WHAT AND HOW ARE POETS FOR IN OUR AGE OF WANT

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WHAT AND HOW ARE POETS FOR IN OUR AGE OF WANT:

COGNITION, EMANCIPATION, COMMUNISM*

We have to fight for the right to invent the terms which will allow us to define ourselves and to define our relations to society, and we have to fight that these terms will be accepted.

Stokely Carmichael, Black Power

Living in this age of planned impoverishment, I can only shore some fragments of what may be useful understanding against our ruins. My title, paraphrased from a poem cited later, is thus not a claim of achievement but an orientation and spur toward a horizon. But a horizon is only of use if one attempts to move towards it.

  1. Approach to Poetry: Topological Cognition, and a Communist Politics

Fatti non foste per viver come bruti

Ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza

[You were not born to live like brutes,

But to follow virtue and knowledge]

Dante, Inferno 26

1.1. Poetry and Cognition (Understanding)

1.2. On Poetry and Politics (Communism)

1.3. On Poets in Alienated Time(s)

 

  1. The Stance of Emancipation: Brecht’s Theory, Hölderlin’s Verse, Fortini’s Criticism

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

  1. Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

2.1. On Brecht’s Stance and Bearing

2.2. On Hölderlin and Transition

A famed example of poetic procedure and of major cognitive dignity may be found in the opus of Friedrich Hölderlin, and I’ll take as example his great poem Brod und Wein (Bread and Wine, 1801), and focus on the last 11 lines of its stanza 7:

Nur zu Zeiten erträgt göttliche Fülle der Mensch,
Traum von ihnen ist drauf das Leben. Aber das Irrsal
Hilft, wie Schlummer und stark machet die Not und die Nacht,
Bis daß Helden genug in der ehernen Wiege gewachsen,
Herzen an Kraft, wie sonst, ähnlich den Himmlischen sind.
Donnernd kommen sie drauf. Indessen dünket mir öfters
Besser zu schlafen, wie so ohne Genossen zu sein,
So zu harren und was zu tun indes und zu sagen,
Weiß ich nicht und wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?
Aber sie sind, sagst du, wie des Weingotts heilige Priester,
Welche von Lande zu Land zogen in heiliger Nacht.

Only at times can mankind bear the divine fullness.
Dreaming them is life from then on. But the errance
Helps, also sleep, and the need and the night make for strength,
Until heroes enough in cradles of brass have grown to be,
With hearts as strong, and in other ways alike to the heavenly ones.
Thundering they come nearer. Meanwhile it seems to me often
Better to sleep, than thus to be companionless, so to wait
And wait and what’s to do in this while and to say

I do not know and what poets are for in an age of want?
Yet they are, you say, like to the wine-god’s holy priests,
Who wandered from land to land on through the holy night.

(Translation by Susan Ranson much emended by me; https://sites.google.com/ site/germanliterature/19th-century/hoelderlin/brot-und-wein-bread-and-wine)

2.3. On Fortini and Poetic Justice

 

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