Friday, December 19, 2008

Vatic Urbanism

A friend back-channeled about yesterday’s post, wondering whether all modern vatics—Blake, Whitman, Ginsberg, maybe Hölderlin—are essentially urban at heart, taking their vapors from Lambeth or Brooklyn or the dreamy university towns of Central Europe, while keeping their eye fixed on the mythic ‘elsewhere’ beyond the carriages and horse crap of the boulevards. What grabbed me about Boone’s description of Dahlen’s work as “vatic urbanism” was the way it pulled the modern city adjacent to ancient prophecy, two great tastes I don’t usually think of as tasting great together. My friend points out though that an advantage of being an urban vatic, or more correctly, vatic urbanist (one website sniffs that in matters vatic, “no one seems to have ventured a noun thus far”) is that the target of your jeremiads—the city and the alienating modernity that pushes it up—is always close at hand. In this sense, a “rural vatic” would be hard to imagine. They’d complain about, what, suburban sprawl?

I liked this idea because it injects a little knowing charlatanism into a role that can quickly become obnoxious. The prophet’s a pure product of the surroundings she claims to transcend, and for the thunder to work, you’ve got to shake some sheet metal. Olson comes off best when he’s clearly talking out of his ass; Blake’s visions, when they don’t make me sleep, appeal where they’re most ludicrous, angels atop an omnibus or giants sprawled on public greens. With enough booze, I might argue that we’re all vatic urbans now, silly enough to carry on with an art so out of time with the media rush—the urban waged by other means—but just enough in it to giggle about it. Or revise it via giggle: “There can be compartmentalization in this world—and among those compartmentalizations are giggles.” (Bruce Boone)


konrad said...

For a happy hour drink, i'll argue with you that we're all phatic urbans.

rodney k said...


That's phat!

Nada said...

The problem with being vatic here and now is that one runs the risk of sounding like an evangelical fundamentalist, or worse, like a hippie stoner. I'm down with Cassandra, but a lot of what gets included in "the vatic" is not those crucial wails of warning.

There are so many interesting ways to be urban that are *not* vatic. O'Hara is not vatic. Rodefer is not vatic. Acker is not vatic. They are all ineluctably urban, though. Y'know?

rodney k said...

Hi Nada,

I'm with you that there are better ways to the urban than the vatic. I'm tickled by the idea that the vatics, despite their mythic scope, sort of have to be urban for the gesture to work.