[lit-ideas] Re: SOS - Poeitic Power

  • From: "Andy Amago" <aamago@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2006 00:12:02 -0400

I'm not sure that talking about one's self is necessarily being in touch with 
one's self.  If that were the case, Woody Allen wouldn't be a neurotic, but he 
is.  Likewise the confessional poets.  It's being in touch with the emotions 
that is the true self, and few people are.   Regarding the alcohol, I suspect 
that writers drink for the same reason anybody drinks, which is to numb out 
(feeling no pain is the expression).  One can argue that alcohol was 
fashionable at the time of Fitzgerald and the others, and being so addicting, 
the writers didn't stand a chance against it.  On the other hand, they all had 
issues, for lack of a better word.  Surprisingly, Abraham Lincoln had 
tremendous, horrendous issues, and he didn't drink.  He also wrote poetry.  
I've never read any of his poetry.  He also allowed himself to be assassinated 
after he felt his work was complete, i.e., keeping the Union together, not so 
different from drinking one's self to death.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Lawrence Helm 
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: 6/15/2006 11:36:05 PM 
Subject: [lit-ideas] SOS - Poeitic Power

I was being only partially flippant with Irene?s comment.  If as Taylor implies 
we are in an age where virtually everyone seeks in some way to find him or 
herself, then everyone who writes poetry is engaged, to some extent, in that 
quest.  Perhaps this can most readily be seen in the ?Confessional School? of 
Robert Lowell (e.g., Life Studies), etc.  We confess our innermost whatever and 
grow toward understanding one?s self. 

I wonder to what extent Berryman, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald bought into the 
idea that alcohol would enhance this quest?  Did they really like alcohol that 
much or were they deceived?  

Byron did indeed value a heroic ideal but this seems largely inherited.  

I?m not sure T.S. Eliot was interested in a self.  He didn?t seem to insist on 
it when Pound moved him this way and that.

When someone writes a poem that seems autobiographical or confessional, is he 
being objective in the sense of being true to external (objective) reality, or 
is he creating something unique?  And if he is creating something unique is it 
a true something or a warped something?  And if a warped something, is that his 
bent?  Is he thereby warping himself down a crooked rabbit hole?  One can, as 
Taylor quotes Pico in his oration to say, create ourselves in whichever way we 


Do you write poetry?  Post some and we?ll speculate.

From: Andy Amago

What does greater understanding of ourselves mean, and which poet particularly 
has it?  Which writer for that matter?  John Berryman, Ernest Hemingway, F.S. 
Fitzgerald?  T.S. Eliot?  Byron

From: Lawrence Helm [mailto:lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx] 
Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2006 6:30 PM
To: Lit-Ideas
Subject: Poeitic Power

[See comments & questions below]

On page 197 Taylor writes, ?In the moral domain, Locke . . . builds on 
Descartes?s model of rational control and defines a task of self-remaking which 
falls to the punctual self.  Rather than following the telos of nature, we 
become constructors of our own character.

?This emphasis on constructive activity leads to a new understanding of 
language, which one can see again arising in Hobbes and Locke.  It is an 
offshoot of the nominalist theories: words are ultimately given their meaning 
arbitrarily through definitions which attach them to certain things or ideas.  
But the function of language is to aid the construction of thought.  We need 
language to build an adequate picture of things.  We couldn?t match the world 
with a painstaking combination of individual bits of perception, individual 
ideas.  Through language, we can combine them in whole bunches, in whole 
classes, and this alone makes it possible to have genuine knowledge.

?It follows, of course, that words can also be terribly dangerous.  They can be 
that through which we utterly lose contact with reality, if they are not 
properly anchored in experience through definitions.  That is why both Hobbes 
and Locke are wary of them and at times almost obsessionally anxious that our 
words not run away with us.  This fear of losing control is the natural 
outgrowth of the role given to language here: to help us to master and marshall 
our thoughts.  As Condillac says later, developing the Lockean doctrine, 
language gives us ?empire sur notre imagination?.

?This centring on the constructive powers of language undergoes a further 
crucial development in the late eighteenth century.  Language and in general 
our representational powers come to be seen not only or mainly as directed to 
the correct portrayal of an independent reality but also as our way of 
manifesting through expression what we are, and our place within things.  And 
on the new understanding of ourselves as expressive beings, this manifestation 
is also seen as a self-completion.  This expressive revolution identifies and 
exalts a new poietic power, that of the creative imagination.  I will return to 
this below; here I want to say only that this new shift further increases the 
importance of our poietic capacities.  They are seen as even more central to 
human life.  And this is the basis for the growing interest and fascination in 
them in all their forms ? in language and artistic creation ? which rises at 
times almost to obsession in our century.?

Comments & questions: 

Undoubtedly everyone else knows what ?poietic? means, but I had to look it up: 
?Poeitic? relates to production or the arts of production.  Poietic knowledge 
is distinguished from practical or theoretical knowledge.  Thus, when we go on 
a search to find ourselves and find something, come to conclusions about who we 
are, is this practical knowledge we have obtained, or have we created something 
poeitically that may not bear an identical relationship to the natural world?  

We might ask a similar set of questions about our political philosophy.  We are 
happy with it ? quite sure it is the truth ? but does it adhere to nature or is 
it something we or more likely some predecessor has created poeitically?  

And to what extent does poietic power relate to the writing of poetry?  I 
suspect Taylor would say that insofar as our poetry gives us greater 
understanding of our selves, we may suspect that it may not be merely 
descriptive but poietic as well.


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