Philosophy as Rigorous Poetry (4)

His true Penelope was Flaubert,
He fished by obstinate isles;
Observed the elegance of Circe’s hair
Rather than the mottoes on sun-dials.

Ezra Pound, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

In his ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound suggested that “poetry remained an inferior art until it caught up with” Flaubert’s prose. Following Stendhal, he argued that prose, not “poetic ornament,” is the best medium “if you are trying to give a clear and exact idea of the ‘mouvements du coeur‘; if you’re trying to show what a man feels, you can do it only by clarity” (p. 97). This way of putting it probably inspired Hemingway’s idea that a story is a “sequence of motion and fact” that represents the emotion that the writer is trying to convey. It also resonates with Eliot’s idea that a play must provide an “objective correlative” for a character’s feelings, and philosophy can be considered an art in precisely that sense, except that what it correlates are concepts, not emotions. Early on, Wittgenstein said you could do philosophy simply by arranging a series of scientific propositions, i.e., by showing the reader what it is “possible” to say, what makes “logical” sense. Philosophy, we might say, is trying to occasion, not the movement of the heart, but the stillness of the mind.

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