Saturday, July 02, 2005

In and Out of the Blue

I'm going on vacation tonight and I should be packing. The Pangrammaticon will be resting for two weeks (should be back with something on the 16th). I have a lot of things still to deal with.

Phil and Kasey have gently tested some recent posts of mine, which I can see now could have been much more precise.

I have said that poetry, in principle, answers the question "Who am I?", which is to say, it presents an unambiguous moment of pure subjectivity (more or less successfully). If the subjectivity presented is ambiguous, as it often is, that is part of the poem and the moment of presention remains an unambiguous presentation of the ambiguous subject. (This kind of sentence calls for a vacation.)

Kasey responds that "poetry, it seems to me, is different: poetry's job seems to be to create such questions, sometimes out of the blue and for no real reason (though the reason may emerge after the fact)."

I think it is too much to demand of poetry that it "create questions". Kasey characterizes my view of philosophy as "analytic" and this may have something to do with my hesitation in the face of people who say that philosophy "creates concepts" (as Deleuze argues). I think the questions are there and that philosophers and poets can only hope to deal with them. Philosophers note concepts down in order to deal with the perpetual presence of the question, "What is it?" Poets deal with the question "Who am I?" by noting down the emotions that organize specific passages of desire into feeling. They do not produce desire or need, they note the structural contingencies of their passage into and out of the problems of living.

Also, the idea that poems come "out of the blue", strikes me as too naive to be useful to us, while "for no real reason" is right only because poems are generated by ideal passions (real reasons are the generative stuff of philosophy).

Finally, I want to emphasize that I see myself as a friend of both philosophy and poetry, not as one who hopes to expose poetry through philosophy. And with that I will go on vacation.


Jay said...

There is, I think, a possible reading of Kasey's response that deflates the magnitude of the "demand" on poetry when poetry is assigned the task of "creating questions".

It would, I think, go something like this:

The linguistic "bewitchments" from which those who follow in Wittgenstein's footsteps are trying to liberate us are poetic in essence. Poets play with language in unorthodox, sometimes random ways. They intentionally abuse the rules of grammar to see what happens when they do -- though they often make it appear as if they're following the rules (and their play may only coincidentally have something to do with feelings). When poets successfully fool philosophers into thinking that they've said something that has real content, naïve philosophers take up this "content" as a philosophical question.

stower said...

I keep returning to your earlier post on metaphysical composure & composition, which seem to me very applicable to poetry, and the who-am-I question behind (and in front of) it. As I am working this over, I am trying to keep in mind that I am particularly disinclined to expect answers from anything, and so I may not be the best at considering this... however... I find the who-am-I/what-is-it parallel btw poetry and philosophy very likely & compelling, but the questionless (and fortunately very hypothetical) world quite frightening.

Not that you are suggesting that poets or philosophers seek a questionless world, but -- I am not laying this out well -- the poem comes into being because of the question "who am I?" but maybe does not try to answer it, as much as it seeks to show it in a new way, and to show it to itself. I am seeing a circular shape, not an arrow going in one direction, question ---> answer. The poem & the who-am-I are both necessary to one another (and, of course, to us) and their symbiosis / back-and-forth / conversation / what-have-you serve to elaborate upon or reveal new ways of seeing one another.

Thank you for getting me thinking on this. Enjoy your vacation!

Laura Carter said...

A story: When I was enrolled in an aesthetics course, and trying to make the best use of the end-of-semester time period, I chose to respond to the final course assignment by handing in a portfolio of poems, needed for another course as well. The assignment was: "Pose your own question and answer it." (I love this one.) The question I posed was: "Who am I?" The answer, my poems. It was an expedient solution to the crunch of exams.

Of course, they would be different poems now.

Laura Carter said...


I also performed a semblance of a Tolstoyan close reading (not sure how that works) of one of the aforementioned poems in the same class. That skews the final outcome a bit. For what it's worth.