The Poetics of Exclusion

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is peculiar to the millennial condition that we have almost no occasion
ever to celebrate a passing moment for its own singular delights.
Everyday is rigorously transcribed to us as another failed peace
summit or an unforgivable assault on minority rights or planes raining
from a sky dark with industrial waste and bad feelings. Sound-bite
minimalism and the shifting tableau of relativistic vogues have
displaced the vast mosaic of Natural Law, reducing to mythology
the great chain of being. In the absurdist diction of inclusive
ideology, Nature's multiplicity is reconstructed as social diversity
and eternal nature, as oppressive anachronism.

truth however, is not only more compelling, it is more fun. Charles
Swinburne, the great 19th century British poet, is today
wholly excluded from the American curriculum, not because his revolutionary
scansion makes him inaccessible to diffident students (though this
may also be true), but because his vision of Nature was hierarchical,
majestic, cruel, and, thus, inconsistent with the new paradigm that
requires even the objets d'arts to be sensitive and healing. But
immense and splendid Nature does not unite us, does not bring us
together as one. Rather, it divides and partitions us, each from
the other and all of us from itself. It is supreme and incomprehensible.
In Nature, discrimination is the first principle of survival; the
reflex for the primacy of excellence supercedes the social tropism
for protecting the weak or the stupid. Natural Law precludes the
existence of any civil right.

So, too does Swinburne's extraordinary verse move ever downward
from God to Nature to man, documenting the chaotic modulations of
hard experience with the supple acuity of imaginative frisson. The
naive language of affirmation – to say nothing of affirmative action – does not survive the sudden storms of his Mid-Summer Holiday.
Only the poet, through cunning and prosody, escapes with his lyrics
intact. And his sublimely sexy Atalanta of Calydon ruins with humor
and resourcefulness the plodding, equilibrationist schemes of Toxeus
and Plexippus, whose notion that inherited wealth must be redistributed
reminds us that the welfare state has not only an ironic name, but
a distinguished history.

Swinburne's remarkable oeuvre is unfashionable because it regards
history and Nature as central to the poetic project and the human
enterprise. He saw the world as place humanity and divinity intersect,
sometimes violently, often beautifully, as in his lovely encomium
for this fine month of August, in which: "the gracious glories
of thine eyes/Make night a noon where darkness dies."

30, 2000

Wilkerson is a graduate student in philosophy.

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