Reverse Engineering

When I told my family and friends that I was going to start a web site called Harvest Liberty, most politely smiled and said something like, “Is that so?”  One dear friend and mentor, however, offered this: “I challenge you to report back on how you do it.”  At the time I laughed and accepted his challenge.  But standing now on the back end of my first year and contemplating a reverse engineering of a crop as nebulous as liberty, I am wondering if I might have been a bit foolish.  Nevertheless, I gave my word, so here goes.

I was perhaps most surprised to find out that a liberty harvest requires not the tools of the politician, but rather, the tools of the artist.  Going in I’m certain I reckoned it solely a question of human law and governance.  A matter of Constitutional rights, of reining in a government on steroids, of educating the American citizen and re-invigorating a limpid democracy.

I imagined myself becoming fluent in the work of the three branches of U.S. government, able to analyze their manoeuvres with an eye to the course of greatest liberty.  It became quickly apparent however that in a government of two parties, where a third party is effectively barred even from joining in a Presidential debate, that trying to grow liberty in that medium would be like coaxing corn from the cracked earth of Death Valley.

For after all, a true harvest isn’t about gathering existing forms.  It is, rather, the end product of a process that begins with desire.  I am eating fresh lima beans this evening because last year eating the last delicious bite of them in the house roused my desire.  In terms of this project, my hunger derives from the same impetus Irish literary critic Denis Donoghue identifies as driving the experimental poetic forms of Eliot, Pound and Hart Crane, poets who Donoghue believes “were convinced that there was mainly discrepancy between their feelings and the forms at hand to express them” (1).

It is as Wallace Stevens writes in Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction:

“From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves
And hard it is in spite of blazoned days” (2).

Yes, it is hard.  And might I not as easily say: “From this the desire for liberty springs?”

As we cast about 21st Century America for cultural forms that represent our selves and find them not, the knee-jerk reaction is to succumb to antithetical and direct challenge of the status quo.  But doing so doesn’t create anything new.  Both of us, the liberty farmer and the poet, if we are to be successful, must move beyond mimicry to manifestation.  We must strive to remake a world in our image.

To do so we can pursue instead an antinomian approach, one that does not engage in conflict, but keeps “in view a structure of values that stands aside from the official designations of reality and proposes to go its own way” (1).  Because when we follow this approach, when we experiment with the forms of our lives as Eliot experimented with the forms of poesy in The Wasteland, something miraculous happens.  We harvest liberty.

Donoghue again: “Form transfigures what otherwise merely exists, and by that transfiguration it maintains the validity of freedom.  It is not creation from nothing, but a further creation from the otherwise created.  Form is substance as imagined, not merely received: transfigured, not mimed” (1).  Hallelujah and Amen.  May your forms be as plentiful as your selves.

Have I lost you?  Damn near well have eluded myself.

So look, let’s leave it at this:

When I undertake finding my own way home, I am free.

© Jennifer S. and, 2012.


(1) Donoghue, Denis. “The Force of Form.” 2000. Manuscript copy obtained directly from author.

(2) Stevens, Wallace. “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction.” The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens.  New York: Vintage Books, 1990.


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