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  • Nickolas Vaccaro

The Word, the Poem, the Image, and the Human Gaze

​Caption: ​The Virgin Annunciate, Antonello da Messina, c. 1476. The Virgin is, here, come to the knowledge of her conception of Christ not by an angel but from the book before her, from the Word. The act of materially impossible conception, the birth of Christ, comes to be, comes to existence, only when it is written of, passing from the Virgin’s verbal annunciation to the written chronicle of the birth, passing from Word to Word — with the material being of the birth of Christ between these, with the fleshly and actual real, with the time of the phenomenon, being irrelevant, if not nonexistent. The Virgin hears the announcing angel, reads the text before her, and at once knows of the birth, at once births and foresees and remembers. It is written, and it is known and was and is at once. Thus the world is made in or by the Word; thus we are made and come to know ourselves as our gaze falls upon the Word; thus the Word is the initiating gaze of God, as the face or mask of God, which we reciprocate; thus we, as the Virgin, birth the Word and from our rotting flesh eternity comes forth, thus in dust and at the end eternity begins, the Word stands.

What, in its creation and being, emergence and existence, movement and stasis, action and witness; what, in its creation of itself and of its subject; what, in its spontaneity and eternity; what, in its appearance, sudden or eternally postponed; what, in its beginning and end and timeless being; what, in the reality, in the world it creates; what, in its creation and its gaze upon itself, upon its creation and upon the world; what, in all these, in itself, is the Word?

Treating the Word simultaneously to be the singular or particular element — though in itself a whole of wholes (syllables, morphemes, etc.) of parts or indivisible wholes (individual letters) — of language, of language as art (poetry) and to be the whole of language and of the poem, the word becomes a whole in itself (the particular word) and a whole existing or emerging as the apparent accumulation of wholes (the Word of particular words) — or the image, the indivisible reflection, of such an accumulation. We then approach the question of the Word as symbol, as mask behind which there is nothing; the question of the birth of the Word, whence it comes and whither; the question of the Word’s subject, that which the Word represents, mimics, becomes — the mask which the Word (itself a mask) wears; the question of the Word’s meaning, the subject which the Word itself creates, either initially or retrospectively; and the question of the Word as it is in the subjective, passive and absent gaze — the Word as it emerges and moves forth and stands motionless in its being, at last part of a greater indivisible image (a poetic image whole), reflected from the sum (the above accumulation) of words. 

The last question — of the Word as it is in our subjectivity, our absent gaze, as it is thus a perception or symbol of its objective self, a mask before a mask before nothingness or absence — presents to us the conclusion, or rather a notation which is stepping stone along a greater path, that the Word creates itself, demarcates itself its terms and limits and foundation for existence. This self-birth nevertheless is not preceded by this self-demarcation of the footing for this birth, but the latter process occurs simultaneously with the former — both thrusting the Word into absolute existence (absolute existence as object-existence that does not follow any movement of becoming, towards existence) — the Word, in its birth and foundation to hold its birth, being neither emergent nor moving but already existing. The Word does not emerge from out or within the present time, from out or within our gaze, as a phenomenon, but rather enters our gaze from without, stands across from us, in absolute and timeless being — and we, mute, wordless, take the Word — that come to us from outside our gaze and our subjectivity — for our own. 

The Word is neither emergent from nor existent within our gaze which is directed towards the present, our subjectivity, but comes to us and emerges from us as a timeless, abyssal, insuperable whole of itself. This is to say — as the ancients called poets prophets (poeta vates) — that the Word, if a timeless transcendent and descending whole, is the face God, a mask behind which is the presence of absence, a symbol which thrusts forth and stands unmoving in absolute existence, without a present or past or future. And as the Word descends and falls to come within our gaze, we scarcely raise our heads and already we see it in its wholeness and know it and birth it from our lips and pens as the fruit of our thought — a fallen, mortal, material fruit that was whole and eternal before its earthly conception. The resultant sum of words — brought into ink from the thrusting forth of this wholeness, this poetic force in thought — similarly births itself and builds the foundation to hold its birth simultaneously. And, at last, this divisible sum of words creates through reflection an indivisible image (the poetic image whole) which creates, inhabits and transcends each word and part; this image, then, is the Word, the mask before the mask, the face of God in its absolute, unconquerable, unmoving presence and existence without birth or death. The space across which this poetic image whole is reflected is an empty space, the material world, the world of thought, the world and being behind the subjective gaze. 

The Word — as we see it and take it and cast it with our rotting hands onto the rotting ground — is eternity surrogated by mortality, gold found amidst but not formed from dust. It is our tragedy, of our blindness, that our gaze sees our end and nothing beyond it. As it is a presence, the Word is the face of God, a mask which looks at us and we at it, which speaks to us and we write — and we, poets, fall into the earth, kissed and thrown forth by the divinity. We weep and trace an eternity in the dust, we weep and from our rot sing our tragedy, we weep and birth the divinity and end after the birth — we, mute surrogates, passive hordes — seeing, knowing, weeping and without words. 

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