Paul Elisha: Freedom and Chaos


Max Frisch, the 20th Century Swiss architect, novelist, playwright, philosopher wrote of many things but on one subject, he was most intensely prescient.  Of technology, he wrote—“Technology is the knack of arranging the world, so that we don’t have to experience it.”

The American educational philosopher, John Dewey, was even more pointedly critical.  “Freedom of action,” he wrote, “without freed capacity of thought behind it, is only chaos.”  Chaos seems to be just about where our current mastery of technology is on the verge of propelling us.  This was particularly evident to this commentator, in the most recent edition of Poetry Magazine, the most venerable and respected American digest of its kind; founded by Harriet Monroe in 1912 and still preponderantly influential.  In its June, 2012 edition, boasting one hundred years of continuous publication, Poetry’s current editor, Christian Wiman proudly plunges the venerable bible of American verse into the callous and chaotic shambles of inconsiderate and indolent self-service, to which most of mercantile America has become addicted:  the elimination of human contact and its audio-automated replacement, with computerized code-word communication.

 Ads for institutions offering advanced degree curricula are devoid of geographic addresses or phone numbers.  For any and all responses, one must contend with ‘dot.coms’ or ‘orgs.’  Even abbreviated hints at wisdom, from the editor himself, have shrunk to ‘pod-cast’ promos and ‘web-site’ crypto-coded ‘blog’ beckonings.    Understandably, time and technology have changed much more in our world, than Poetry, since Harriet Monroe founded her little magazine, in 1912.  Still, one would hope some vestige of credence and simple courtesy remains for all to share and enjoy, in a world where even less is not easily found.

The former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Benjamin Cardozo noted:  “Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.”  Surely Poetry’s editor, Christian Wiman, can find at least something of vestigial import, still worth defending.  For the present, though, from the look of the newly ‘technologized’ and up-to-date Poetry magazine, he either can’t …  or won’t.