Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Poetic Composition

Thomas Presskorn reminds me that I've been promising to write Composure for some time. If it were a straight prose work, I would chide myself for not just getting down to it. But I did actually once try to just "get the the thing done" and it simply didn't work. I write scholarly prose quite easily (surprisingly easily) these days. What I'm having trouble with is the sort of writing that I want Composure to be.

"Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten," said Wittgenstein. Peter Winch renders it, "Philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition." I sometimes think it would suffice (though it doesn't, of course, really) to say "One ought really only compose philosophy," adding, perhaps, a parenthetical "in the manner of poetry", to capture the everyday sense of "dichten".

But what kind of poetry? My answer is that philosophy ought to be written on the model of Rosmarie Waldrop, Lisa Robertson, Ben Lerner, and Tony Tost. Their work is resolutely "emotional", however, in a way that I do not intend Composure to be, and for this reason they work much more freely within their form than I hope to. But the words are composed on the page in a, to me, exemplary way.

Wittgenstein said that his demand that we compose philosophy as we compose poems only showed that he wasn't very good at what he wanted to do. I feel the same way. I simply don't know how to "work" at it. I know that "This is my body" is the central claim of the book. The book is to be a "complete" elaboration of that sentence. I also know that this elaboration will consist of about 50 "moments" (roughly speaking, discrete poems) with titles like "Knowledge" and "Power", "Intuition" and "Institution", "Seeing" and "Doing" ... perhaps even "Eye", "Hand" and "Lens", "Lever". The "poems" will be paired like that, with no moment lasting more than a page (probably about 300 words). But that's what I know. I don't really know how to compose a poem. I can't do it the way I write prose.

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