A.E.M. Baumann

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The Knossian Oracles






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About The Knossian Oracles



Note: Because of formatting issues that cannot be controlled, the pages of the text may not work on smart phones, particularly where paragraphs are concerned. See below.



What are the Knossian Oracles? (The Amazon Description)


The Knossian Oracles is a journey in the traditions of myth and magic; in the erotic; in literary fantasy; and in poetic invention. Its themes rest heavily in the esoteric: from alchemy to mysticism, to traditions of witchcraft and the occult, and to myth, tapping many sources, but especially the tales of Daedalus and Pasiphäe, Theseus and Ariadne. However, while the book is woven from literary fantasy, the thread that unifies it is the characters of a contemporary man and woman. Through those characters and their many incarnations, The Knossian Oracles explores (what may be) its central theme: the hieros gamos, the union of the eternal masculine and eternal feminine. As an erotic work it takes up in words what is an important theme in the plastic arts: the female form. And it is not false to call The Knossian Oracles a meditation on beauty. Some may even say it is best described as a love poem in long form, though that may be putting to the fore what is an inevitable current within all the previous. Though, with The Knossian Oracles, how can you begin to distinguish what in the above is current and what is river?

While The Knossian Oracles is constituted of eighty-three “fragments” plus the seven part poem that brings the work to a close, it has development and progression, scenes and characters. It is not, however, a novel-in-verse: it does not have a plot as found in a novel, nor is it uniform in style. The fragments vary greatly, from the formal to the experimental, from the lyrical to the narrative, from the very brief to the somewhat long. Creating a unity of these stylistically disparate and thematically ranging parts is one of the endeavors of the work. This is not a collection of verse. It is a book. And a book like none other.



A Little Back Story


The Oracles sprang out of a different project, a prose project – at least, a mostly prose project – and a long, wandering chapter about a man and a woman. I began playing around with ideas around that couple and wrote an early form of what would eventually become Fragment 15. This is back around 2000. My interest in the verse I was writing quickly overran my interest in the prose project, and most of my creative energies over the next years went into what would become the Oracles. It was, indeed, to be the main part of my dissertation for a PhD in Creative Writing. Unfortunately, other things got in the way. (And before you start doing the math in your head, I will clarify that I went to grad school later in life.)

(Did I just make you do the math in your head?)

Principal photography on the Oracles was completed primarily between 2000-05, and 2013-14. There might have been some work on it in that long interim. There probably was; I don't really remember. The latter period is when I wrote all but a couple of moments in the "Axiom of Maria Prophetissa" section, and is when the rest of the work found its final organization and form. I find it very curious how it all seemed to fall into place while writing the "Axiom" fragments. The rest of the book was not in any way written sequentially. Indeed, And the Light Falls, Remir was written somewhat in the middle of those first five years, as I remember it. (I may be wrong.) It was a very organic process, frost growing on a window pane in response to the reading and research I was doing. (See, for an idea of that, the bibliography.) I sometimes wonder what would have become of the Oracles if I had not taken the paths I had chosen and continued, in 2005 and 06 to work on it. To be honest, I am very pleased with the "Axiom" section: it gathers together all that precedes it and points it to the And the Light Falls, Remir, which by its nature stands both with and apart from the rest of the book, as was always intended. At 2005, I was somewhat lost with the organization of the book. I had a seven section plan for it, but it simply was not coming to fruition. And yet, in 2013, the "Axiom" section almost wrote itself, and the path to bringing it all into a whole could not have been more obvious. The curious things that happen in making.


For the last couple of years I've been sending the Oracles to poetry presses, but to no success. But, then, I had few expectations. For one, the Oracles is a large book, which immediately eliminates most presses. But even beyond that the Oracles is simply too different from what is being published nowadays. What likelihood would there be to publish a large, technically ambitious work that readily accepts the label of being fantasy, that despite a history in English of verse and fantasy going in hand in hand? Verse – U.S. literature as a whole – is too caught up in realism these days, I do believe.

