As we saw in class, the Deep Space 9 pilot, “Emissary,” shows Commander Cisco being obligated by the wormhole entities to acknowledge that “he never left the ship” where his wife was killed by a Borg attack. Cisco has been giving an idealized description of his species as explorers who come not to conquer but to learn, who exist in linear time and do not know what the future will bring. The entities have a hard time understanding how humans could be ignorant of what is to come. Once this concept is grasped, they ask Cicso about his progressivist notion of human life: “if all you say is true, why do you exist here?” Here being where his wife has died. He accuses them of bringing him back to that place. They say “you bring us here.” Another says, “You exist here.” Cisco breaks down and admits that he never learned how to live without her. The entity embodying his wife says, “so you chose to exist here.” He nods. “It’s not linear.” He agrees with her. “No It’s not linear.”
This insight of this pilot is that the real resolution of the tales of interspecies conflict, colonialism, exploitation, and resistance depend on the linear-narrative repressions of psychic life. The latter is non-linear, and makes choices about where it exists that are generally “elsewhere” to the linear narrative and its official locations (commander of DS9), as well as unchosen, repressed, idealized. The real existence of the psyche is in this case continuing to live at the scene of the death of the beloved, i.e. in a permanent death-in-life with her. Without knowledge of this real existence the linear plot (“aggressive, adversarial”) of expansion, colonization, conflict, standoff, bluffing, deception, and war persists without end, and has no hope of any other outcome. With this knowledge, another story for the species may be possible. We need to note, however, that DS9 does not return to this insight, and we cannot be optimistic about changing the linear masterplot of the eternal rise and fall of empires.
What we can say is that psychic life and non-linear existence appear most directly in poetry, and related fictional media.
Enter Harold Bloom. His book Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (1980) culminates a series of books that argue that poetry consists of wrestling with the poet’s strong precursor – that poetry is always competition to overcome one’s belatedness or secondaryness in relation to the precursor. A corollary is that criticism does not seek causal but instead comparative (or “economic”) explanations, in which the interaction between poets is the main story. Literary criticism, in Bloom’s trajectory, replaces the linear accumulation of objective knowledge with intersubjectivity and its agonistic struggles. It also replaces literal language with tropes as the site of a primal knowledge that remains central to human experience.
It is less easy to say what this primal knowledge is about.
• Knowledge of the subject, the rules of subjectivity – self-knowledge
• Distorted knowledge of the subject (always displaced, veiled, or idealized)
• Distorted knowledge of the subject that must be overcome in the march of both the individual and humanity towards objective knowledge (the individual goes to college to prepare the self to receive higher learning, and then is able to receive and extend science.
Harold Bloom often rewrote his reflections on the nature of poetic knowledge, and used a whole series of terms that he trend to assimilate to each other. For simplicity I’ll distinguish Bloom Mark I and Bloom Mark II.
• Mark I is typified by Bloom on Emerson. Here the poet is a kind of radical presence, “the authentic prophet-god of discontinuity, of the breaking of tradition, and of re-inscribing tradition as a perpetual breaking mending and then breaking again. The Orphic seer says of and to time: it must be broken” (168). The poet offers “a power-making act of knowledge.” The figure here is Emerson’s Orphic poet in the essay Nature, in which “Man” was once permeated and dissolved by spirit and “filled nature with his overflowing currents” (cited 165). The poet recognizes Man’s real condition as primal author, not follower of nature, with a deep power embodied not so much in the conscious mind (remember Coleridge’s fancy) as in the imagination or “instinct” (Coleridge’s primary imagination). Poetic “voicing” offers the “images for power we find that free us from the already said, from being one of the secondary men, traces of traces of traces” (171). Poetry is the realization of primal creativity. Bloom’s interest is in the dependence of this creativity on overcoming the strong precursor via rivalry or agon. The instinct revealed in poetry – also tied in this text to Gnosis – transcends the individual’s historical existence (177) – and allows one to “see earliest.” This voicing resists all deconstruction.
