23 September 2010

Beverly Dahlen on Oppen

Beverly Dahlen sent me the following notes on Oppen's Daybooks, and I asked if I could share them here. Here's Beverly:

"And because if the universe is matter, it is impenetrable." Oppen, in the Daybooks. Where does it begin? And he comes back to it, again and again. If the universe is matter, it is impenetrable.

I puzzzle over this thought, this recurring thought. What would the universe be, if it were not matter? If it is matter, why impenetrable? I would have thought matter, especially in our time, has been shown to be the opposite: not only penetrable, permeable, but even fragile, nearly illusory. Not, at least, the dense solid stuff we associate with the word “matter.” Not that. Today being the 63rd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Which proved, aside from whatever else it did, that matter and energy are the same thing. If the universe is matter, then it is energy. Blake at least intuited that truth something like 150 years before Einstein worked it out.

So what is Oppen getting at?

Much much later. Days later now, these random notes. Oppen’s notes really random, not much context. These are questions about metaphysics, not physics. About philosophy and the troubling about the “moral” qualities of “matter.” Whether there is inherently any morality in the universe. Or not. Whether perhaps there is god or gods or powers, intelligent forces, moral forces. One is inclined to say no. I shouldn’t think so. I barely understand physics. When we use words like “matter” and “energy” what is meant, really. What can be meant is something quite different for a trained physicist from someone like me. These are forces, “energy” and “gravity” and so on, which are as mysterious to me as they were to neolithic minds.

To worship seems somehow contradictory. Whatever form it takes, whatever ritual, it seems contradictory to the “facts” as we vaguely know them now. that the universe is indeed amoral, that morality is projected onto a being or beings somehow inherent in that universe, and that those beings are not only intelligent but have a sense of morality. It is the power, the powers we wish to placate or possess or somehow comprehend: that is the base.

Nothing I have written here is new. I think of George Stanley’s repetition of the words “stuck stuck stuck” in the new book

the new book = Vancouver: A Poem
surely not Vancouver the city of
he denies it, though he “lives” there, and has for years now
riding on buses, or walking one writes

August 10, 2008

1 comment: