George Oppen and Objectifying the Self

maude lebowski painting scene
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You may be asking yourself, “How does this short clip from the cult classic film The Big Lebowski apply to George Oppen and Objectivism?”  Well my Whitmanian friends, I think this video has everything to do with my view of George Oppen and Objectivism, and the clip immediately came to my mind when we began discussing some of his shorter poems especially “World, World.”  I could only find the French dubbed version of the scene, but the dialogue does not really matter.

First of all, I fet like The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) as I approached Oppen’s poetry.  I had no idea what was going on.  And even as I have begun to delve into a closer reading of the text, I still am pretty unsure about what Oppen is saying.

The painting and painter in this clip parallels Oppen and his writing in my opinion.  Oppen is considered an Objectivist poet, which we defined as a poetry of perception and clarity, and yet we also discussed the distance found in Objective poetry.  Distance and clarity seem to be opposing ideas, but I think that Oppen was able to create clarity through the distance of his ‘self’ in his poems.

The painter in the clip is not actually touching her canvas but is literally flying over it, as she splashes paint down on it from above.  In this sense, she is not actually putting her ‘self’ into the painting.  She is removing herself from the painting by flying over it and just throwing paint down.  However, if you look closely, the painting is of a human figure.  While Maude Lebowski might not be actually painting on the canvas her self, the painting is of a ‘self.’  Likewise, I felt as if George Oppen was trying to paint a picture through an objective lens, a lens that did not include his ‘self,’ but inevitably all of his poems pointed to the ‘self.’

The ‘self’ presented in the poem “World, World -” confused me at first, but I think Oppen is stressing that one must come outside of his or her self in order to better understand themselves.  I think Oppen is saying that people who do not objectively look at themselves, or try and look at their self from an outside perspective, are not able to truly know themselves when he writes:

Those who will not look
Tho they feel on their skins
Are not pierced;

One cannot count them
Tho they are present.

By not objectifying the self, one will “lose oneself in the self.”  I feel like I am just barely touching the tip of the iceberg, and that Oppen is obviously saying so much more than this in this poem, but I think it is important to point out Oppen’s idea of the ‘self’ because Oppen’s self is more latent than manifest in his poems.  Like Maude Lebowsky, Oppen is writing about himself by not actually writing directly about himself.

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