John Keats' Ricochet Effect: Star Trek?

John Keats, especially in his Odes, both patented and mastered what I call the Ricochet Effect. What the Ricochet Effect amounts to, in serious poetry, is this: in the economy of Keats’ Odes, line by line and word by word, each word or phrase is made to ricochet, in exquisite, harmonious balance, with the words around it. In Shelley or Wordsworth, this is true of the end-rhymes and uses of anaphora, when they occur; what makes Keats special, and peerless, is that he effortlessly employs end-rhymes, anaphora, assonances, and internal rhymes to create a Full Spectacle of words ricocheting off each other in harmonious balance, so that no words, even “thy,” “thou,” “that,” and the like, remain untouched. Keats is, as I have incised before, a peerless verbal musician. But what are the implications of this formal innovation in serious art— the Ricochet Effect— and what does it mean, as manifestation of the highest kind of formality in serious art, for the Ricochet Effect to exist in the human world and in the human landscape, as a thing among things?

Keats did not live, as we all know, to see his work flourish in an expansive way. During the decades of obscurity following his death, the Empty Spectacles around poetry, the wheels spinning, one might say, continued unabated— names meant to be forgotten were cast up, prizes given to dolts and dullards, fame appointed to stooges and puppets as usual. The way the human landscape is configured, Keats’ formal innovation— what I call the Ricochet Effect, which implies totalized, comprehensive musicality in language— had to sit for a long time before it was pronounced worthy to live past the dolts, stooges, and puppets of the early-to-mid nineteenth century. The horror of the staging of Empty Spectacles while genius-level work just sits, waiting to be elevated, is that it means that for individuals who dare to create on serious levels, what is guaranteed, usually, is a thankless positions buried obscurely beneath the stooges, puppets, and dolts. Yet I wonder if there isn’t some wisdom to letting the most advanced kind of artistic work just sit, just sit there, emanating into the Collective Unconscious and all kinds of human economies, while the stage is cleared for its emergence. Serious artistic work, to be mystic, has a kind of sentience of its own— Keats’ Odes (for me at least) are sentient, and able to chop into whatever economies they choose to chop into, over a long period of time. If individuals who create seriously are willing to give up the drive for recognition, and just let their work sit, then the work can begin to do its own job of destroying the Empty Spectacles and puppet shows over a long period of time.

Serious forms in art, as I have said, are (I believe) sentient, or have a kind of sentience inhering in them. What is sentient in them is a second individuality, past the individuality of their creator. How the sentient forms reach out into the world is to find the individuals most receptive, and begin the process of altering their brains. If this sounds a little Star Trek, please forgive me…but the mysticism of serious formality in art is a little Star Trek, a little Vulcan. It is based on granting sentience, shuddering, resonant sentience, to whatever forms are high-maintenance enough, complex enough, and exquisite enough to carry it. Why I like Keats’ Ricochet Effect as a paradigm model is that, as I have incised before, it models not only serious formality but permanent avant-gardism— because the Ricochet Effect works so subtly that it changes every time we see it, Keats’ Odes can never (for me) leave the sphere of the avant-garde. The semi-sad conclusion: for the individual creators of serious formality in serious art, there may or may not be redemption or salvation. Often, unfortunately, there is not. But for the work itself, emanating seen or unseen, heard or unheard, into the world, there will always be a sentient sense of redemption and/or salvation, every time a new individual is reached, tormented, exalted, and brain-altered. More Star Trek soon.