Poiesis & Inscription

27 Sep

The West was formed by the late Classical appropriation and transfiguration of Hebraic material into the Greco-Roman world, its imperial spectacles and emphasis on representation and metamorphosis. Key works for understanding the friction between these roots, these two very different ways of being in the world, perceiving and describing it are the myth of the Medusa whose gaze turns one to stone; and Tehillim (“Psalm”) 19 which treats the silent articulation of the universe, a song that inscribes without human speech or words. This “articulation which reaches the ends of the worlds” leads to the famous metaphor of the sun as a “bridge-groom arising from his bed to run his race” then turns from metaphor to an inscriptive order of life, the seven kinds of goodness of Torah. 

Wry, acerbic and critical treatments of inscription are Kafka’s “The Penal Colony” and J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. In the latter, the marking on slips of a forgotten people (see similar motifs in Hawthorne, e.g. “Roger Malvin’s Burial” or the fountain in the garden in “Rappaccini’s Daughter”} contrast with or complement the torturous ‘writing’ in flesh of Colonel Joll of the Third Bureau… It also is intriguing, in this interpretive context to study Shelley’s “Lines on the Medusa of Leonardo” (1819) which achieves a synthesis of the inscriptive and visual forms of articulation and mimesis. Inscription, received on the heart through the eyes achieves a radical inversion of divinity. The Kabbalist teaching that the formative letters of the universe (think DNA) issue in a man’s seed and are formed by the mouth is another interesting aspect of the poiesis – inscription antiphony.

I have an extended essay on Poiesis & Inscription written for a forthcoming book, The West, Image-Work and the Wasteland.


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