“Real poetry, is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it.”
I am returning to academia (Deo Volente) to pursue study in Botany, one of the oldest of scientific professions, the better to contribute to the war against the destruction of the natural world partly created by science ( or perhaps scientism) itself, but currently promulgated and prosecuted by forces of brutal commerce that lack anything resembling sense or sensibility.
Pleased at the chance to finally try to nail some mercury better, I pause at the thought of all that relentless reductionism. I fear the loss of overseeing, of creativity becoming an oversight in the grim Roman determination to assault the citadel of Truth, and accumulate “facts”. As Krishnamurti said, “ Do you know that even when you look at a tree and say, ‘That is an oak tree’, or ‘That is a banyan tree’, the naming of the tree, which is botanical knowledge, has so conditioned your mind that the word comes between you and actually seeing the tree? To come into contact with the tree you have to put your hand on it and the word will not help you to touch it”. Krishnamurti, “Freedom from the Known” page 28.
This Adamic sense of “possessing” a thing because we have named it, is still in me, for during my youthful bouts of Faustian fear at not knowing enough, it sufficed for me to merely skim the name of an object, bird, rock formation or person to possess its soul but I had merely placed a phonic wall between me and Knowing the Thing in Itself. I well remember the endless lists of birds I used to type out on my aunt Cora’s Underwood, excited at the English-Latin dual nomination, a sense of owning increasing my power as a 10-year old Druid. Yet careful fieldwork was beyond me, my mind having only the capacity to stare and absorb the gestalt. For personal reasons at the time, my mind was not capable of sustained concentration beyond drawing or writing lists; behavioural analysis and observation were beyond me, and maybe still are; these essays are not “objective” in the least. When I looked, as a boy, at a bird that I had never seen before, I experienced wonder, shock and a still point of being that dry analysis cannot reproduce, and thus spurns; “ the analytic process cannot deal with uniqueness; there is an irresistible temptation for it to move from the uniqueness of something to its assumed non-existence, since the reality of the unique would have to be captured by idioms that apply to nothing else” McGilchrist The Master and his Emissary”, p.28.
True knowing is nameless. I cannot, though I contradict myself through trying here, describe what tai chi IS, but I can report from the zone of what it feels like, using necessarily limited descriptive prose, each word of which will resonate with overtones and undertones differently with each reading human, the reader’s response to prose being necessarily hieroglyphic (as proved by the capacity to read text which is missing vowels), as well as being of a grazing character- whole paragraphs are skated over nimbly, and only certain memorable phrases or metaphors tarry us ( Nietzsche: “ “It is not for nothing that one has been a philologist, perhaps one is a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading.” Daybreak, Preface)
Slow reading is a lost art, as is speaking aloud while reading. In today’s Babel of Banal, stale gobbets of emetic prose infect language with spores of decay, leading to newspapers that mould opinion, in both senses, leading to stasis of a true criticism and a babbling penchant for cliché and vulgarities. Quid Nunc gossip and lazy writing are yawning gorges on either side of the tightrope of sustained effort.
I will, in my essays here, attempt to pen my belief in this magnificent human art the better to bronze its current status, which is that of a “worthy” but also “quaint” piece of “china”; a faintly musty piece of kitsch that your grandmother likes.
Metaphorein– “carrying over”, that makes poetry “wonder-full” is useful here in describing a movement art to perhaps encourage or enthuse the prospective practitioner. A panegyric to myself is not what I intend, because with any movement art, Yeats’ line is apt, for “how can we tell the dancer from the dance?’; thus I must divest my description of all unintentional auto-lauds from my studied impressions of the movements and their manifold effects.
There is these days a quiet cohort of natural history writing penning prose that burns like phosphurus, approaching the aquiline heights of AJ Baker. Metaphoric delights, “saying one thing in terms of an other”, picking out tangential points of similarity, arrest the careful reader. But they do not, can not, convey more than mere second-hand knowledge of the Thing In Itself. For that, experiential tactility is required. Thus, though these essays serve to describe the somewhat ineffable, it cannot sensualise the sentience of tai chi.
For that, you need a teacher.