Sunday, September 03, 2006

Li and/or ethos

Achilles Fang's introduction to Pound's translation of the Odes contains an interesting connection between Pound's poetics and Confucius'. Both seem to cultivate a pragmatic aesthetics that situates poetry in the environment in which living goes on (shades of Dewey?). Fang begins his quick gloss on ancient Chinese poetics by noting Pound's definition: "a poem is an emotional value verbally stated." Or, as I normally put it, poetry is emotional notation, just as philosophy is conceptual notation (shades of Frege!).

But the really interesting part comes in the connection between poetry and "the rites", li in Chinese.

The word li, essentially a code of behavior, is generally rendered "rites" when that behavior is directed towards the supernatural or the manes, and as "etiquette" when it concerns man's relation with his fellow men. ... Perhaps the late Ku Hung-ming had an insight when he rendered it as a "tact." It could, as well, be translated as "character."

As could the Greek "ethos", which also covers moral disposition and "theory of living". I think poetry is essentially related to (though not directly subject to) "appropriate behavior" or "decency". Rites invoke institutions, poems evoke emotions.

Institutions are the media of the immediacy of our manner of doing; emotions dispositions to feel. These connections all seem pretty tidy to me.

Replace emotions with concepts, feelings with thoughts, doing with seeing, institution with intuition, and ethos with episteme, and you have the pangrammatical homologue for philosophy.

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