Saturday, May 28, 2005

Civil Status

The civil status of a contradiction, or its status in civil life: there is the philosophical problem.
--Wittgenstein (PI§125)

Gary Norris at Dagzine makes a useful contribution. Is it more poetic? he asks, "or is it less bourgeois?"

I want to argue that this is more or less the same question. A poem's "poesie" (a word I'm using to denote degree or quality of poeticality) is determined by its specific departure from the bourgeois.

Thus, "courtly love", I suppose.


Unknown said...

oh my,

i thought, at first glance,
you had written
courtney love

Laura Carter said...

I think my little story below might add to this. But I'm still not sure whether or not I'm bourgeois, so my sofa may be some sort of post-secondary Salvation Army bourgeois that I haven't figured out yet. This could get way too complicated in terms of people and choices, but that's institution. (Right?)

Thomas said...

Ah, but the surface is never quite bourgeois (it is the undetermined subject that might possibly be bourgeois), and so your ambivalence about it is not important. What is important is that we are free to do things with surfaces we are not free to do with people. Poetry exploits this freedom rather than the people who grant it--the people who must always already have granted it in order to maintain their humanity. They, in turn, may accuse you of going too far, and even in the arrangement of words we may dive inappropriately beneath the surface, which is indecent. Beauty may occasionally demand it of us. But it would be an awful society if all attempts at beauty were also willy-nilly exercises in indecency. In fact, I could only imagine it in the case of a culture that had been bereft of art for generations.

The tension between art and bourgeois institutions lies in the immediate break with the immediacy of accepted usage (what "one" does).

Art exhibits our civility, its contingency, and, where applicable, its absence. Bourgeois morality is necessarily the opposite of such exhibitionism, but it is not always wrong. After all, some of our middle class habits are perfectly fine.