Prosody and Politics

Twentieth-century avant-gardism was short on discussions of formal beauty in high art. “Beauty,” itself, as a manifest aim in art, was mistrusted, and gamed against heavily. In a way and on a very salient level, this travesties the entire endeavor of major high art consonance: which must include, as a component aspect, the idea that formal beauty ranks high on imperative spreadsheets, no matter what other avant-garde imperatives may ride alongside it. This game against formal beauty guaranteed that, in the twentieth century, the likes of William Blake— a comparative novice/amateur, whose worth as a higher artist is contained in a philosophical imperative and visionary stance puerile next to Keats’ Odal vision— could be given a higher ranking than Keats, who supersedes Blake at every point, both as formalist and philosophe. What I would like to address here is specifically the issue of Keats’ prosody, his metrics, the formal beauty of his best poetry, as a political statement in and of itself, against society, against authority as well. In a certain way and on a certain level, formal beauty in high art is the ultimate statement of individuality against authority, and an ultimate statement (also) of rebellion. By granting extreme non-homogeneity to the work, which inheres not just superficially but profoundly within the works’ confines, and raises the work to a level at which history must be brought into focus by the work’s grandiosity (and I do mean grandiosity against mere novelty, as mere novelty was the issue with century XX avant-garde), the work situates itself within its own transcendent mode of visualization/realization, and authority instantly cringes at having its vestments and privileges taken away against it. Century XX avant-gardism was very secretly invested in different forms of homogenization, up to and including complicity with authoritarian governments— thus, its tendency to de-emphasize, demean, and degrade formal beauty.

This sense— that twentieth century avant-gardism was secretly a game against formal beauty, and thus posited against an important component element of major high art consonance— is what makes it so easy to dispense with. By emptying art of anything artistic, they proved themselves to be non-artists. They, thus, might as well have been government clerics or bureaucratic scripters— they were there, in high art spaces, for the wrong reasons, playing the wrong games. This century, a gauntlet has already been laid down against these middling-at-best structures, welcoming formal beauty in high art back into the fold, understanding what put amateurism in place of giftedness and inverting things back to where they belong, which is (to be frank) the nineteenth century and back. Rebellion in century XX avant-gardism was faux-rebellion— more in cahoots with authoritarian impulses and destructive games than not— now, we stand ready to let our own version of prosody, its masterful manifestation and enactment, to dictate terms to us about how we may cultivate any extreme form/manner of artistic individuality against the rest of the world (art-world or otherwise) which is not us, and thus make a potent political statement that there is room, in American society, for individuals to stand against the masses, and for the realization of beauty, from individuals “on out,” to become an event of some consequence for the whole of society at large.