Having Misidentified a Wild-Flower
A thrush, because I'd been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.
Setting aside a belief in the divine harmony of the universe (not really my cup of tea), what can we say about this poem?
We have all, I'm sure, experienced the sensation of being wrong about something, and being set right in our misconception by the intrusion of some seemingly extraneous, adventitious 'piece of the real'. How to speak of such apparently spontaneous admonitions? The gentle influence of some benevolent natural force? Hardly. Nature's indignant response? Not at all. Are we enthused with the breath of some spirit of natural harmony? Nope. The song of the thrush lacks intentionality, that much we know. And what if it wasn't a thrush? What if we misidentified that distinctive warble? Would a car-alarm do instead?
We know that human consciousness is an adaptable thing, how infinite in faculties, how express and admirable, in apprehension how like a god! It is greedy for detail, jealous of its own conceptions, egotistical in the extreme. It is reflective; its technology is one of Total Internal Reflection. It works unceasingly and tirelessly to recuperate contingent detail, setting it in turn to work in constructing the towering edifice of its own self-importance. How noble in reason! Hegel wrote about the 'cunning of reason': the idea itself can remain aloof, letting the passions do its work for it without having to get involved in the messy business of the struggle for meaning.
The human mind is resolutely structural in its perceptions: it has no regard for essence, only for place. The figure of the King has no value in and of himself: his value is in the place he occupies in the symbolic economy. Economy figures it just about right, I think: we all know that money is notional, that it has worth only by virtue of the place it occupies in the system; it has no use value: it is pure exchange value. Does the singing thrush have the capacity to mean in and of itself? No: it is only by virtue of the place it occupies in the structure that it can mean something. OK, a pretty banal insight. But doesn't the same hold true for every element in the system, every single idea and image and trope on the merry-go-round of consciousness? Isn't interchangeability the basic principle of all thought? So much for reason.
In apprehension how like a god, indeed: the mind works just like one of those petty, selfish, sex-crazed gods of antiquity, reaching out always to possess for itself whatever it perceives to be beyond itself. It is basically pathological. And as with Apollo's infatuation with his beloved, the reluctant Hyancinthus, desire always eventually works towards the destruction of its object. Hyancinthus died and was transformed into a flower. 'I am the author of your death', said Apollo. The flower bore the signature of its origin: the letters inscribed on its petals, AI AI, so that everyone would be able to tell the flower's name and the truth of its story. Nature answers back, as she always does in the strange universe of the Metamorphoses. In its failure to possess the object of its desire, in the failure of its attempt to appropriate, consciousness has succeeded in inscribing that object with the trace of its authorship: it has created the world.