the pressure of reality”. Through the lines we find that objects are transubstantiated by the poets inspiration to become possessions of the mind. Love this quote from  Simon Critchley in his book on Wallace Stevens. Great post