• Mark II is typified by Bloom on Freud. Here Bloom offers a more ambiguous and complicated model of creativity, which is tied to a cluster of concepts that include the sublime, the unconscious, the death drive, and troping, among others. In the chapter “Freud and the Sublime: A Catastrophe Theory of Creativity,” he has to deal with the fact that Freud has “deconstructed” “instinct” (called “drive”) into “an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things” (cited 106), meaning an inorganic state of perfect equilibrium, meaning more simply “the aim of all life is death” (107). This implies that poetry doesn’t work through the repressed relation to the strong precursor in order to come to some prophetic utterance based on an instinct the precursor had inhibited (coming to one’s true voice), but that poetry is a kind of repression of the death drive through the use of tropes. Poetry doesn’t overcome psychic defenses but erects psychic defenses against the death drive (psychic defenses are fantasies which are tropes (93). Unfortunately, this returns poetry to the condition that “science” puts it in – not the expression of primal creativity that includes rather than represses subjectivity, but as a denial of reality or false knowledge. Troping is disavowal at best, or inadvertent lying, or, in Freud, “the narcissistic belief in ‘omnipotence of thought’” (102).
Bloom may simply by embracing this idea of poetry and asserting that it is not beneath scientific knowledge but its own order of knowledge. One theme of his essay is that Freud’s theories are literary rather than scientific, by which Bloom does not mean that are wrong but that they are in a sense more correct about the psyche and creation. “Eros equals figurative meaning” (107)—poetry is a response to the two great catastrophes encoded somatically in humans – the drying up of the oceans and the Ice Age (105) – and catastrophe propels creation in the sense of the creation of figurative language, which overcomes death in the form of anteriority that in turn is embodied as literal language (107). But this isn’t a great rescue, since at this point, Bloom Mark II becomes a negative versin of Bloom Mark I: poetry as non-“knowledge” is blindness rather than insight. The poet really just wants to go back to an “earlier state of things,” i.e., inorganic death, and poetry is a way of denying this wish while always having contact with it.
Bloom does tangle himself up here, and there are lots of ambiguities and multiplication of terms that don’t clarify the argument (and Bloom probably doesn't seek literal clarity, which he sees as a lesser form of discourse . . .) Some help for Mark II comes from Freud’s 50s American editor and mainstream critic Philip Reiff, whom Bloom quotes as saying,” regarding the uncanny in Freud, that “The reader comes to a work with ambivalent motives, learning what he does not wish to know, or, what amounts to the same thing, believing he already knows and can accept as his own intellectual property what the author merely ‘articulates’ or ‘expresses’ for him.” What the reader of poetry learns is that s/he is not the “true” author of the thoughts that s/he reads in the strong text. In this stronger version of Bloom Mark II (via Rieff’s rejection of narcissism), the sense of the beauty or greatness of a poem carries the recognition – an anti-narcissistic recognition—that the precursor poet/writer/thinker/scientist thought and wrote things one has not thought and written. The great ideas/expressions in question belong to someone else, a not-me. The important thing about this non-me is that it cannot in fact be assimilated to god, death, the cosmos, organic non-being, etc. This not-me is another person.
I think this is what Bloom wants to say in another complicated passage in which he defines the literary sublime as “as being that mode in which the poet, while expressing previously repressed thought, desire, or emotion, is able to continue to defend himself against his  own created image by disowning it, as defense of un-naming it rather than naming it. Freud’s word Verneinung means both a grammatical negation and a psychic disavowal or denial . . . The ego and the poet-in-his-poem both proceed by a kind of “misconstruction,” a defensive process that Lacan called méconnaissance in psychoanalysis, and that I have called “misprision” in the study of poetic influence. Bloom and the literary criticism of his time, including deconstruction, put too much emphasis on error, fallacy, misreading, etc, so it sounds like poets and critics manifest the psyche as one long reign of error. This put literary knowledge at an obvious disadvantage in relation to social and natural science. I think these critics missed their real point, which I would put this way: poetic language acknowledges what “scientific” language represses – that knowledge is constituted by dynamic and ongoing intersubjective relations (that include agnostic wresting with and the granting of priority and importance to precursors).
In other words, that once we acknowledge the catastrophes that lie in our own past (the Borg killed my wife, my wife is gone from me), we are in a position to acknowledge and work with the mass basis of creativity.