Monday, January 23, 2006


Josh Hanson comments that that list of "touchstones" for the argument that poetry ought to be read in the light of "truth" seems rather long in the tooth – in short, mostly bits of wisdom from the 19th century & before – and he's right. (And just to quote myself again, it's an argument "which I didn't necessarily endorse, but claimed was 'at least as old and interesting as the argument for pleasure detached from truth-value.'") The great watershed is the rise of Kantian aesthetics, & more generally the rise of an enlightenment & post-enlightenment aesthetics which values other aspects of poetry than its possible truth-telling value. But that doesn't mean we ought to be so hubristic as to simply cast aside whatever's been thought before, say, 1800, as we'd throw out the old Ford Pinto in favor of a brand new Lincoln Navigator. I have no patience for arguments from authority, either, but then Eric asked for some "touchstones": take 'em or leave 'em. I suspect, however, that we could come up with a pretty impressive list of 20th-century statements of poetics that weren't ashamed of using "truth" as a determining metric of value, from Heidegger, (Riding) Jackson, & Zukofsky ("thinking with the things as they exist") thru the more polically inclined works of Rich, Forché, & Baraka.

Yes, it's indeed an old-fashioned stance to argue that poetry ought ultimately be evaluated on a truth-basis, & I don't offhand know anyone – aside from some mullahs, many American clerics & conservative commentators, & a few leftover Stalinists – who would endorse it in as bold a form as it's offered by, say, Pope. But one is still left with Eric's question: "When we take poetry of thinking (there must be a single word for that in German) seriously as thinking, what do we do with those thoughts, if we're not evaluating them on the basis of truth? I proposed pleasure, but hey! I'm a languid, frivolous man." Is the "thinking" done in poetry to be received in a manner analogous to what we do when we read a work of philosophy – trying the premises & the logic of the arguments as they proceed, testing the conclusions & assertions against our own sense of how the world is put together – & what do we do when we've accurately "tracked" that thought and found it lacking (cf. Ben's remark on "those writers we love—Rilke comes to mind—whose language is beautiful and thinking is crap")? Not perhaps lacking in rigor, but lacking in "truth"?

Perhaps what's most interesting about this whole discussion for me is the manner in which the terms have shifted from discussant to discussant: from talk about poetry and "thinking" – as opposed to something else that poetry does – "emoting," or "perceiving"; to talk of "truth" (as the object of thinking) and (or versus) "pleasure," or "truth" and "rhetoric," or "truth" and "imagination." Thinking's other, that is, seems constantly on the move, even as we all agree that however central thinking might be to the poetry we value, there's still something else – tho we use a variety of words to name it/them – that's indispensible to our experience of the poetic art.
Joshua Clover's Times review of Reznikoff's collected includes at least one sentence deliciously on the money: "The finest Objectivist verse is a Shaker table in the house of poetry, as opposed to, say, Confessionalism's Bakelite commode."
On the blog scene: James K. A. Smith has a blog on (mostly Canadian) "politics, culture, the Church, &c" with the lovely name Fors Clavigera. (Cf. my thoughts on Ruskin & blogging from way back.) Phil Gyford is posting Samuel Pepys's diaries as a blog, with copious annotations; what fun!
I'm dying to get a copy of The Ister, the Australian film about the Danube, Hölderlin's poem on the Danube ("The Ister"), Heidegger's lecture course on Hölderlin's poem, the Holocaust, and the course of postwar European history (among other things). Would love to screen it for my graduate seminar this semester, in fact. Doesn't look like an affordable US or Canadian version is coming anytime soon, tho – anybody out there in Europe or Asia (or any non-US-or-Canadian country) who can help me out by being a middleperson?

No comments: