The Poetics of Being

I just came across an interesting question, posed by Paul de Man - “Can we find out something about the nature of modernity by relating it to lyric poetry, that we could not find out in dealing with novels or plays?” According to Adrian del Caro, in his introduction to “Holderlin: The Poetics of Being, Heidegger believed the question could be answered affirmatively even if it were to include philosophy. Contributions toward an answer anyone?


Joseph Duemer said...

Quick thought. The lyric is the self speaking to the self, though of course things are arranged so that a reader can overhear. The condition of the self, its status in the world, is maybe the most basic problem of modernism. I want to think a lot more about this, but I have to prepare for class tomorrow. More soon, I hope.

Henry Gould said...

I think of modernity in terms of its expressions of a secular worldview - the liberation/disenchantment of human thought from religion, beginning with the Renaissance.

De Man mentions lyric poetry as opposed to fiction or drama; but the modern versions of fiction & drama emerged out of their original archaic/poetic versions. Once upon a time, they were pretty much all one thing.

So then is lyric poetry an archaic remnant, which fiction & drama have "modernized"? Does poetry retain some elements of the pre-modern worldview? Heidegger might say so : he poeticized philosophy (philosophy always being, & having always been, an alternative to traditional religion). Wallace Stevens tried to conceptualize poetry as the successor to religion, as the spirit of demythologized human imagination. The Romantics in general (including Whitman & Blake) opposed visionary poetry to disenchanted prose and science.

The Romantics, however, were followed by the Moderns & Postmoderns. Here the currents get more confusing. Yeats & Pound sometimes seem to out-do the Romantics - going back to the Classical & archaic in order to re-assert the visionary dimensions of poetry. Eliot found the Romantics not religious enough. Yet other streams of modernism & post-modernism strongly reject any forms of received myth or traditional symbolizations of experience (WC Williams & Stevens exhibit some of these tendencies, sometimes).

So maybe it's impossible to characterize the relation between poetry & modernity in a single mode; there's a fissure over this issue within poetry itself. But if you expand the concept "lyric poetry" to include the visionary dimensions in the Romantics & some of the moderns (& even post-moderns, like Chas. Olson), I think you'd have to conclude that poets, through their poetry, have been elaborating a worldview (or views) which is distinct from that of the standard versions of "disenchanted" secular modernity.

Henry Gould said...

p.s. WH Auden is an interesting case, in this context. He created a sort of neo-Restoration, neo-Enlightenment style (discursive, logical, witty, didactic, political, engaged) - rejecting the archaism & mysticism of Yeats & Pound - while growing increasingly religious in his themes & concerns over time.