Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Other In All This

Preservation of art is essentially a social phenomenon. It happens through a social nexus and a social context— through an Other, or (usually) many Others. Put simply, preservation is the result of people wanting to preserve your work. What motivates this process? Why do certain poets inspire this dedication while others do not? It depends what we may find at the root of dedication (to a poet or to any artist.) The question arises (and it is an uneasy one) whether dedication is more emotional or intellectual, more about feelings or thoughts, or whether it is caught somewhere in between. My own sense is that this kind of (internal, psychological) scaffolding is more affective than intellectual. It is a compelling emotional drive. That is why poetry which demonstrates little affect would seem to have meager chance for continued life over a long period of time— decades, centuries. Why would anyone want to preserve you, if you have no emotional gravitas? Who's going to develop an affective drive to resuscitate you? Of course, there is no affectivity in Kant either. But philosophy engenders a very different horizon of expectations— cognitive complexity is a sine qua non, and affective flatness is desirable. There are moving passages in Kierkegaard, Buber, Sartre, but they usually result from rhetorical flourishes, rather than demonstrated passion (though these two sometimes merge, and it can be hard to tell the difference.) Poetry that is all intellect falls between two stools— it lacks the intellectual rigor of philosophical discourse, and the emotional gravitas that usually attends durable poetry. I think that most poetry which survives for any length of time generates an implicit affective compact between reader and poet (or, to be more deconstructive, reader and text). Those that preserve poetry do so because someone has engendered an emotional attachment in them. Even if, as in Eliot, we are made to feel something because the emotions portrayed are entropic.

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