Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

Poetry of Transformation and Transitions

By Fuad Rifka

Long  ago, a Greek philosopher called Heraclitus said, “in the same river we step and do not step”. By this statement, Heraclitus expresses his view of the nature of reality. As it is the case with the river that its water flows constantly, and is constantly replaced with new water, so is reality in permanent change. The same principle of change applies to the history of mankind. At present, the validity of this principle is most obvious. What we learn today, we have to forget tomorrow, due to the hectic discoveries and inventions, or else we would sink into backwardness and primitivism.

What is the cause of all this hectic change? Its cause could be traced back ultimately to the collapse of the metaphysical tradition.

What has been the role of metaphysics? Throughout its history, the metaphysical has been considered the foundation of the physical. In its light, the universe has been given a purpose, the events of nature have been explained, all questions have been answered, and the human life has been guided and evaluated. In this sense, metaphysics has been the castle in which man used to feel protected against all danger, even the danger of death.

But as Heraclitus states: nothing is permanent except the law of change itself. Gradually, the metaphysical heaven started to embrace heavy clouds. Its stars, its moons and its suns became dark and darker, from the north, the cold winds started to blow, and finally night and more night started to fall on the surface of the earth covering its rivers, valleys, plains, mountains, everything including the metaphysical castle.

What factors initiated the cold winds of the north that extinguished the flame of metaphysics and its light? Several factors, most important of which is the scientific revolution based on the principle: Back to facts. This principle implies that knowledge in its absolute sense is established on the ground of the factual. Only the factual is real, and so the true object of genuine knowledge. As such, the scientific revolution has conduced to the general conviction that the metaphysical sun, being metafactual, has started to loose its validity, its warmth and its light. As a result, the metaphysical had to be replaced with the physical, the heavenly with the earthly, and the omnipotent God with the “omnipotent” man, manifesting his “omnipotence” in his absolute self-assertion, in the form of hectic struggle for the conquest of the earth and its cosmos.

For the sake of power and more power, the modern man has devastated the surface of the earth and its depth. For the sake of power and more power, the modern man has opened deep wounds in the body of the unlimited space, thus depriving it of its mystery. For the sake of power and more power, the modern man has polluted the body of nature and its soul. For the sake of power and more power, the modern man has deprived nature of its symbolic touch, thus reducing it to a system of dead facts.
     In this struggle, the winner will be that one, whether an individual or a nation, whose scientific knowledge and technology is better developed, confirming by this Bacon’s statement, that knowledge is power. For this reason, the hectic competition for the acquisition of more advanced scientific knowledge and more exact technology is unavoidable, thus forcing the man of modernity to keep on going, even running, without having the time to build up a system of habits as a shelter, as a roof under which he can sleep in peace.

Certainly, this critical approach to the scientific spirit of the modern man should never suggest the necessity of renouncing all scientific search an research. Rousseau’s statement: “Back to Nature” is not tenable. Any attempt of this sort would be a kind of madness. This critical approach intends only to wake up the scientific eye from its scientific slumber and help it see the pending danger.

The danger does not lie only in the invention of the most destructive weapons, nor only in the outbreak of irremediable diseases, nor only in the distortion of the beautiful and mysterious face of nature, nor only in the possibility of the most inhuman wars. Surely the already mentioned factors, and still others, form possible sources of danger. But the real danger lies in the possibility of getting conditioned to the belief that reality is confined within the walls of the factual, of what could be calculated and measured, forgetting by this belief that mysterious horizon which encompasses everything, without being itself the object of calculation and measurement.

How to avoid this most dangerous danger that knocks at the door of the modern man loud and louder? Answer: when the man of this modern planet learns how to listen to the silent language of the mysterious horizon that escapes every possible definition. A distinctive way of doing this is the poetic word.

     Strange! How can the poetic word perform this most difficult and complicated job? How can such a word, so fine and so transparent, be the rescue? What is the poetic word?

The poet hears the silent language of the mysterious and interprets it in his own word. The interpreted language of the mysterious would wake up the human consciousness to the vision that reality is cosmic and boundless, thus liberating the mind from the iron barriers of the factual. The poetic word reminds the man of the contemporary planet of the boundless mysterious and directs him to the road of endless questions. As the way to the mysterious, the poetic word “forces” man to stop, to wonder, to think. The fact does not think, technology does not think, the calculative intellect does not think. The poetic word, as the silent language of the mysterious, moves toward the mysterious, uncovers the mysterious, establishes the mysterious on this earth, and puts the mysterious in question. The poetic word thinks. It continues to think throughout the ages, the epochs, the generations, throughout the times. It continues to call the man of this earth to the road of the mysterious, saving him from the suffocating smoke of the factual.

At this point, we seem to have gone astray, namely to have deviated from the main direction suggested by the topic of this discussion, which is: “Poetry of Tranformations and Transitions.” This deviation will turn to be only apparent, if we try to remember what we have done so far.

Our starting point has been Heraclitus principle of change, that this principle is most obvious in the modern times, that its cause in the modern times is traced back primarily to the collapse of the metaphysical castle, that the collapse of this castle is mainly the result of the scientific revolution based on the cult of the fact, that the cult of the factual sends the mysterious horizon down into the darkness of memory, and finally, that the poetic word uncovers the mysterious and reminds the modern scientific eye of its existence, thus saving it from the suffocating smoking of the factual rituals.

Centuries ago, a German poet called Hölderlin must have felt the pending danger imminent in the modern times. In a poems called “Patmos”, he says: “wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch.” Translated in English: “But where there is danger, the rescuer grows up also.”

The rescuer from the smoke of the modern cults of the factual is Poetry.

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