A famous poem by Yeats — “Fragments” — consists of two stanzas. The first one goes:
LOCKE sank into a swoon;
The Garden died;
God took the spinning-jenny
Out of his side.
I misread this poem for many years because for some reason I got stuck in the mis-reading that Locke sank into the swoon because the spinning-jenny was taken out of his side. I misinterpreted the poem as saying that Locke the materialistic philosopher somehow turned himself into a mechanism.
This morning it clicked into place. Locke is like Adam, but his garden dies. When Adam fell into a swoon God took Eve out of his side to help him. But Locke, the materialist philosopher and symbol of modern man sinks into a swoon and God takes a machine out of his side. Yeats is saying that modern man is unable to stand being helped by a woman — presumably because she is equally valuable to him, capable of blaming him requiring things from him, a mystery as deep as he is — and prefers to be helped by a robot — a slave he can understand. Needless to say this is nothing new, as pre-modern man often tried to turn woman into a slave — Robot in Czech.
Yeats is a good poet so he picks a machine with a female name; a spinning jenny. You can google it — it was important for the industrial revolution.
How did I figure it out? It clicked into place for me this morning. But how do I know it’s correct? Does the subjective feeling of clicking into place prove anything? Is it just “fancy”? Not really because it had been bugging me unconsciously for years — what does that mean exactly that he took a spininng jenny out of his side? What was a spinning jenny anyway — I had been too lazy to look it up. And for some reason I never made the obvious connection that what is taken out of Adam’s side is not the mechanism that makes him work, it is woman.
Now it’s so obvious — Yeats is re-telling the creation of woman but telling it as the story of the creation of the first robot.
Locke of course would say I could have gotten this truth in two ways — through a sense impression or through an innate idea. My ideas are true if the outside world is making me think them by plinking my sense organs, or because it is part of the factory presets of my operating system.
Yeats gives us a different epistemology of poetic creation and poetic interpretation.
Where got I that truth?
Out of a medium’s mouth.
Out of nothing it came,
Out of the forest loam,
Out of dark night where lay
The crowns of Nineveh.
What is this medium’s mouth, nothing, forest loam, dark night where Yeats got his poem and I got my interpretation — which serves to crown us as god-kings of Nineveh?
What is it? It’s unknown but by moving forward into it we can cultivate the known. As the medium also says somewhere “there is a budding morn in midnight.”
Not a sense impression and not an innate idea, Locke. Nothing, loam, night and the medium’s mouth.
Needless to say the mediums for men were all women. I would guess if a woman wrote the poem the medium might be a man.