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Andrew Duncan

Origins of the Underground

Origins of the Underground


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The background to Origins of the Underground is really the story of how British poets became intellectuals. As they retreated from inherited and fixed value systems, they had to think for themselves, and this was a race which intellectuals generally won. You can't just buy in ideas like a small tropical country buying jet fighter planes. What the success of poets seems to turn on is their willingness to use ideas which excite the ideas part of their brains because they are genuinely unfamiliar. Poets who prefer to stick to well-worn and inherited arguments, where they can predict every move, fail for this reason. The area of nearby uncertainty has an odd shape. Obviously, most of the ideas which were new and risky thirty years ago are now forgotten – the risk fell to earth, so to speak. A certain archaeology is needed to retrieve these "casualty" ideas. I admit that I enjoy this sort of digging, and the practice of psychoceramics (the scientific study of crackpots), but perhaps this pleasure pursuit is useful as well. The terrain is made impassable by deep mutual disagreements between different groups of poetry readers (and writers). Going in at the level of ideas offers a possible way of easing these disagreements. Admittedly, it's very difficult to find out exactly what they are.

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