Poetic Force: Poetry after Kant (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)

Poetic Force: Poetry after Kant (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)

Language: English

Pages: 216

ISBN: 0804791007

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This book argues that the theory of force elaborated in Immanuel Kant's aesthetics (and in particular, his theorization of the dynamic sublime) is of decisive importance to poetry in the nineteenth century and to the connection between poetry and philosophy over the last two centuries. Inspired by his deep engagement with the critical theory of Walter Benjamin, who especially developed this Kantian strain of thinking, Kevin McLaughlin uses this theory of force to illuminate the work of three of the most influential nineteenth-century writers in their respective national traditions: Friedrich Hölderlin, Charles Baudelaire, and Matthew Arnold. The result is a fine elucidation of Kantian theory and a fresh account of poetic language and its aesthetic, ethical, and political possibilities.

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(Herrenrecht) of giving names to things points to the origin of language itself as an “expression of power by the rulers” (Machtäußerung der Herrschenden) (“Wahrheit und Lüge,” 374, and Genealogie, 274; “On Truth,” 46, and Genealogy, 13).7 In what follows I propose that this reflection on linguistic force and its connection to poetry can be traced ultimately to a thesis implicit in Kantian philosophy: that of an a priori capacity of language to free itself from having empirical content. This

deficiency in nature, its incapacity to do everything, organize everything, make everything work—produce everything. It is a productive mimesis, that is, an imitation of phusis as a productive force, or as poiesis” (Typography, 255–56).24 The critical project undertaken by Baudelaire requires that the poet and his readers acknowledge that this claim of a poetic faculty, like the one made at the end of “The Widows,” may conceal the narcissistic end of producing a public sphere governed by a

ungovernable working class into the ideal sphere of an aesthetic history (Politics of Aesthetics, 92). Redfield questions the “turbulent force” that empowers the disinterested critic to “obtain purchase on the world and drive history toward its ideal” (86).3 But whether dialectically synthetic or violently destructive, the dynamism of disinterestedness reacts defensively to an adynamic element that Arnold discovered in poetry—not only in Wordsworth, as de Man suggests, but also in his own early

for its occurrence. But how great can the change really be if mankind is mentally prepared for it? This is the question Kant may be understood to pose in his reflections on the messianic structure of authentic ethical and political enthusiasm. To the extent that there is any external criterion by which the genuineness of such enthusiasm may be confirmed, it would lie in the singular failure or unfitness of man’s natural limitations at the given moment. Mankind is not ready and cannot be ready for

5, 2013) 26.╇ This is the perspective from which Lacoue-Labarthe develops his critique of Badiou’s denunciation of the “age of the poets” (see Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, 69; and Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry, especially, 45–77 and 83–84; 17–36 and 39–40). For an incisive analysis of Lacoue-Labarthe’s more positive account of the poetic project after Kant (from Hölderlin to Celan) that reveals where the causal logic of a certain narrative pattern imposed on

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