Friday, January 11, 2008

Review: Pure Reason by Nikos Stangos

Nikos Stangos
Pure Reason

Published by Thames & Hudson

Reviewed by Eric Karl Anderson


It seems important to note at the start what a handsome object Pure Reason is before discussing the intellectual depth of the poems within it. The book is filled with photographs of astonishing drawings, paintings and sculptures by many notable artists including David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin and Jasper Johns to name a few. These artworks are often paired with poems that comment upon the emotion or mood evoked by the writing. The art also has a direct connection with the late author himself. Nikos Stangos was a commissioning editor for Thames & Hudson, encouraging the work and overseeing the publication of books on the visual arts by many of the artists whose work is included. Some of the artwork within the book was created in honor of Stangos himself. It has been lovingly edited and includes an introduction and afterward by the prominent author David Plante. Published posthumously, Pure Reason is a highly touching personal tribute, but, more importantly, it also contains poems that rigorously explore the human condition in an illuminating and deeply philosophical way.

What’s so compelling about Stangos’ poetry is that, although it is deeply concerned with ideas, it remains wholly human. The voice which breaks through wants to understand itself and its relationship to others. Many of the poems seem to investigate the intermediary of language itself, the way that words carry meaning and can conceal truth. Throughout the book, Stangos describes a striving towards the roots of ideas, strategies for arriving at their central meaning. The author’s outlook is decidedly optimistic in its consideration of a world containing a multiplicity of valid viewpoints: “I want the meaning to be one. Meaning is one when distances define.” Yet Stangos also postulates that the truth we seek may also be purposefully concealed through our own actions, our own “beliefs” which are “only the rational excuses for feelings.” Nevertheless, he conveys that it’s necessary to strive towards a place devoid of ambiguities, a place of “purity” and “one truth.”

At heart, this book is a tremendously beautiful tribute to a man who devoted himself to art and new forms of expressing the spiritual depths of life. But the poetry touches upon themes that are so powerfully universal they can’t be limited to any one individual.


Eric Karl Anderson is author of the novel Enough and has published work in various publications such as The Ontario Review, Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Blithe House Quarterly and the anthology From Boys to Men.

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