W. B. Yeats’s A Vision, Prelude to a Discussion

I keep catching myself wanting to be excited about this book as I am reading it. Don’t misunderstand me–that isn’t a criticism of the book. The book is delightful: a genuine spiritualist grimoire built up around over 600 sessions of automatic writing, meditation, and dreamwork, embedded in an imaginary history recounted in a style that would have made Borges proud.

Because folks make comparisons like that without really meaning them, let me emphasize that last part: the book has a genuinely Borges-ian texture, though this is before Borges starts writing like this (he’s about 26 years old when Yeats publishes A Vision). Yeats has a fictional character describe how he and another fictional character came to deliver the material to Yeats for explication and publication.  Those fictional characters have charming lives, and one of them writes the introduction in which we learn why he and his fellow fictional character have a quarrel with Yeats for how he has represented them in some of his poems. It is all light, bubbly, elegant, and makes you smile.

The device is also quite clever because it gives Yeats a framework through which he can express the strange relationship he has to this material. While he has worked it out, put it together, found the joints of it, it isn’t his in the same way his poems or plays are his. Not only does he have an accomplice, his wife, but the material itself comes to him from other spiritual beings. By giving the manuscript an imaginary provenance he tells this to the reader through a sort of pantomime. Neat, right? Yeats has worked out a plain-speaking mode of writing that expresses the plural mode of consciousness of spiritualist work. Dude was one hell of a craftsman.

Anyway, back to what I was saying. I want to be excited about this because I find in it material deeply sympathetic to my own. It’s not identical, but it is remarkably parallel. I would daresay that what Yeats was working out and what I have been working out share a common foundation, derive from common sources, sources which are, you know, spirits. Part of me wants to be amazed by that, but I’m not. Those sorts of crossings are normal in some way.

‘Normal’ isn’t code for ‘take it for granted.’ On the contrary, I do take it as a meaningful sign; it just isn’t something to get excited about. I take note of them, study them, and figure out what can be added to my work from Yeats’s because the parallelism also forms something of a problem. What Yeats did is colored and inflected by who he is just as what I do is inflected and colored by who I am. So even if we were working precisely the same material, the concepts we form out of it cannot be identical. What’s more, because they treat similar material, they are almost too similar to translate. The distribution of denotation and implication just don’t quite mesh.

I feel a tempteation to force the excitement, not just because excitement feels good, but also because such excitement would help me pretend those differences between my thoughts and his aren’t so important. It would inflate my ideas and/or Yeats’s out of their proper proportion. I want to lake a good long look at Yeats’s work, see how it lays atop the world, figure out where we speak about the same things, and then figure out how much I can take from Yeats and how much I have to leave as proper to his spiritual work rather than mine.

So, yeah, least sexy statement of purpose ever, right? On the plus side, I have seen little sign of those pesky barbarous words that were bugging me in Per Amica Silentia Lunae.

One thought on “W. B. Yeats’s A Vision, Prelude to a Discussion

  1. Pingback: A Vision: Intimacy versus Secrecy | Disrupt & Repair

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