If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Wednesday 6 February 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!
It might be a bad thing, not to know what’s going on in the world.
I can’t say I really approve of it.
Sharon Olds (19 Nov 1942 – )
One should not be surprised that she, a highly respected modern American poet, should allow for such ambiguity. Language, especially the language of poets, does like to indulge itself in the odd ambivalence and problematizing playfulness here and there.
I note first the latter: the statement opens with ‘It’ and closes with ‘it’ – a lexical frame, as it were. Second: what is the reference in these two pronominals? The initial ‘It’ surely references the explanatory infinitive phrase (“not to know what’s going on in the world”) that immediately follows; but what is the referent in the final ‘it’?
What is ‘it’ that she does not approve of? Is it the ‘not knowing what’s going in the world’ or is it the actual events taking place in the world? It could go either way, actually, and that may be the poet’s point: that final ‘it’ – singular – could as well reference the singular concept (cf. what’s = what is) of a series of events happening in the world as the idea that it’s a bad thing to be ignorant of those happenings.
Once finished teasing the language, I accept the notional duality harbored in that final ‘it’, and — like Kayyam’s “moving finger” — move on.
Why do I feel compelled to check out, first, the pessimistic New York Times to get all the bad and dreadful news out there in our chaotic world, and, second, move on to the optimistic Wall Street Journal to read about all the good things that are happening YTD in the markets (currently [6 Feb] – YTD 6.56 %)? I suppose it makes me feel connected in some way, and in the know about things that I am powerless to affect in any effectual sense of the word. True, it sometimes triggers a thought for a blog, but there is enough stuff floating around out there that I don’t need to strip mine the dailies and scan the better weeklies (e.g., Economist, New York Magazine, Weekly Standard) and monthlies (e.g., Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, Mother Jones) for material.
As for thinking “what’s going on in the world” a “bad thing” – well, there is truth to that, but it is a bit too reductive for my taste. Sure, thing are a mess, and they seem to be getting messier by the day, especially in certain parts of the world, but so categorical and inclusive a judgment about ‘the world’ pushes the material through a reductive sieve with too broad a mesh.
I may be right or may not be right on this, but I imagine that one’s take here is to a very large degree an immediate function of where one is situated, both geographically and psychically speaking. Suppose you live in one of those wonderful villages like Niono in northern Mali recently ‘liberated’ by whatever toxic ideologues currently have commandeered the most guns, or suppose you are one of those Malians liberated from your hand or arm by the religious gestapos infesting northern Mali – well, in either case you’re bound to see the ‘mesh’ far too gross for measuring the realities on the ground. Who could possibly ‘approve of’ that ‘it’?
Is one obligated – whatever good that might do — on some more catholic principle of the brotherhood of man to make and keep oneself informed about these barbaric savageries that seem to have become a kind of numbing SOP routine in certain geographies of our unhappy world?
I know I don’t approve of it.