Friday, July 11, 2008

Robert Kelly on science


I have this poem "Science" by Robert Kelly posted over my desk at work, and what I like about is that it gets the feeling of someone talking to himself, under their breath, but speaking nearly full sentences, referring to an unspecified other to whom the comments are intended. The element of eaves dropping comes into play , the effect you get when you only hear one side of a phone conversation or what's being said in the next booth in a noisy Denny's; the poem has another dimension, a countervailing polemic that is conspicuous by being unstated, unheard. As readers , we demand that things we bother to glance over make sense, and so we speculate, interpret, fill in the gaps to have the portions presented make at least theoretical sense.


Science explains nothing
but holds all together as
many things as it can count
science is a basket

not a religion he said
a cat as big as a cat
the moon the size of the moon
science is the same as poetry
only it uses the wrong words.


The leaps, gaps and goofy intrusions of odd comparisons may distract and annoy some readers, but I happen to like the disjunctions; broken syntax, interruptions, the overlaying of point, counterpoint and further contradiction gives this poem the verbal ambiguity that would make you pause a little, consider the implication of an accidental connection.

You wonder how science comes to be compared to a basket, or why the subject the moon and its size have to do with anything the speaker and his unknown friend were talking about, but they do fit neatly into the introductory notion of whether the methodology can indeed explain the world to us, or does it merely record what researchers observe, without an idea of the crucial "why" behind the function these processes have. Hence, science is compared to a basket, something which contains loose ends gathered from hither and yon, connected only by the method in which they're gathered. Hence, science is compared to poetry, which describes the world and the experience in it with a language that is barely accurate enough. But whatever one comes to refer to science as, all that it attempts to dissect and explore and extract meaning purpose from remains a unknown, it remains a mystery.
Kelly, a bit of the mystic for whom poetry connects one to instinctual knowledge rather than the measured, indexed and delineated, tells us that science is just like poetry, but that it uses the wrong words. The words he wants give us bearings in the flux and sway of a life's accumulating events and yet retain the sensation, the anger, the joy of being alive to what is arriving, while science is all subject to materialist verification. In a rational world, I would side with the scientists and , but I'm not always rational. There are times when precision will kill the soul faster than the surest poison.

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