CARL RAKOSI

from DAY BOOK

 

     If a poet is gifted, there are some distinct advantages to being slightly paranoid. In fact, one can make a great name for oneself in that way. This is because we are Americans and endow energy with charisma, in the arts particularly from the compressions boiler of a paranoia still within workable bounds, whose figurations it has become a vogue to regard as the character of the modern condition. And not without reason, for our nerves have been badgered so long by news reports that a sense of something ominous, perhaps cataclysmic has crossed the threshold and inclines us in that direction. In this vogue the only question is whether the figurations are well done.
     Furthermore, there are things in this state which do actually work in the interests of art. The principal one is the paranoidal bind itself which locks a person into this system and forces him to work as a faithful servant to its exigencies. Since he can't get out, he can't be diverted by anything outside. Consequently all he has to do is follow the messages he is receiving in order to have perfect psychological consistency, dead certainty, inevitability, in the sense that he has to do this, and deadly accuracy, a combination of such great power that it produces artistic shivers which others can achieve only by the greatest insight and discipline.
     In addition, from the inside boiler comes an intensity that passes for passion, and a brilliance as if the poet himself was in the flames of his agony and struggle.
     This inner world, as everyone knows, is apocalyptic-and that is enough to make any man's fortune, for who doesn't know that this world is visionary and profound and that its lone figure is a magus?
     Needless to say, all this is too much to resist. The reader succumbs into folie deux. One is safe only if he has perceived that this is a closed system and that the magus is a prisoner unable to let anything in from the outside that doesn't satisfy his master-no dialectic, no self-understanding, no compassion, no humor-and that the system is not related to what is going on outside: it assumes it is what is going on there. Thus, the only thing it tells about the human condition is its own skewed condition.
     What nobody seems to want to talk about is that there is a distinction, the significance of which is obvious once it is made, between the way in which the imagination and the mind work when they are under orders from an obsession and the way they work in an open field, as in Finnegans Wake, where anything is possible to one who has the means.
     To be sure, there is fascination in being locked in with all that power, with a magus, but if one doesn't have the constitution for entering a paranoidal system, one might still be able to get a kick out of it, as a form of tragedy-another case of man the victim of his obsession-or as entertainment if one has a taste for horror movies.

[Carl Rakosi. "Day Book." In The Collected Prose of Carl Rakosi. The National Poetry Foundation, 1983, 47-48.]