Toward a "Human Poetics"

Have been reading some new things... seem to be finding something of a philosophical ground for ways I have thought about poetry for some time...

ie. notions about the status of persons and real things... Levinas has a concept of ethics as the ground of philosophy, and the ground of ethics itself is the "face-to-face" encounter of self and another... that the human person is not determined or defined by language, that in fact the ethical encounter of persons is a kind of ur-language, the "language-before-language"... that poetry is fundamentally dialogical, & involved with a Bakhtinian (& Kenneth Burkean) sense of the dramatic Now...

Here's my beginner's reading list for a "Human Poetics"... (I haven't read them all yet myself!)

Harold Kaplan / Poetry, politics, culture : argument in the works of Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams (Transaction Bks, 2006)

Michael Eskin / Ethics and dialogue : in the works of Levinas, Bakhtin, Mandel'shtam, and Celan (Oxford UP, 2001)

Daniel Schwarz / The case for a humanistic poetics (U. Penn., 1991)

Allen Grossman / Against our vanishing (conversations with Mark Halliday) (Rowan Tree Press, 1981)

Emanuel Levinas / Entre Nous (Columbia UP, 2000)

Here is Levinas, as quoted by Harold Kaplan in an appendix to his book :

"My view is opposed to the tendency (in)... contemporary philosophy that prefers to see man a simple articulation or a simple aspect of a rational, ontological system that has nothing human in it; even in Heidegger, the Dasein is ultimately a structure of being in general, bound to its profession of being, its "historic deeds of being", its event of being....
"Similarly, in certain trends in structural research, rules, pure forms, universal structures, combinations which have a legality as cold as mathematical legality are isolated. And then that dominates the human..." [think Foucault, etc.]

As Kaplan argues, the philosophical and theoretical trends that Levinas is criticizing have consequences for poetry; whenever the human person and the person's inner freedom, and inner ethical stance with regard to another (in which both persons in the face-to-face dialogue have substance, validity, actuality) - whenever these dimensions are dismissed, or subject to a determinist reduction of one kind or another (cultural, political, natural, etc.) - then poetry, and persons, are no longer there...


Conrad DiDiodato said...


I once wrote a blog article on 'Close Writing', a term I used to describe a type of e-communication that relies, methodologically and transcendentally, on a Levinasian notion of the 'Other'. I see some interesting intersections at that Levinasian notion of the 'face-to-face'.


Henry Gould said...

Thanks, Conrad -