As is usual with me, I started having second thoughts as soon as I finished the previous post ("Toward a Human Poetics"). Aside from the ponderousness and pomposity of the phrase Human Poetics, it occurred to me that all but one on the list of recommended books were produced by non-poets (that is, aside from Allen Grossman). Scholars, philosophers...
Anyway, I don't want to renounce everything I wrote yesterday. I still believe the general position laid out by these writers is aligned with poetry & the realities & immediacy involved with its making : offers a defense against determinism, abstractions, de-humanization.
But there's a problem with adding the full weight of an articulated ethic or philosophy (such as that of Levinas, or even Grossman) onto a theory of poetry; and a problem with arguing that poetic speech differs fundamentally from other kinds of language-use. I think there's one thing needful that needs to be added to that in turn, as a counterbalance. & I take this one thing from Russian Acmeism (on this, see Justin Doherty's fine book, The Acmeist movement in Russian poetry (Oxford, 1995). Or at least what I think of as an aspect of Acmeism.
I would call that one thing "inner freedom". Mandelshtam outlined what this means in an unfinished essay titled "Pushkin and Scriabin". Very basically, there is an irreducible "free play" dimension to poetry. Poets, makers of poems, are sharing in a mutual process of making (& sharing) free-standing, self-sufficient, works of art. "The word" in poetry creates its own dimensions, its own weights & balances - for its own sake.
Now if I said that this inner freedom was aligned also with a rejection or dismissal of life & the world outside of art - as in various modes of Decadence or Symbolism; or if I declared that the poetic word had no real meaning with reference to that world, no mimetic capabilities, no firm denotations - as with various modes of modernist & postmodernist detachment and autonomy - then what I would be sketching out would no longer be Acmeism.
The Acmeists boldly suggested that the free play of art, and the self-sufficiency (within its proper sphere) of the poetic word, was a normative response to certain basic normative dimensions of life and culture in general. Cultures at large produce the generative circumstances that undergird artistic freedom and its exchanges, out of their own wells of inner balance, or basic orientation toward the freedom and variety of life. That this is an idealization - that is, an idea of the normative - which artists & poets must strive & struggle to instigate & defend, is a good thing : because it means such norms are not simply determined by nature. They are the norms of the living conscience of a culture.
Maybe I'm confused & contradicting myself here. I'm not a philosopher... not a systematic thinker. What I want to emphasize is this concept of art as play. For some, this would only suggest poetry's fundamental childishness, its perpetual adolescence (in such terms Milan Kundera, in an essay of a few years back, belittled poets & poetry). But the joy of free play - like a witty rejoinder from the scaffold - can be a powerful thing : a reminder (to culture at large) of what life is really all about...
*p.s. "wells of inner balance"... sort of a plumbline phrase, no?
**p.p.s. Very apropos, with regard to this "inner balance" of normative culture, is Mandelshtam's famous (& witty) rejoinder, after a public reading in the 1930s, to an inquisitorial demand (from a Soviet apparatchik) for his "definition of poetry." Mandelshtam replied : "The poet's sense of being right [or, 'inner rightness']."