Art and Science in “The Second Person” by C. Dale Young

C. Dale Young

Divided into 4 parts, The Second Person by C. Dale Young examines first the physical body with its emotions and sensations, then moves into the scientific where death and sciences attempts to heal become a major focus before moving into a 27 poem series of triptychs that merge the two. Finally, the book shifts focus and expands its view to examine the world. Young’s poems comfortably flow between the inner and external world as is common in other current poets, but they also shift between scientific and emotional views of the world: one poem for example, shifts between the idea of the mathematical notation of summation that the symbol represents and a less literal view that moves the purely scientific term into the emotional world of the patient who is saved by the summation of the Doctor’s education.

C. Dale Young’s greatest poems are where he demonstrates his own dual nature as a medical doctor and a poet. While his poems about life and love in the first section of The Second Person are well-written and powerful in their own way, they do not serve to separate C. Dale Young from other current poets who write one similar topics such as Carl Phillips. It is not until the second section of The Second Person that one is able to see the true power of Young, and where his unique experiences and perspective shifts his poetry away from the mass of writers. By this I mean that his first section of poems doesn’t resonate as much has the latter sections and, in turn, his poetry doesn’t shift from being “good” to being “memorable” until he begins focusing on his unique perspective.

though infinite, can never meet © by Norma Desmond

One of the most powerful lessons for myself in this book is the power of finding one’s own voice and one’s own topics. What makes a poet memorable for me is not necessarily just the skill in putting words on a page, but what separates the poet from his (or her) contemporaries; for example, I find both Byron and Wordsworth excellent poets, but I prefer Byron because of his unique perspective on the world and the uniqueness of his poems about the mind in contrast to Wordsworth’s focus on nature like many of his contemporaries. It’s very hard to imagine Carl Phillips writing a poem about mathematical notation but not one about lying in a lover’s arms. While there is nothing wrong with writing about similar topics to other poets – after thousands of years, everything has been written about at least once – bringing a fresh and unique perspective to poetry is what makes a poet the most memorable for me.

The subject of science with poetry is especially interesting to me due to my dual Physics and English background; I’ve found that the most useful lessons I’ve had is learning to balance separate elements for science and humanities. As I see how Szymborska balances wit with seriousness, Phillips with experience and body, or Young with science and art, I’ve come to see the importance of balancing a poem’s content on the cusp of ideas rather than forcing one way of thinking through the poem. The most powerful poetry does not have to be all knowing, and it is possible to acknowledge that one does not have all the answers.

A friday in my newsreader: Febuary 22.

Occasionally, so many wonderful posts appear in the lull between the Thursday doldrums and the Friday excitation (pun much?) that I have to “link it up…er…mott”.

  1. It turns out that you can see the effects of trawling for fish from space. Do we need any more evidence against it?
  2. Uncertain Principles posts about the backlash from the Virginia Tech shootings: turns out stage plays with fake wooden weapons endanger students…according to some college administrators.
  3. Uncertain principles also wonders if there is any realistic nanotechnology in SciFi writing.
  4. That encrypted hard drive you might have? Worthless now that the encryption can be broken…easily.

Oh and as a side note, anyone else watch one of my favorite video blogs:

image credit: Pulpolux !!!

The power of the individual: The American Enlightenment and Romanticism

During the 18th century, scientific and social changes reshaped the concept of the self. The individual slowly separated from the collective and began to develop as an antithesis of the collective agrarian society of prior centuries; thus, giving rise to a wave of new philosophical thought that evolved into the popular movement of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment developed around the belief that scientific thought and expression should be free from religious interference and that the foundations of society should be human reason and logic. Over time, these ideals gave rise to Romanticism which introduced the contrast of nature and the self, the internal desires, feelings and beliefs, and juxtaposed Nature with science. Franklin, Poe and Thoreau each represent one of the three popular faces of Enlightenment and Romanticism: Franklin, a well-respected Enlightenment writer, focused his writings on the improvement of the social order through improvement of the self and the realization of a deistic world; Thoreau, an Emersonian or “bright” Romantic, merged Nature with science and allowed for both to work simultaneously while emphasizing the individual’s ability to remove themselves from the flow of society; Poe, a “dark” romantic, wrote mainly on the way the individual views his world and the way the nature of the mind can recreate the world. While they tended to disagree on the specifics, they each agreed that the inner self was more powerful than the external self, and through self inspection a person could change their world and become the purveyor of order in the universe replacing religion, monarchy “” and to some extent “” God.

