Philosophical Interventions: Book Reviews, 1986-2011

By Martha C. Nussbaum | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
For Once Clear to See

MARY KINZIE (2003), Drift

When Plato describes the journey of the soul out of life, he says that it is all but unrecognizable because of the “barnacles” encrusted all over it, slimy scaly deformities that time, society, and the violence of desire have caused it to wear. The human being looks like a monster. And yet, surprisingly, the soul itself, imagined above all as thought, is still there beneath. A primary job of society, if society is ever going to be just, would be, as Plato sees it, to bring up people who can imagine the soul beneath the barnacles, human freedom beneath the damages of life. If Plato had not had so much justified skepticism about poets (justified because poets are so often the servants of cultural deformity), he might have given them the role of nurturing this ability to imagine the soul’s freedom. In spite of himself, Plato would have been drawn to Mary Kinzie’s remarkable poems and to their vision of the human, assailed and deformed but still thinking, against time, against society.

The first source of damage to the human in Kinzie, as in Plato, is time, that force that creates this world’s transient beauty (“The world is touched and stands forth,” begins “Book of Tears”), but that also, gradually, inexorably, erodes particularity and removes hope. In “Looking In at Night,” a mother sees her daughter’s sleeping form and feels fear: “her shape makes me afraid./… Every year the marble more decayed,/The lines less clear. Time starts its slide,/Curling the light along her shoulder blade.” (Even here, in the formal perfection of the villanelle, there is resistance, thought’s hard edge against the slide.) In “Objet” the same scene is revisited, and the mother considers “the body’s/marble drift,” both hard as stone and worn down every day by force.

The second source of damage to the human is society, a corrupt place of misogyny, racism, and blood, which makes young black men into killers, women into torn pieces of flesh or cunning self-concealers.

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