ACLA 2016 Seminar - Poetry as Practice; Practice as Poetry

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Submissions accepted September 1 – 23, 2015. Submit abstracts through the ACLA website:

The philosopher Pierre Hadot worked throughout his career to locate poetry, particularly Goethe's, within forms of "spiritual exercise" grounded in western philosophical and religious traditions. For Hadot, spiritual exercises (or practices) are forms of thinking, meditation, or dialogue that "have as their goal the transformation of our vision of the world and the metamorphosis of our being." While Hadot's thoughts on spiritual practice found its widest audience through Foucault's work on "care of the self," it has recently resurfaced in Gabriel Trop's Poetry as a Way of Life (2015), whose title echoes that of the 1995 English translation of Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life (quoted above). Drawing on Hadot and Foucault, Trop argues that the reading and writing of poetry can be understood as "aesthetic exercise," a form of practice involving "sensually oriented activity in the world attempts to form, influence, perturb or otherwise generate patterns of thought, perception, or action." Though Trop is careful to distinguish his ideas from Hadot and Foucault, we might argue that poetry allows the aesthetic or spiritual practitioner to "struggl[e] against the 'government of individualization'" (Foucault, 1982) and to enact "a way of being, a way of coping within, reacting to, and acting upon the world" (Trop, 2015).

Our seminar takes as its starting point a broad conception of "practice," both spiritual and aesthetic. We seek proposals that consider poetries and ways of reading as forms of practice or that challenge the premise altogether. Some questions that might be considered:

•Trop suggests that religious poetries (e.g., Greek tragedy, the Divina Commedia) are conducive to "aesthetic exercise." In what ways do poets and readers within religious/meditative traditions enact disciplines/practices of the self?

•Poets associated with avant-garde movements often make strong claims about the urgency of their poetics. In what ways can "poetry as practice" help us understand their reading and writing practices? Can non- or even anti-avant-garde poetries be understood in similar terms?

•How might the notion of poetry as a "way of life" help us understand contemporary lyric poetry?

•Trop argues that late 18th century German poets, including Novalis and Holderlin, used their poetic practice to constitute themselves as non-normative subjects. What other times/places/poets might we see as concerned with poetry as a form of self-constitution?

•George Oppen suggests that "part of the function of poetry is to serve as a test of truth." In what ways can Oppen's poetics, or those of similarly engaged poets, be understood as enabling spiritual or aesthetic exercise?

•How might the concept of spiritual/aesthetic practice contribute to current debates about the relevance of poetry to the social/economic/environmental justice movements?