There’s a scene in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities in which a peasant woman pleads with a local authority to have a stone put on the grass over her husband’s grave, engraved with his name and the dates of his birth and death, so as to distinguish him from the other unmarked graves. While a morbid example, marking the space where a beloved body is interred—or defying societal laws to give a deceased brother his proper burial, in the case of Antigone—is an act of profound human dignity. There is nothing more haunting than a graveyard full of unmarked graves: these sites are pervaded by disquiet, whether or not one believes in ghosts.
Similarly, the voice, like the name, is that which cannot be replaced, or that which is yearned for, if effaced.
The Orphic myth, like any myth, has its roots in various religions and mythologies throughout history, and has been resurrected by many contemporary poets and theorists, frequently as a kind of postmodern trope. In the words of Ihab Hassan, author of The Dismemberment of Orpheus: “I accept the instability of the term [postmodernism] in the age of hype and media. I accept its labile, shifting, conflictual character, in a time of ideological wars. And, increasingly, I ignore it because my own interests have drifted away from it toward the possibilities of a spirituality that addresses all the issues of the postmodern turn. This said, I still remind myself that when Charles Jencks talks about postmodern architecture or Fredric Jameson about the ‘cultural logic of late capitalism,’ something real, not just hyperreal, is being discussed.”
There is something so fantastical about a head separated from its body—moreover, a head that sings its sweetest song not in collusion with its body, but when separated therefrom. Orpheus gives delight, as does any intellectually rigorous poem which investigates, challenges, yet ultimately asserts its independence from (like Nietzsche’s übermensch) the philosophical anxieties—aesthetic, literary, and political—of our time.
Virginia Konchan's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Believer, The New Republic, Notre Dame Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Jacket and elsewhere. She presently serves as a contributing reviewer to The Rumpus and ForeWord Magazine. Her poem, "Notes for a Non-Native Speaker" will appear in HFR #46.