The “Welcome” Blog Post from MFA Director, 2017
In 1824, a 19-year old would-be artist came to meet William Blake, and the elder poet asked him a terribly simple question: “Do you work with fear and trembling?” It was for him, the young man claimed, a “formative” experience. In some way half-inexplicable to myself, I might want to ask each of us, students and faculty alike, the very same question—not to promote fear, not to set anyone to trembling, but to embed somewhere in the margin of our minds that we are here to practice an apprehensive art.
The Greeks had a vast notion of what learning might be, and for the knowledge at which learning is supposed to arrive, an astonishing variety of words that show how nuanced a thing it is to know anything. Gignoskow is to know by perceiving, while epistemai is to know by encounter, by action; another verb is to know by inference. The words for thinking are just as rich, moving through thinking as a form of belief, to thinking as work in similarities, in seemings; to that lovely word froneow, to think as to get understanding, to think so as to become wise. The word for being, eime, is the also the word from coming or going—as if one is always trying to reach the place where one is. Most lovely, to my mind at least, is the word lambanow, which simultaneously means to take, to receive, to grasp, to understand. This word of knowing, so curiously constituted from its own opposites—as if to take is also to receive, as if to understand is also a physical grasping—verges into that terrain Blake opened for young Mr. Palmer, that work of pure apprehension in which fear and grasping and understanding all occur within one another, and the result, so oddly, is the work of art in which those confoundings occur: the poem, the story, the essay.
So it is with a little tremble in the hand, a little fear in the voice, that I welcome all the writers in the MFA Program back for the new academic year.
May our pages grow apprehensive, and may they teach us to do the same.
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