Thursday, June 13, 2013

Polysemous Cyclists

Dario took the bait and here is the responding guest post.  Let's roll this idea around a bit more.


     Tony's eloquent post (Sun., June 9, 2013) launching from verses by Wallace Stevens and landing on a topic, sustainability, which is dear and near to beatbikeblog readers seems at first a stretch. But as I re-read his post, I begin to see interconnections that I think we can develop further. If Stevens did indeed compose his lines while walking to work in the morning and back home in the evening, he wouldn't be the first peripatetic philosopher-poet in Western civilization. Homer, Dante, and Whitman immediately come to mind. But there are so many others. All of them great travelers. Stevens perhaps less so, although he didn't need to travel as far and wide in order to gain perspective on the world. Like Dante, Stevens is a keen observer of the small, the incidental, and of happenstance. For both poets, nothing, however, is ever really small, incidental, or just the result of happenstance. Everything is pregnant with meaning. The "thin men", the "blackbirds", the "golden birds" from the seventh stanza of Steven's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird are polysemous, that is, they can mean many things to many people.

    Imagine Mr. Stevens who was quietly but fervently skeptical of absolute and universal belief systems walking along Asylum Ave. thinking such thoughts. At the time of the poem's publication in 1917, Stevens had recently taken up his post at The Hartford insurance company. World War I was raging. Bolsheviks were taking over Russia. Labor strife in the United States. Revolutionary ideas. Hartford with its history of craftsmanship and industry and also finance was a flourishing city. But not all was golden. Stevens was politically conservative, but he was a radical thinker nonetheless. He had a deep sense of the overarching paradox of our lives that bind all of us together, rich and poor. Of necessity, the poor have to enjoy the "little things" in life. But conversely, if the rich cannot or are unwilling to see the grandeur in the small and in the ordinary, then they are blind and truly impoverished. Lao Tzu reminds us: "Have little and you will gain./Have much and you will be confused."
     In his post Tony writes: "If you want to live a happy and sustainable life, it seems important that we recognize our nearby and local treasures." I'd argue more forcefully: "Without cherishing our surroundings we cannot endure." This is why walking through Hartford (as Wallace Stevens did) and cycling through its streets (like the beatbike bloggers often do ) is necessary and not just important. Without assiduously casting our gaze in purposeful seeing (analogous to the way we view works of art, let's say, or the famous sights of the world's great cities) can we ever fully appreciate where we live? I'm reminded of this question, Tony, when on our rides we see a side of Hartford not seen by many others. The actual experience of seeing is often a catalyst for the imagination and, vice-versa, the imagination inspires our ways of seeing things. Sustainability and, more ideally, happiness require the use of imagination. Perhaps Wallace Stevens didn't need to walk along Hartford's streets in order to create his introspective art. Perhaps he saw the thin men in his mind all along or maybe while walking he saw all too many thin men (real ones and metaphorical ones) that inspired his poetry. For beatbike bloggers, cycling is a catalyst of the imagination and of our own individual sustainability.

Any other aspiring literary cyclists out there in Hartford or regions further?  If so, how goes your appreciation of blackbirds?  Does your imagination seem to be sustainable?  Are you feeling anti-social

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