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Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, January 05, 2007

The deep truth is imageless

I thought I'd do another post on Catholic convert Kevin Hart,. Here below is a small bit of an interview with him - In Dialogue with Kevin Hart - dealing mostly with his poetry ...

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David McCooey: Isn't your interest in one's 'secret name' an interest in an 'essential' aspect of one's self which transcends historical categories, something which if pronounceable would 'define' you?

Kevin Hart: The notion of a 'secret name' has many sources — I've stumbled across it in magic and the Kabbalah — but let's take our cue from Derrida since he has already come up. There are two ways of understanding him on this point: that no presence can present itself to consciousness and that there is no presence. It seems to me that, while Derrida's commentators slide between these two claims, Derrida himself has established the first but not the second. My view is that we can learn about the self at certain levels, especially at those levels where selfhood is constructed by family and society: that is what happens in psychoanalysis. But the deep self cannot directly offer itself to consciousness. Kant said a great deal to the point on this topic, but Shelley has said it more memorably: "The deep truth is imageless." The deep self abides in solitude, waiting for God. Whether there is a unique self — call it a ‘soul,’ ‘spirit,’ ‘pneuma,’ or whatever — is a question of religious faith, not philosophical argument. David Hume was perfectly right, within the limits of his investigation, to say that he could find no continuing self-identity by introspection. But his line, that questions of self-identity are to do with grammatical rather than philosophical difficulties, is only a partial answer: at heart they are theological difficulties.

DM: I'd like to consider some religious themes at this point; perhaps we might start autobiographically...

KH: My father is a man of strong, discreet, religious feelings and my mother saw only the shell of Christianity--the Church's dogmas about heaven and hell ("We'll find out when we die anyway"), its moral teachings ("Why should we listen to priests, what do they know about anything?"). So, I was brought up a nominal Anglican. As a child, the only times I saw a church was when my mother took me to see a wedding, and then we almost always waited outside for the bride to appear. From an early age, though, I had strong religious yearnings; and these flared up during adolescence. I became associated with a Baptist sect; later, when I was living in California, I attended Episcopalian services; but when I returned to Australia I decided to convert to Catholicism. I was received into the Church in 1980. There were many reasons for that decision, but they all coalesced in a feeling of being at home in the Catholic world. It felt right, emotionally and intellectually, and it still does, even though the conservative wings of the Church drive me crazy sometimes.

DM: Some of your best poems are both religious and very simple. The Gift (1981), for instance (one of my favourites), seems to 'do' very little (until perhaps the last line), yet it resonates with the force of a parable and the accumulated connotations of ‘gift.’ Could you comment on this?

KH: Poems open themselves to the unknown by attending to and caring for the known. We know or think we know about exchanges and gifts, but what fascinated me while writing the lyric was the notion of a gift coming from who knows where that seemed to require no return at all. You could call it Grace. As you say, though, the final line complicates matters considerably. I like your suggestion that it is a parable. I adore the parables in Borges, Kafka and the New Testament.

DM: You speak often of the experience of being 'called' to a text. Could you name some of the texts which have had this effect on you?

KH: Yes, this came up a little earlier, didn't it? One day an aphorism, essay, poem, story, or whatever crosses your path, completely out of the blue, and it speaks to you with such uncanny power that it changes your life, taking you deeper into yourself or forcing you to take some action in the world about you. You feel as though the meeting were inevitable and unique, that a crucial part of yourself has been dormant until now: the categories of chance and fate suddenly become indistinguishable. That's what I have in mind when speaking of being called by a text. It is different experience from a book having an impact on you when you encounter it at school or university or when you finally get around to reading it: all that is a matter of culture. I have felt being called, as though by my secret name, by all kinds of books over the years: Charles Simic and Mark Strand's Another Republic, Maurice Blanchot's L'Arrêt de mort, Yves Bonnefoy's Du mouvement et de l'immobilité de Douve and Meister Eckhart's Sermons and Treatises. There are undoubtedly others.

DM: The religious connotation is deliberate, isn't it? Which parts of the Bible are you called by?

KH: This late in literary and religious history it can be rare to be called by the Bible in the sense I have given to the word. And yet it happens, if only because the Bible is so frequently taken as a cultural artefact, a museum piece, and so seldom read with any attention. Let me see. Well, in the Hebrew Bible: most of the stories in Genesis; the whole of Job, the most sublime story in ancient literature, I'd say; Ecclesiastes; a handful of the psalms. And in the New Testament: long passages of the gospels, including all the parables .....

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