Saturday, June 18, 2005


The philosophical text is the epiphany
of philosophy itself.
Günther Patzig

Here's a possibility that emerges from my last post.

First, recall that philosophy is to theory what poetry is to practice. Now, one definition* says that theories are "programmes of perception", which allows us to construct a homologous definition of practice, namely, "programmes of action".

Confining ourselves to "the system of literature", in which Katue Kitasono proposed we do well to find our place, which is to say, confining ourselves to the theory and practice of textuality, the following homologies further suggest themselves.

Philosophy reflects upon our programmes for perceiving literature (literary theory), deriving clear and distinct concepts from texts. That is, philosophy is a pure form of reading.

Poetry, meanwhile, leverages our programmes for acting upon literature (literary practice), imposing intense and discrete emotions on texts. That is, poetry is a pure form of writing.

(Anticipating an objection, though not in order to baulk at it, let me suggest that it is a category mistake to wonder how concepts then are ever imposed on texts and, conversely, how emotions are ever derived from them. I will probably have to say more about this, yes?)

We are halfway to an epiphany of sorts.

I often cite Wittgenstein's remark in Culture and Value (p. 24) about philosophical writing as a kind of poetry. "Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten," he said, which means, somewhat less elegantly than the German, that "one ought really to do philosophy as poetry." The German word "dichten" is the verb form of "Dichtung", which means "poetry". To my knowledge there is no such thing as poeting in English, as Wittgenstein's translator also discovered here. A literal translation would need the verb "to poet", i.e., "One ought really only to poet (v.) philosophy." Many poets will find this issue familiar. Like Wittgenstein, they see their field not as a corpus of extant work but as an activity. In any case, modifying Peter Winch's translation a bit, we can render this more naturally as, "One ought really only to compose philosophy (as one composes poetry)."

Its true pangrammatical meaning can be recovered by noting the Bunting-Pound thesis about poetic composure, namely, "dichten = condensare" (ABC, pp. 36, 92). That is, poetic expression is characterized essentially by compression or concentration**. Indeed, my German-English dictionary associates "dichte" with "thickness", "heaviness" and even "specific gravity". So we have the poem as a sort of specific linguistic thickness. ("Gedicht" of course means "poem".)

Leaving out a few leaps of logopoeia, let me propose, first in German, that "Dichtung dürfte man eigentlich nur redigieren," an idea that resonates well with Flarf, namely, "One ought really only to edit poetry."

This is actually the state of the art of pangrammatical composure right now. In the difficult interstice between philosophy and poetry there is the composition of a pure text, one that is produced by thickening (writing, compressing) and trimming (reading, editing). What I want to call poetry is the capable end of the racket--leveraging a programme of textual action, i.e., textual practice, i.e., writing. What I want, homologically, to call philosophy is the receptive end--reflecting a programme of textual perception, i.e., textual theory, i.e., reading.

*Pierre Bourdieu uses that definition.
**Ron Silliman deals with this in Jacket 27, April 2005

Note: There's a very close reading of this post in the comments here.

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