Monday, January 16, 2006


While I have much sympathy with Joshua Clover’s kvetch about the frequent appearances of Baudelaire & Hölderlin as synechdoches for “lyric poetry” in the work of twentieth-century philosophers of aesthetics, I can’t help feeling he’s narrowing his own aperture a bit too closely. What about Derrida on Ponge & Celan? Lacoue-Labarthe on Celan? But the problem isn’t so much with the specific figures of Hölderlin & Baudelaire as it is with a narrowed conception of the poetic as lyric, a conception into which Celan indeed fits without much trouble. (The problem, that is, besides the general shelving of poetry as a useful subject for cultural criticism – and even tho JC gives Fredric Jameson an honorable exemption, I can’t recall more than a passing reference or two to any contemporary poetry in Jameson’s work [aside from the silly bit about Perelman we all know].) What would contemporary theoretically-inflected literary criticism look like if, instead of Baudelaire & Hölderlin as models, writers took Apollinaire, Pound, and Loy as exemplary figures? Yes, yes, a hell of a lot more interesting.
And check out Josh Hanson on poetry & praxis: he doesn’t answer the question (& nobody has yet), but he asks it in quite a pertinent manner.

1 comment:

Norman Finkelstein said...

What if we were to hold criticism and philosophy in abeyance for a while and instead consider the claim made by some poets, including a number with whom you are quite familiar, Mark, that poetry is in itself a way of thinking. At issue then is not primarily what is "theorized" about poetry, but what poetry itself "theorizes." Furthermore, the fact that this kind of thinking takes place within the rigors of form makes it not merely a description of ideas but an enactment of ideas. If nothing else, this practice makes us take poets more seriously as thinkers and makes us read poetry more closely. What we discover, I think, is that poets tell us as much about poetry, as an art and as mode of thinking, as do "theoretically-inflected" (or infected) critics.

PS This from someone who is currently teaching Contemporary American Poetry in addition to grad and undergrad theory courses!