The Kenyon Review Credos
I’ve tried to talk about literature without talking about my religion but I can’t. It feels like talking about my religion without talking about my religion.
The premise is simple. You are you, and I am I, but at some level, you are I, and I am you, and at still another level, we are both simultaneously infinite mystic blissed-out godhead eternally blazing.
Okay, maybe it’s not simple. Let me backtrack.
For me, being a writer is saying to all other human beings, animals, plants, and inanimate objects on the earth:
I don’t know you, but I want to write you.
By “inanimate objects,” I am including the mirror.
From Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word know:
“know 1 a (3): To recognize the nature of.”
Which is to say: You are really I. I am really you. We are by nature infinite. We are by nature all ablaze.
I want to write you because I don’t know you.
“know 1 b (1): To recognize as being the same as something previously known.”
One writer writes deeply about the self. The self is the standard English translation for the Sanskrit word atman. We poets know it as the lyric I.
This writer writes characters who are nothing like him. Madame Bovary, c’est moi. It is all the same, metaphysically: To study the self or to study the other is to study infinity.
I write poetry and I write fiction because I want to approach infinity from two directions. Call it a pincer action.
I say approach infinity, of course, but I mean know God.
“know 2 a (1): to be aware of the truth or factuality of: be convinced or certain of.”
This is supposed to be a credo, isn’t it?
I believe every role in Shakespeare spoken simultaneously will harmonically morph into the voice of God. I believe language trumps music and moving images in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary. Credo quia absurdum after all. I believe fiction is brain cocaine. I believe poetry is brain crack. I believe the system has never been anything but broken and that mind-blowing writers die unknown and forgotten, hell, are never discovered in the first place, and I mean routinely. I believe literature is how the brain has brainsex with the brains of strangers, brainsex as in “know 3 archaic: to have sexual intercourse with.” I believe writing is so much like a religion that there is such a thing as the Blessed, the Elect, the Chosen, and that it is best not to envy them, and that for the rest of us there is still honest devotion and manual labor and the possibility of grace. I believe in doing everything at once. I believe the Epic Failure is better than the #1-New-York-Times-Bestselling Success, but that may be because my books don’t sell. I believe that credos are meant to be revised so don’t quote me. I believe that you are you and I am I and never we twain shall meet except in these poems, these novels, this common language made uncommon. I believe rhyme. I believe that in literature, universality and infinitude are attained through infinite love of the specific and finite. I believe the hype. I believe religious scriptures are actually supremely powerful literary works and can be approached as literary works. I believe literary works are actually supremely powerful religious scriptures and can be approached as religious scriptures. I believe in approaching myself from both directions, call it a pincer action. I believe English is superior to binary code precisely because it is less precise. I believe I am a language lush whose favorite self-indulgence happens to be discipline. I believe we share language that we may know how completely we share being.
More about The Kenyon Review Credos
In the early 1950s John Crowe Ransom, founding editor of The Kenyon Review, invited some of the most celebrated public intellectuals of the day, among them Northrop Frye, William Empson, and Leslie Fielder, to offer their personal credos on their professional philosophies and aspirations. (These essays, still fascinating, will be reprised on the KR website throughout 2014.) In marking The Kenyon Review’s 75th anniversary, sixteen poets, essayists, and fiction writers, authors who have published in our pages on our website from early in their careers, will present their own contemporary credos. Four will appear in the print journal and twelve in KROnline. —D.H.L.