Sunday, October 19, 2008

Of flutes & wild roses

There is an interesting Flashpoint article by Mark Scroggins on 'The Piety of Terror: Ian Hamilton Finlay, the Modernist Fragment, and the Neo-classical Sublime'. Scroggins discusses a 1979 proposal for an inscription on a tree-seat, a two line 'poem' that reads "of flutes / & wild roses." Finlay explained "clearly this inscription is not a `poem' as we know it, but equally short fragments appear in recent translations of Archilocus, Alkman & Sappho." Scroggins notes that 'there is behind these translations a complex history of the modernist appropriation of the fragment, one outlined in detail in Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era (54-75). Kenner dates the modernist renaissance of the fragment to such works as Pound's "Papyrus" (1916), where the poet, instead of worrying over what might be missing from the poem at hand (a mere three words, a few stray letters, and three lines from a Papyrus deciphered in Berlin in 1907), translates and presents the scrap as it stands, asserting the status of the poetic, not merely for the poem itself, but for the fragment of the poem.'

Another possible link is to Romantic poems in the form of fragments written by Coleridge and Goethe. For Schlegel, "a fragment, like a miniature work of art, has to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world and be complete in itself like a porcupine." However, according to Scroggins, Finlay's inscription on the tree-seat 'is a fragment in neither the Romantic nor the Modernist sense: it serves neither as the occasion to meditate on a lost spiritual whole, nor as the surviving index of a historical moment now fallen into desuetude: formally speaking, it is in no way detachable from its context, "complete in itself like a porcupine." Rather, the tree-seat "poem" is an element of the larger garden as a whole. It is a syntagm in the larger signifying complex of the entire piece, and seems fragmentary and abbreviated only when read out of context.'

Ian Hamilton Finlay was on my mind this week after I attended a meeting at No. 10 Downing Street and saw the set of his prints now decorating the waiting room there, e.g. Rock Rose and Seams. An article in The Telegraph attributes this selection to Sarah Brown, the PM's wife. It describes her choices as 'not particularly inspiring'... I would beg to differ.


Anonymous said...

yup well that's the Telegraph for you

Plinius said...