“Survivor’s Glee” is the first poem in Jeffrey McDaniel’s book The Forgiveness Parade, and it is the first poem I ever read by this genius. McDaniel wrote, “I strapped on an oxygen tank and dove into the past / paddling back through the years / emerging from a manhole on memory lane.” I scrawled, “Wow.” I circled, “My parents welcomed me with open elbows.” I drew a giant smiley face next to “A pipe burst behind my eyes.” And I scrawled on the blank page across from the poem,
“I WANT TO WRITE LIKE THIS!”
So, I ache to communicate as effectively and simply as Jeffrey McDaniel and his strange, creative imagery, recognizable yet skewed and surreal, marrying abstract images to concrete so that they shock thoughts and emotions to life. What could this have to do with Classical Literary Criticism? By observing McDaniel through Plato Specs, Aristotle Spectacles, and Longinus Spectacles I expect to be able to let you know if I agree with Penelope Murray that, “Attitudes to literature have been profoundly shaped by the great writers and thinkers of classical antiquity” (vii).
First, wearing my Plato Specs I observe the same frustration with violence, corruption and politics in 2010 that disgusted Plato in antiquity. “For Plato the poet has no knowledge, and the imitations which he produces are mere reflections of the external world, at third remove from the reality of the Forms” (Murray xxx). Jeffery McDaniel has knowledge of world where an oxygen tank is needed to dive into the past. Although his metaphors appears more removed than three times from reality with or without my Plato Specs the artist moves from his heart to mine as if we were one.
Changing to my Aristotle eyeglasses I am surprised that what I see is remarkably different from my Plato perspectives, because according to Classical Literary Criticism Aristotle studied at the Athens Academy of Plato for twenty years. Murray says, “Whereas Plato views poetry as an inspired, and therefore irrational activity, Aristotle treats it as the product of skill or art which is based on rational and intelligible principles” (xxx). In my Aristotle spectacles I can see the skill and art abounding in Jeffrey McDaniel’s work, but the rational intelligible principles seem to be missing. But to communicate as effectively as McDaniel does, they must be there.
I found looking at Jeffrey McDaniel wearing my Longinus spectacles that McDaniel did not have the appearance of the sublime . Murray says, “The study of literature continued to be an important part of the curriculum in the training of the orator throughout antiquity, and the purpose of such study was to enable the student to acquire verbal facility” (xiv). In the video that follows the verbal facility of Jeffrey McDaniel appears to lack strength, vitality and creativeness.
Murray says, “Higher education in the Graeco-Roman world . . . included the art of writing as well as the art of speaking” (xlv). One does not have to be wearing antiquity spectacles to know that both are still important today. Some tried to transform the “Bard” McDaniel’s on line readings with cartoon artwork, but it did not enhance his presentation. However, using Murray’s definition, “Sublimity is characterized by its ability to amaze and transport an audience, overwhelming them with its irresistible power” (xivi), Jeffrey McDaniel’s writings do not require him to be an eloquent speaker to move his audiences. His poetry moves from his heart to his public's satisfying as an intravenous feeding.
This ability of McDaniel’s reminds me of another of Loginus’ way of cultivating . . . sublimity . . . through phantasia . . . when the speaker imagines the speaker imagines the scene he describes so vividly that he can bring it before the eyes of his audience. However in McDaniel’s case “the poet aims to astonish us by the depiction of scenes which can exceed the bounds of credibility” but the orator’s goal is not “vividness and realistic description” and yet he succeeds “to overwhelm the audience with . . . powerful and inspired emotion” (Murray xlvii). I aim to astonish readers with powerful and inspired emotion as McDaniel does.
In conclusion, “Although greatness of mind is a natural capacity, the sublimity that results from it can be inspired by the imitation or emulation of previous writers who have shown themselves capable of achieving sublimity” (Murray xlvii), and Jeffrey McDaniel doe.