Friday, April 11


The artist in particular has always been someone who had to get away in order to understand what he was part of. One must leave town, says Nietzsche, to see how high its towers are. (Remember Wordsworth's rowboat, in The Prelude: it had to carry him away a distance before he saw the dimensions of the crag he'd been anchored under.)

But Nietzsche's Zarathustra grows lonely, and contemplates returning from self-imposed exile into the human community. (It is ourselves we humans are farthest away from, Nietzsche will write elsewhere.) And it is apparent that, while the seer may be solitary, the sayer requires an audience. This double impulse, both to and from others, drives—and divides—writing as it does writers. Not only do we have the feeling that every man is an island. But also, since Heidegger, an extra loneliness arises: even when we find conversant company, we come to entertain a modern suspicion: that language is the only one doing the talking.

-- Heather McHugh Broken English: Poetry and Partiality

Heather McHugh