Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Poetry & Politics

Mirroring Wittgenstein's definition of "philosophy" as "what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions", one might give the name "poetry" to what is possible before all new decisions and initiatives. That is, poetry is prior to politics just as philosophy is prior to science.

Ezra Pound actually located this sense of priority quite precisely. Poetry provides the data of ethics, he said. Philosophy likewise provides the data of epistemology.

This is the reason I've been finding it difficult to participate in the discussion about Mike Magee's "Their Guys" over at Limetree. For all its sophistication, the argument seems to remain about whether or not the poem is or is not politically correct. It is not that I am against political correctness. It is just that I believe poems should be judged by other criteria.

The sense in which philosophy ought to be exempt from judgments of "scientific incorrectness" is what I'm after here. This of course also means that philosophy should avoid making what appear to be scientific claims.

Again, Flarf is a useful model because its materials are devoid of subjective positions, which are essential for making political claims. Perhaps more accurately, the Flarf procedure divests the materials of such positions. Flarf, applied to philosophy, would work with materials that are likewise devoid/divested of objective relations, which are essential for making scientific claims.

If I understand the critique of "Their Guys", it is predicated on an attribution of subjective position to the poem and (to some extent) on the demand that the poet identify with (or in some other way take responsibility for) that position. That demand is plainly political.

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