Affirming limits: essays on mortality, choice, and poetic by Robert Pack

By Robert Pack

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In "A General Introduction for My Work," Yeats tells his reader: "All that is personal soon rots. . Talk to me of originality and I will turn on you with rage. I am a crowd, I am a lonely man. " His message is that the poet should beware of writing from the perspective of the autobiographical self-the self that is neither generalized nor extended through invention, transformation, or identification with others. The historical self is merely chance. Through his imaginative powers, the poet chooses to live many lives and thus to have many selves.

Neither the creation of art, the power of the tyrant, nor the murdering of rivals can confer immortality. People die. If artists consider artistic creation as primary to the meaning or purpose of their lives, inevitably they enact the fantasy of giving birth to themselves that is at heart the manifestation of their deepest despairthe wish for omnipotence. Until they can outgrow this wish and reject it, cast it out, artists live and work as adversaries of nature, for limitation and finitude are their enemies, and they must necessarily find their voices in the violence of opposition.

But this fantasy must fail, and any art grounded in this fantasy is finally a pathetic rebellion against the inexorable facts of decay and death. Rather than relieving us of violent passion that rebels against our mortal condition, the energy of art in the fantasy of creating its own order exacerbates that feeling of violence out of the primary frustration of all art: it cannot prevent death, nor can it give life. Frustration compounds frustration, anger compounds anger, and the hatred of life for what it denies and what it takes away continues to build so that the given world comes to be seen as adversary.

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