“It is impossible to communicate to people who have not experienced
the undefinable menace of total rationalism.” Czeslaw Milosz
People do not appreciate modern poetry when they labor under the illusion that life is logical. Just say what you mean, they say to the poet, straight forward, clear and direct. No metaphors, just plain unvarnished facts.
The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz knew there was no such thing as “plain unvarnished facts.” Milosz walked the fine line most attempt to draw between the rational and the irrational. The common opinion is that we discover ourselves on the rational side if we are sane, and the irrational side if we are not. We do not imagine that we actually wobble back and forth from side to side. We either hold true to the rationality of a rocket scientist or go soft in the head with a jumble of apparent absurdities.
In Mislosz’s view, a poet lives on both sides of the supposed divide. In fact, the poet does not acknowledge the divide. Like the Taoist yin yang, there is irrational in the rational and vice versa. The poet realizes we humans are an amalgam of logic and illogic, and therefore must guard against the “menace of total rationalism.” The poet’s language-work holds in regard both the rational and irrational currents that concur in our experience of the world. The poet lifts into consciousness through the construction of a poem the multiplicity of sense and nonsense in which we all participate. The rational fallacy makes the mistake of assuming that we are protoplasmic computers when in fact we are multi-levels of complexity, many operating beneath ego consciousness. Artificial intelligence can write rhymes and create rhythms but it will never write deep poetry because it is based on the rational fallacy.
Returning to Milosz’s remark, it is difficult to appreciate poetry if we have not yet “experienced the undefinable menace of total rationalism.”
Poetry originates from our deep human complexity employing image, idea, emotion, appealing to both ear and eye, heart and mind. Poets have a bias toward richness rather than logical clarity. A poet’s goal is to create a word-object which transports the reader through thought and feeling into a revelatory experience.
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was a Polish poet who wrote from his experience of war ravished Europe and the crime of the Holocaust. In 1980 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1960 Milosz immigrated to the United States and became a citizen in 1970. He taught at the University of California, Berkley and lectured at the University of Michigan. He died in Krakow, Poland in 2004 at the age of 93.