The rhythm of a poem frequently includes a device known as a caesura: a mid-line pause indicated by a punctuation mark that breaks up a line-unit. On the one hand, the caesura is experienced as an interruption to an established rhythmic flow or pattern. The caesura intrudes upon the momentum towards completion, slowing the forward-momentum of the poem. It stops the reader suddenly, creating a feeling of coming up short.
On the other hand, however, the caesura also facilitates the perception of the rhythm by forcing “the line to reassert itself in the listener’s perception.” (Tsur, Poetic Rhythm, 113, 15.) The caesuric interruption breaks up the semantic content into two more manageable chunks, making the musicality of the line, its rhythm and pattern rather than only its semantic content, more available to the reader’s consciousness. Giorgio Agamben therefore compares the caesura to a situation in which a rider has fallen asleep on a horse. When the horse suddenly stops, the rider becomes aware of that which carriers her, that of which she was previously unaware (The Idea of Prose). The caesuric interruption makes one suddenly aware of the rhythm which was previously carrying one but had slipped into the background. The reader is then responsible for maintain the pattern in the face of this event, of accommodating the rhythm to the event such that it deepens and complexifies, but does not break. If the rhythm of a poem is to become complete, such complexification is necessary and this is largely accomplished through moments that disrupt the pattern begun at the outset.
The season of Lent is caesuric. It is an interruption, of one sort of another, to the daily routine of ordinary time. It is intended to “throw us off” in some way, destabilizing our typical habits of reliance and thereby forcing us to confront the fragility of the creaturely rhythms of eating, sleeping, working, communicating on which existence is carried. It is not necessarily a matter of breaking these rhythms as one would break a bad habit. These creaturely rhythms are good. But we are often unaware of them, eager as we are to set our minds on things that remind us less of our fragility, and as such we do not always perform them very well. So Lent is a caesura in that it requires us to notice these patterns by disrupting them and as such invites us to continue these rhythms in ways that are deeper, more complex, and more attentive.
The rhythms of the contemporary West, and consequently of my own space-time, are in large part determined by the rhythms of electronic and web media – social and otherwise – the rhythms of checking-and-rechecking, scrolling, of thinking and communicating in short bursts, of the background noises that govern electronic media. These shape the rhythms of the day more than many of us realize, and as such, my Lent this year is a caesura of the rhythms of those electronic media, so that I might return to performing them in ways that are deeper and more aware.
As such, this blog and all my other online presences will be silent for the next 40 days. I look forward to this creative interruption and wish you a likewise caesuric Lent.