Statement of Philosophy

A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.



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Statement of Purpose

— page added April 9, 2014
— updated May 10, 2016

 

For a statement of purpose to this blog, and also to the greater project that lies behind, motivates, and guides this blog, I offer a three-pronged salvo, of thought literary, critical, and philosophical.

 

literary

 

Williams not infrequently wrote verses that were semi-anthemic statements on the nature of poetry – and of poetry culture at his time. This one serves very well as a kind of mission statement for this project.

 

On First Opening The Lyric Year
William Carlos Williams (1913)

It is certain satisfaction to overlook a cemetery,
All the little two-yard-long mounds that vary
So negligibly after all. I mean it brings on a mood
Of clear proportions. I remember once how I stood
Thinking, one summer's day, how good it must be to spend
Some thousand years there from beginning to the end,
There on the cool hillside. But with that feeling grew the dread
That I too would have to be like all the other dead.
That unpleasant sense which one has when one smothers,
Unhappy to leave so much behind merely to rememble others.
It's good no doubt to lie socially well ordered when one has so long to lie,
But for myself somehow this does not satisfy.
 

 

The Lyric Year was published in 1912, a collection of 100 poems by 50 poets from the previous year. Williams's poem was published in Poetry, July 1913, in the "Correspondence" section. The poem can be found here, in the googlebooks presentation of The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1: 1909-1939 (page 27). The Lyric Year is on the Internet Archive, here.

Reading through The Lyric Year it is glaring how painfully alike is the verse there collected. And how remarkably different is Williams's piece. More telling is that there are two works written in honor of Robert Browning; and, there is every reason to believe that Browning was the creative progenitor of The Lyric Year. Yet, the writers in this book are (at least) two authorial generations removed from Browning. As such, their work is greatly devolved from which they are emulating: at best, they are moderately talented copyists of uninspired mimics.

I should note, since the idea may be prompted by the mention above, that I do believe Poetry would today fall wholly under Williams's critique, not his approval. Their heritage has become justification for the work they print; but, in truth, they are now what Williams critiqued then: at-best-moderately talents (too infrequently un-talented) copyists of uninspired mimics.

 

 

critical

 

This comes from Northrop Frye's "Polemical Introduction" to his Anatomy of Criticism: an introduction that would serve well as required reading for any scholar of literature.

The first step in developing a genuine poetics is to recognize and get rid of meaningless criticism, or talking about literature in a way that cannot help to build up a systematic structure of knowledge. This includes all the sonorous nonsense that we so often find in critical generalities, reflective comments, ideological perorations, and other consequences of taking a large view of an unorganized subject. It includes all lists of the 'best' novels or poems or writers, whether there particular virtue is exclusiveness or inclusiveness. It includes all casual, sentimental, and prejudiced value judgments, and all the literary chit-chat which makes the reputations of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock exchange. That wealthy investor Mr. Eliot, after dumping Milton on the market, is now buying him again; Donne has probably reached his peak and will begin to taper off; Tennyson may be in for a slight flutter but the Shelley stocks are still bearish. This sort of thing cannot be part of any systematic study, for a systematic study can only progress: whatever dithers or vacillates or reacts is merely leisure-class gossip.

I believe that if this distinction is maintained and applied to the critics of the past, what they have said about real criticism will show an astonishing amount of agreement, in which the outlines of a coherent and systematic study will begin to emerge. In the history of taste, where there are no facts, and where all truths have been, in Hegelian fashion, split into half-truths in order to sharpen their cutting edges, we perhaps do feel that the study of literature is too relative and subjective ever to make any consistent sense. But as the history of taste has no organic connection with criticism, it can easily be separated. Mr. Eliot's essay The Function of Criticism begins by laying down the principle that the existing monuments of literature form an ideal order among themselves, and are not simply collections of the writings of individuals. This is criticism, and very fundamental criticism. [. . .] Its solidity is indicated by its consistency with a hundred other statements that could be collected from the better critics of all ages.

 

 

philosophical

 

Finally, a moment from Friedrich Nietzsche, whose every word is always about the aesthetic.

Are these coming philosophers new friends of "truth"? That is probably enough, for all philosophers so far have loved their truths. But they will certainly not be dogmatists. it must offend their pride, also their taste, if their truth is supposed to be a truth for everyman — which has so far been the secret wish and hidden meaning of all dogmatic aspirations. "My judgment is my judgment": no one else is easily entitled to it — that is what such a philosopher of the future may perhaps say of himself.

One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with the many. "Good" is no longer good when one's neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a "common good"! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare. mdash;

Beyond Good and Evil §43, Walter Kaufmann translator.

 

 


 

Others, of Same or Similar Thought and Purpose

 

"If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd"
John Keats

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,
And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness,
Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of Poesy:
Let us inspect the Lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd
By ear industrious, and attention meet;
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
She will be bound with garlands of her own.

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