[Milton-L] Fetishizing Greatness, was Re: Is Paradise Lost
Horace Jeffery Hodges
jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Thu Apr 23 15:50:49 EDT 2009
Jim, while I generally agree with your critique of Carrol's use of the term "poem," I found much to admire in what Carrol said.
Anyway, concerning your remarks on Wittgenstein's Tractatus:
"Those who emphasize that poetic form makes poetry can recognize occasional poetic qualities in Wittgenstein's Tractatus but would never call it a poem -- which would be a rather strange poem indeed because it includes calculus. If math is poetry then everything is poetry and the word itself ceases to function at all. Those in the first camp would exclude the Tractatus from poetry simply because it is philosophy."
Did he use calculus in that work? I haven't read it in a while. At any rate, when I read it in German back in 1986, I had to read it slowly, and I was struck by Wittgenstein's choice of a numbering system that began with one and ended with seven. As I read the opening line, "1. Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist" ("1. The world is all that the case is"). I realized that Wittgenstein was 'creating' a world in seven days, and on the seventh day, he rests: "7. Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" ("7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof must one be silent"). There's a sort of poiesis to that.
I once wrote up a brief summary of my views on Wittgenstein's biblical allusion (and possible numerology), for I was interested in the way that he was subverting the logical-positivist endeavor even in a work where he seemed to be applying its principles, but that has gone missing in my many moves over the years as a gypsy scholar.
--- On Thu, 4/23/09, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:
From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Fetishizing Greatness, was Re: Is Paradise Lost
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Thursday, April 23, 2009, 10:36 AM
The question of what is or is not poetry has a long and distinguished
history, of course, but doesn't it tend to follow two currents?
-Plato's distinction between poetry and philosophy, which emphasizes
content rather than form.
-An emphasis upon form rather than content.
The question seems to me to get particularly confused when we try to
blend these two types of responses. Those who emphasize that poetic
form makes poetry can recognize occasional poetic qualities in
Wittgenstein's Tractatus but would never call it a poem -- which would
be a rather strange poem indeed because it includes calculus. If math
is poetry then everything is poetry and the word itself ceases to
function at all. Those in the first camp would exclude the Tractatus
from poetry simply because it is philosophy. Both camps would also
exclude history from poetry unless it were written in verse form.
I would say those paying attention to the most widespread, current
uses of the word "poetry" would say that today the word "poetry"
emphasizes form over content. Carrying the whole history of a word
forward into current use is bad practice as a general principle, just
as it is bad practice to uncritically apply the conventions of Greek
drama to Shakespeare's plays -- which regularly ignore the unity of
time and place, mix comic with tragic conventions in the same play
(Much Ado About Nothing), etc.
Now if we want to ask what Milton meant by the word poetry, that's
another matter entirely. I would think the preface to PL might give
us some direction. And so is the question of whether or not we should
limit ourselves today to his definition.
On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 11:01 AM, Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu> wrote:
> I would use "poem" that way. (I think in ordinary usage "poetry" and
> "poem" differ somewhat.) A poem or a fiction is a "made thing," a verbal
> artifact. (I wouldn't use it for movies.) I would also use it for many
> texts that the Renaissance would have called "history." Tillyard in his
> book on the "English Epic" included Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Gould's
> _The Structure of Evolutionary Theory_ is a beautiful artifact as well
> as a science text, and I don't see why "poem" could not, in some
> contexts, include that. "Work of literature" is awkward, and the best
> single word for it is "poem." There's a tragic rhythm in Wittgenstein's
> Tractatus, and an epic sweep to Rusell's _Human Knowledge_.
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