Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The Voice of Orpheus by Jean-Michel Maulpoix

Orpheus is the main embodiment of poetry. His nature is a paradigm for all artists. Both the initiator and initiated, heroic traveller to the beyond, the paragon of faithful love, prophet, priest, troubadour, teacher of the alphabet, civilizer of mankind, mangled victim, Orpheus presents a very rich figure which plays a multiplicity of roles, but he is, first of all, the supreme poet-musician. His original voice doesn't create the world, like the voice of God, but sets up and measures the human sojourn. Orpheus doesn't command as would a divinity, he invites and persuades as a human would. His power doesn't really spring from a very special and sacred creature; it may be interpreted as an intensely human quality. It is precisely the attraction not to be invulnerable or immortal: the charm of precariousness.

The myth teaches that Orpheus is the mythic son of a muse by a human father, thus his main function is like that of Hermes, to go between the human and the divine. He possesses the ability to join, which is precisely the power of language. The whole of creation responds to his powerfully expressive songs. Animate and inanimate orders are joined through his voice. Trees, rocks, wild creatures gather to listen to the lute's music. Orpheus suggests one of the greatest powers in the natural world; W.K.C. Guthric notes that one of the greatest powers of the orphic lyre is its ability to soften the hearts of the fiercest warriors and to turn their thoughts into peace. Thus, Orpheus teaches a way of life, a way to walk and to behave on the earth, to install and create a community.

But he pays an exorbitant price for such knowledge: he loses his love, he descends into Hades (katabasis), he wonders through countries, he moves away from the cities, he learns step by step, what distance and separation are, he dies by dismemberment, and his head, and his voice themselves are separated from his body. The story of Orpheus links the most penetrating songs to the deepest suffering solitude. Curiously, we can observe that Orpheus is both the most solitary and the most surrounded man. He communicates with creatures of all kinds, and the whole of creation follows him, but he goes alone a long way to nowhere. He seems to have lost with Eurydice, his own life. And if the animals of silence follow him, it may be because the lonesome poet knows the sound of any silence to which he is able to give a voice, Orpheus sings on behalf of silence. Consequently, he teaches order and knowledge to humans, but also taciturnity itself which is necessary to understand anything in the world. The voice of Orpheus is never that of a chatterbox. He refuses any sort of entertainment. He links and teaches the most important characteristic of human beings which is to settle in the middle of all things, to link opposites, to pacify struggles, to open new ways to go, and to gather what is separated, dispersed and ill-assorted. So Orpheus embodies the civilizing power of words. His song offers the image of the human aptitude to suspend and to join. Any poem is really a manner to stop a moment, hanging from the beauty of a voice, the slow suffering of death which nobody can escape, and to summon all sorts of things around the loneliness of a man. The myth of Orpheus seems to say that it's easier to live inside a dream of language than inside the real world. Poetry is the apparent solution to a dead-locked conflict. Human voice is the only place where contradictions and escape from dead-ends can be articulated. The poetic voice is a way to enter depth and to exit from confinement. Poetry expresses the human condition and the desire to escape it. It's a rush to somewhere else, but also the signature of a present individual. It draws a way in which birth and death are ever repeated. So, each poem reproduces Orpheus's trajectory which is the same as any human destiny.

In L'Espace litteraire, Maurice Blanchot explains that Orpheus's going down to the infernal regions can be explained not only by the will to bring Eurydice back, but also by the desire to see what death is. If Orpheus, ascending to the human world, followed by Eurydice, turns around too soon and ends up losing his wife, it may be because of his impatience to see the mystery of a human face coming back from death into life. Poets want to see invisibility, not for the vain gloriousness to transgress an interdict, but to try to understand life itself, and its incomprehensibility. Maurice Blanchot says that Orpheus looks into the night for what the night dissimulates, the other night, the appearing of the dissimulation itself. In fact, poetic song is the only way to approach such a mystery and to open one's eyes through the darkness. Poetry is a blind access to the truth. Poetry is not real knowledge, which would be taught by some illuminated man. Poetry is a cognitive process which always takes the shape of an experience, which can never be explained, but throws light upon all aspects of human learning. Mainly, poetry is this paradoxical proof of ignorance, this resistance to interpretation, which prevents any knowledge from being mere vanity.

Finally the myth of Orpheus teaches that poetry is a matter of transitions. It's the place where man recognises himself to be a transitional being. That is to say a perishable and finished creature, but also, because of finitude itself, a creature that is able to change the face of the world. Images, metaphors, all sorts of new connections and transfers constitute the specificity of poetry which continually works to figure, disfigure and configures the appearances of reality. Each new poetic work offers new rhythms and new tensions to connect opposite things. These new couples and connections lead the way to new interpretations and feelings. Thus, poetic tension is a condition of freedom. To return to the myth of Orpheus, we can recall that the poet's lute is bent like a bow. The precision of tune, like the beauty of poetry itself, depends on this tension which suggests a physical illustration of moral contradictions. Poetry mainly links what is and what would be, reality and ideality: it tries to describe and define a fair attitude in which it will be possible to see what human beings are really capable of by means of a deviation through unreality.

If Poetry can't be defined by any concept or rational theory, we need to use the images of ancient myths to think or dream about it. The myth of Orpheus doesn't explain what poetry is, but acts as an optical instrument or a dramatic plan which gives a view of the various forces and factors that constitute its specific work. The myth tells us of poetic creation as a love and death story. It represents the origin, but doesn't justify. Never closed, never granted, he always suggests new readings and new creations. In spite of its age, the myth of Orpheus is a young story. During the nineteenth century, Orpheus was primarily a lover; for us, at the end of the twentieth century, he is mainly a figure of transitivity, he invites us to go on, to join, and to believe in the fecundity of contradictions. His myth maintains the desire for absolute knowledge, but also protects us from all kinds of intolerance and fanaticism. We must recognise inside poetry "the one veritable transitory power".


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