Playing With Words: Towards a Philosophy of Poetry

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Philosophy Faculty UB Raval

The Philosophy PhD course this year will be taught by Prof. Peter Lamarque (University of York). It will take place from Monday June 26th to Thusday June 29th, 12-18h; the 26th, 27th and 29th at the Joan Vives seminar, the 28th at the Ramon Llull seminar. As probably you already know, the annual PhD course is a mandatory training activity for LOGOS PhD students or those registered in the philosophy branch of CCiL. 

The course will be based on a new book Peter is concluding, with this title and abstract:

Playing With Words: Towards a Philosophy of Poetry

One aim of the projected book is to demystify poetry, not by denigrating it, but by seeking a clear-headed (analytical) explanation for its remarkable expressive powers and its peculiar potential to manipulate language in unusual and effective ways. Special attention will be given to meaning, truth, expression, and aesthetic experience in relation to poetry. (1) Meaning in poetry is sometimes said to have distinctive attributes: e.g. to merge content with form, to be unparaphrasable, to block the performance of speech acts (Austin), to exhibit hyperintensionality (Lepore) comparable to quotation, to speak of things otherwise unsayable. Does this imply that poetry challenges standard accounts of meaning? What is an adequate account of meaning for poetry? A closer look is called for. (2) It is sometimes claimed of poetry that it can express profound truths about human psychology or love or death or God in a manner not available to other kinds of writing, philosophy included. The claim, if superficially plausible, is difficult to evaluate because the ideas of profundity and “truth” in this context are ill-defined. Perhaps “truth” is not quite the right term. Could the intuition behind “poetic truth” reside more in the feeling that a sentiment or idea has been perfectly expressed, captured with a precision, clarity and integrity, that bears a kind of authority comparable to truth? If so, is this then “poetic truth” without truth? Indeed, that might be more promising than trying to extract true propositions from poetry, which seems pedestrian and unrewarding. (3) Lyric poetry in particular is thought to possess special powers of expression, notably of emotion. Must we assume that emotions expressed are necessarily located either in author or reader? Or might poetic language itself be independently expressive (through linguistic, not psychological, qualities)? Do we need a distinction between felt and expressed emotion? Should we acknowledge an “Affective Fallacy” (Wimsatt & Beardsley) in literary criticism that dismisses real affects as irrelevant?  (4) Finally, the value of poetry is often thought to lie (at least partly) in the experiences it affords. If right, what kind of experiences might those be? Are they irreducibly subjective or is there a kind of normativity in experiential responses to poetry? Where do such norms come from? If the relevant experiences are aesthetic, are they limited to formal features of poetry – rhyme, rhythm, metre, alliteration, assonance, sound-texture, etc? Or can they (must they) include “content” (thought)?

Peter Lamarque