Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets

By Richard Jackson | Go to book overview
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Donald Hall, 1979


On the Periphery of Time

POETRY MISCELLANY: This past spring I read a book titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes, which suggests that consciousness is not necessary for human thought, that consciousness, in fact, is a relatively recent development in human history. According to him, early minds listened to auditory hallucinations that originated in one side of the brain, a bicameral brain half conscious, half unconscious, or preconscious. The wonderful thing about all this is that Jaynes has shown a genuine source for poetry outside the conscious mind; he's given us a "scientific" means of accounting for inspiration, the voice of the muse--or what you call the "vatic voice." What we have to do, you say in an essay, is let that voice sing or speak to us. We have to listen. It's like some lost potential, isn't it? A loss that's made us less than human?

DONALD HALL: To me the act of writing the poem is an enormous and almost unequaled collaboration of conscious and unconscious processes. The vatic voice is for listening: to stories, songs, puns, all sorts of things inside yourself; the tendency of the world, for a couple of thousand years, probably longer, has been to suppress. Various things that I have read about the development of consciousness have suggested that planning--the kind of planning necessary for agriculture--required development of consciousness. But a complete person must use both consciousness and unconsciousness.

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