Philosophy as Rigorous Poetry (2)

No, hardly, but, seeing he had been born
In a half savage country, out of date;
Bent resolutely on wringing lilies from the acorn;
Capaneus; trout for factitious bait:

--Ezra Pound, Hugh Selwyn Mauberly

In a prose paragraph, a claim is supported, elaborated, or defended in terms that the reader presumably understands and is, importantly, qualified to challenge. This is not how the poetic paragraphs of Williams Carlos Williams’ Kora in Hell or Rosmarie Waldrop’s Lawn of Excluded Middle work. Prose uses words in their conventional senses to say ordinary things; poetry, even in the form of a series of paragraphs, “detaches [things] from ordinary experience to the imagination,” as Williams explained in Spring and All. Waldrop, meanwhile, was profoundly influenced by Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, composed as a series of remarks that were intended to show, not say, how our concepts work. “If one tried to advance theses in philosophy,” he said, “it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree to them.” A poem doesn’t make us happy or sad; it makes us feel better, better able to feel. Likewise, philosophy doesn’t get us to think that something is true; it improves our thinking. The arrogance of the philosopher! Is the reader a savage?

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