11.04.2010

akin to poetry

Philosophy is akin to poetry, and both of them seek to express that ultimate good sense which we term civilization. In each there is reference to form beyond the direct meanings of words. Poetry allies itself to metre, philosophy to mathematic pattern.

—Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (Macmillan, 1938)

2 comments:

Joseph Hutchison said...

I wonder if philosophers find poets who write about philosophy as silly as poets (this one, at least) find philosophers who write about poetry. Heidegger had a few minor insights, of course; Bachelard was able to think about poetry following the force-fields of poetry itself rather than the imposed frameworks of Theory. The French contingent? The less said the better....

JforJames said...

I couldn’t disagree more, Joe. Whitehead’s quote may have provoked you; and I would only defend ANW’s quote in a limited fashion, because it speaks to a very limited aspect of the poetry-philosophy connection. But poetry should be grateful for any attention from one of the great minds of the 20thC.

Here’s a quote by a poet that says it well for me:
“The poets and writers I admire stood alone. Philosophy, too, is always alone. Poetry and philosophy make slow solitary readers.”—Charles Simic, The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks (Ausable Press, 2008)

Of all the fields/disciplines, philosophers have the closest relationship to poetry, and have had more of interest to say about poetry than thinkers from any other field I can think of. Our mutual stock and trade being language, especially when it comes to the concepts/visualizations conveyed via the means of language, means poets and philosophers are struggling (sometimes fighting) over the same ground, but to different purposes often.

My partial list of philosophers who have dealt with or delved into poetry (or art, artmaking, aesthetics, linguistics, as it may relate to poetry ) in both illuminating and controversial ways: Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Averroes, Cicero (poet), Seneca (poet), Lucretius (poet), Plutarch, Bruno (poet), Dante (poet), Ibn Ezra, Vico (poet), Boethius, Bacon, Schiller (poet), Goethe (poet), Schopenhauer, von Schlegel, Kant, Coleridge (poet), Emerson (poet) Thoreau, Santayana (poet), Bergson, Heidegger, Dilthey, Hulme (poet), Collingwood, Cassirer, Langer, Jung, Levinas, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Zambrano, Croce, Agambem, Oakeschott, Arendt, Merleau-Ponty, Bachelard, Lacan, Derrida, Badiou, Blanchot, Buchler, Deleuze, Rorty…

And among contemporary philosophers who have written extensively on poets/poetry: Simon Critchley; Gerald Burns, and Jan Zwicky.

Then you have aphoristic/burst thinkers like Heraclitus, Lichtenberg, Pascal, Novalis, Neitzsche, Cioran, etc., who are basically writing a form a poetry.

A few years ago I help organize a conference on philosophy-poetry nexus.