Arguably the most important “power” that these writers attributed to the individual was the individual’s right to power over their own beings. The ability to self-determine one’s destiny was not only necessary to the underpinnings of enlightenment, but it was also necessary to advance society as a whole. By allowing individuals to have power over their individual being, they became their own masters: no longer subjected by the whims of a larger society. As an illustration of these principles, once released from the tenets of religion, Benjamin Franklin “conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection” (364). By believing in the power of the self and the equality of men he accomplished this without requiring a higher moral authority , Franklin defined his own moral perfection and strove to achieve it. The power the individual has over the self is absolute, but as Poe warns, this can be used for ill: in Poe’s tale of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” his protagonist envisions the world around him through the filter of his own demented mind. The conflicts in the character’s internal self become so profuse that he projects them externally and creates an old man whose eye haunts him, and he is eventually undone when he fails to recognize the beatings of his own heart. This absolute power is both the greatest curse and privilege of the Enlightenment and Romantic views of the self, so rather than leaving this power unchecked, they emphasized the power of Nature as both the antithesis to the self and the guide of the self.

Even though the release from mortal authority and the servitude of religion was central to the Enlightenment, they did not banish the Deities. Instead they either personified deities as part of the natural world which allowed the individual the opportunity to be “part or particle of God” (Emerson, 657) or defined the deities as separate from the world and as a creator but not a participatory member of the universe. Franklin was one of the original Deisitic writers in American Literature, and believed in the separation of religion from God because of the oppressive and meddlesome nature of churches which mixed their theology “with other Articles which without any tendency to inspire, promote or confirm Morality, serv’d principally to divide us & make us unfriendly to one another” (Franklin, 363). As Romantic writing developed it moved the Enlightened Deity from the role of creator into the natural world by blending the deity into Nature and science. This natural view of God continued the deistic way of thinking, and removed much of the remaining power of the organized churches allowing people to find and define their own personal church, and while some created cathedrals out of mountains and trees, others made theirs out of numbers, facts and figures creating the first conflicts between the mystical nature and the exacting sciences.

While the individual had the power to determine their own personal beliefs, some found that they were still oppressed by things they could not control: science became increasingly important, and to some, this was as oppressive as the monarchs and gods of the past. Their objection was that in becoming the absolute authority, science created a monochromatic image of the world which stifled the individual’s ability to perceive the world around him for what he believed it was; however, others quickly realized that science allowed them to open their eyes and see the world both as it was and how it could be. Poe and Thoreau, in a clash between bright and dark romanticism, viewed science differently with the more middle-of-the-road approach being attributed to to the bright romantics. In Poe’s “Sonnet “” to Science” he attacks the mundane aspects of science and refers to it as a “Vulture! whose wings are dull realities” (1223), but Thoreau, in his journals, embraces science, but believes that one can only truly appreciate something when one “forget[s] all [their] learning and get[s] rid of what is called knowledge”. Poe believes that the science accosts his creativity and stifles his ability to be an individual and exercise his hard-won individualism, but Thoreau is capable of independently appreciating nature even if his opinions are invalidated by science because he believes that his power over his own perceptions is absolute, so balancing the science with the mystery of Nature and the joy of poetic expression is not difficult him or other “bright” romantics. These two different views of science are brought about by the way the writers treat science: Poe personified science and held it blamable rather than as a tool, but Thoreau treats science as a tool and because of this, he is able to cast it aside when it is unnecessary while Poe’s creations and imaginings are constantly surrounded, attacked and restrained by a personified science which replaces the monarchs and gods. For writers of similar beliefs to Poe, this restriction by science was contrary to the ideals of Romanticism, and created a stumbling block that hemmed in the powers of the individual.

The only restrictions on the individual, other than the perception of a restrictive science and or those self-imposed, were the restrictions of society itself. These societal restrictions are not the same as the restrictions of a Monarch, but are the attempts of society to control the individual and harness their powers for the good of society itself. To the Romantics, this acceptance of societal pressures was a sort of voluntary defeat which according to some, like Thoreau, was necessary because not all were capable of fully controlling their own lives (820). Thoreau believed that most people spent their lives “sleeping” only using their minds for menial pursuits and living lives “of quiet desperation” (813). However, while Thoreau allowed for control of these sleepers, he believed that should a man wish to remove themselves from the societal order, they should be allowed to: regardless of its effects on the society itself. Thus, the individual is simultaneously an integral component of society, but also transcends such mean concerns when it is necessary for the individual to exercise their powers of reason, imagination, logic and creation.

The writers of the the Enlightenment and Romantic period defined the individual as the reasoning and logical self which interacts with the larger external world, and the powers they attributed to their creation were immense, but they tempered the powers of the individual with the power and mystery of nature. This individualistic view of the self replaced the mean collectivism of European society and formed the foundation of modern perceptions of the individual.

Entertaining speech on dark matter from Yearly Kos Convention

How can you beat a line like: The good news is we understand a lot about the universe; the bad news is it makes no sense.

I used the mysterious beauty of dark matter and dark energy as an excuse to make some didactic points about science and rationality and politics. (If I weren’t an atheist, I would have made a good preacher.)

hat tip: cosmicvariance