It had always been my thought that once I gave up on publishing through normal means I would put the whole of it online and self-publish through a print-on-demand outlet, and let the former feed the latter. By having it online I have a place where I can point to it in whole or in part, to let it be browsed as one would a book in a bookstore. My hope has always been simply to find readers, to take part in, if not begin, a conversation on literature, verse, and art. It is the same hope I have with my blog, the Poetry Daily Critique, and this site as a whole.



On the Nature of Things


From the start, the Oracles were intended to be an erotic work. Only, the aim was to avoid as much as possible direct representation of sex. Though my degree program may have been in creative writing, my studies were deeply anchored in theory and aesthetics, and I was especially interested in the place where the aesthetic and the erotic overlap – where eroticism and symbolism unify. Though, it is a little deceptive to say it that way. I have long had an interest in the erotic. My graduate work gave that interest a theoretic grounding. And the Oracles are an effort to put those ideas to practical test.

Add to that the desire to work in myth and esoterica and it is almost a natural conclusion that the hieros gamos would become a primary support pillar of the work as a whole, especially as regards the idea of creation. When I say the Oracles is an extension of my studies and readings at the time, it is not solely in subject matter. The Oracles may have as its primary character a writer and is, one the surface, about writing a text, but it is also an exploration of what is aesthetic making. In fact, I might say it the other way around: the Oracles is about aesthetic making; it is also about a writer writing a text.

It is best said that way also because of the structure of the work. As stated in the description, above, this is not a collection of verse, it is a book. Since the first time I read The Waste Land, if not before, I have been interested in methods like parataxis, in how disparate elements can yet come together to make a whole greater than the parts. Not a work that organizes in the way as does books such as Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of stories that is unified by its being about a set of characters in a set place, but a work that generates ideational development through and across its separate parts even when, on the surface, contiguous parts might be about wholly different characters in wholly different places. (Not that I am disparaging Winesburg, Ohio: it's excellent, and you should read it if you haven't. It influenced many early twentieth-century writers.) The Oracles is an effort to such an end: to a book of many parts that unifies as a single experience, as opposed to a series of small, independent – if mechanically connected – moments. This even with its closing section, And the Light Falls, Remir, which is the part of the Oracles most written to stand successfully alone, even as it was always intended to be the culmination – the aesthetic climax – of the whole.

Not a loosely chosen word, aesthetic, a word that's been present throughout this short discussion. It is an idea that was fundamental to the writing of the Oracles. For from the start the aim was not merely to make something out of words, but to make something beautiful out of words. Again, not only in regard to this fragment or that, but in taking the work as a whole: that the whole book, read as a book, would be a beautiful object. What that meant was part of the exploration in writing the Oracles, also part of the exploration conducted in the text itself. An exploration that, perhaps, begins in the fundamental understanding that, in nude photography, it is not enough to take a picture of a beautiful body. That is merely documentation. Aesthetic success comes when you make a beautiful photograph, in which that body is not only subject but participant. "Poetry is wonderful," says Eliot, mis-quoting William Ker, and he is speaking about genuine poetry, not mere verse, and the point of the word for both is the idea of wonder; "Poetry is wonderful," he says, "and if it isn't, it should be."



A Note on the On-line Text


Obviously, the on-line text cannot exactly duplicate the text in the book. I did decide, though, to adhere to page by page contents. That is, for the most part, what you find here on any one page corresponds to what you will find on that same page in the book. It might look a little different for the change in font and the translation to html, but not that different.

Also, the formatting falls apart some when viewed on smart phones. The font is not held constant on phones as it is on computer or tablet, and it is usually larger on phones. So, for example, on pages with paragraphs, the text runs long and the paragraphs overlap. (How much depends on the phone.) I don't believe this is something that can be fixed or controlled by me. If the difference is minimal (as on my phone) the verse pages are for the most part unchanged, and the overlap on paragraphs is but a line. But the more the font size changes, the more problems will arise throughout the site. When it comes to it, this site is not optimized at all for use on smart phones, and, as far I know, can't be.



On to The Knossian Oracles