The poem «Genesis», by the Greek poet Odysseus Elytis, although considered «religious» is deeply heretical, very much against the Status Quo of Christianity. It expresses a fundamental Experience of (existential) Boundaries being drawn, between inner and outer world, a «fundamental distinction», which also exists in the philosophical Logic system of George Spencer Brown (in his book «Laws of Form»). I don’t think there has ever been a satisfactory interpretation of this poem (as well as many other poems by Elytis), apart from some purely «literary» analyses, useful only for a partial understanding of specific concepts or messages in isolation, without philosophical or logical completeness.
I’ve been reading Elytis’ poetry for a number of years; still learning from it. But I was lucky enough to approach it equipped from the start with a rare and extremely appropriate interpretative tool: – «Laws of Form» by George Spencer Brown.
According to George Spencer Brown’s theory (on which I wrote a brief Greek intro, here) the basis of all Experience is (quoting him) «a fundamental act of distinction»between inner and outer worlds, before which «boundaries may be placed anywhere we please; while the world at this stage appears like sifting sand beneath our feet «. However, after this primary Act of Distinction, all the familiar properties of the world or the universe we inhabit.. follow, as logical consequences, emerging out of the same primary, primal or primordial Act of Distinction.
It is a fundamentally «interactive»theory, in which the leading part is played by the active observer, the Mind / Actor / Observer… who does not merely «observe», but also actively forms the structure of experience, through the formation of Boundaries between what is «inside» and what is «outside».
The «goal» of this Fundamental Formation of Distinctions is Conscious Existence itself, balancing itself as it walks on a tight-rope, standing on the Boundary itself; the Boundary being a point of existential equilibrium, about which Odysseus Elytis says:
One point One point
Onthis point (you attain) balance, existence
(If you go) Past this point unrest and darkness
(If you go) Before this point, roaring screaming angels
A point-a point
And on this point, advancewithout limit is possible
Or else, wihout it, nothing can exist anymore
It is remarkable how Elytis expresses this topology of «balance»:
1) (If you go) Past this point unrest and darkness (i.e. depicting a chaotic, exclusively-external world)
2) (If you go) Before this point, roaring screaming angels
(i.e. depicting a closed exclusively-inner world)
3) And on this point, advancewithout limit is possible
This «balance» is therefore not merely a (simple) boundary between Inner and Outer.
Particularly interesting is the rhetorical question raised by the poet, answering his own (previous) lyrics:
– What’s good? What’s evil?
I.e. the distinction itself, between Inside and Outside is the correct answer to the wrong… (children’s) question «what is good and what is evil?»
Interestingly, the alleged «most important of all» religious or theological questions, the question (or distinction between-) «what is good and what is evil», is not treated as a doctrine (by the poet) but only heretically and existential-ly (or boundary-wise):
The answer of the Archetypal Self to the fresh, «newlyborn» Self is that this (distinction between Good and Evil) is not the most fundamental distinction; not the most important question to ask. Instead of this old disctinction, between Good and Evil, the correct alternative question one should ask, or the correct fundamental distinction, is simply the distinction between Inner and Outer worlds.
- Obviously, the «correct way to exist» is not through a recluse-likeregress inside the purely internal world (of «screaming angels») nor through getting lost in the chaos of the Outer World; The correct way is pursuing the balance of standing or residing ON the boundary, on the distinction itself – between inside and outside.
Indeed, Odysseus Elytis expresses exactly the same thing as George Spencer Brown’s distinction, in his poem «Genesis». He speaks about himself, but not exactly his «earthly» self…
In this poem (as in many others) Elytis is not talking about something «Christian» (or «religious» in a dogmatic sense) but expresses awe towards the greatness of a Personal Religious Experience of Cosmic Bliss, achieved through an Inner Journey, a process of «internal navigation» within his Archetypal Self.
This peculiar experience of Elytis, lacking a conventional Patriarchal God but immersed in a Divine «mythical self», could very well be (without any misunderstanding) a «primary religious experience», with no doctrine and no dogmatism.
In this «primary Experience of Distinction», which probably represents a real situation of Mind experienced by the poet on a personal level (as described in another article of this blog – HERE) the Forms of both Inner and Outer worlds are inextricably linked in an unbroken unity (or non-distinction), which ceases after birth, after a rapture disrupting this primordial unity, or after emerging from/out-of- the experience which recollects all this, regressing deply into primordial / archetypal Timelessness (within the Present Time).
In the meantime, the dream-like surrealist scene of the poet’s experience has a timeless frame of reference, where present, past and future have not yet been distinguished!
In other words, Elytis, (most probably) without reading George Spencer-Brown, expressed in his lyrics (perhaps better than Spencer-Brown) an Experiential Process which Spencer-Brown regards as the most fundamental of all; a process that underlies Logic in its totality: – The genesis of a «primary distinction» between Inner and Outer worlds.
- P.S. I have translated in Greek the whole book «Laws of Form» (by George Spencer Brown) many years ago.If you are interested in publishing it / printing it (with G.S.B.’s permission) in Greece, send an e-mail to my address: omadeon @ hotmail.com.