'What Does the Poem Think?': Aesthetics, Poetics, and Thought

deadline for submissions: 
March 6, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Faculty of English, University of Cambridge

Two hundred years ago, P. B. Shelley wrote in his Defence of Poetry that the language of poets ‘is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things.’ Poetry, which is ‘not like reasoning, […] creates anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration.’ In this way, Shelley gave enduring expression to what S. T. Coleridge had hinted at three years earlier, when he complained in Pope of ‘matter and diction […] characterized not so much by poetic thoughts, as by thoughts translated into the language of poetry.’ Poetry apprehends, formulates, creates, and cognizes in a manner unique to itself and irreducible to any other forms of reasoning or reflection. In other words, poetry does not just represent, it thinks.

This idea, which had already been taking shape in German post-Kantian circles, became a crucial touchstone for post-Romantic and Modernist poetics. In a world increasingly dominated by calculation and instrumental reasoning, poetry has determined to speak in its own name, not as ornamentation or diversion, but as integral thinking, on an equal footing with philosophy and science. Stéphane Mallarmé, that great harbinger of poetic modernism, encapsulated this boldness in Igitur, proclaiming: ‘You mathematicians expired – I am projected absolute.’ His compatriot Arthur Rimbaud was equally dismissive: ‘Philosophers, you are of your West.’ 

In a landmark essay of 1993, one of these occidental philosophers, Alain Badiou, asked: ‘What Does the Poem Think?’. We would like to reopen this question, encouraging contributions from any area of post-1750 literary studies engaged with these problems, and from any number of historical and theoretical perspectives. The following topics might be taken as useful provocations for this thinking about thinking:

·      Two hundred years of Shelley’s Defence

·      German and British Romantic theories of aesthetics, poetics, and the ‘literary absolute’

·      Modernist/Postmodernist receptions and revisions of Romantic aesthetics

·      ‘The popular division into prose and verse’ (Shelley)

·      Metre, prosody and cadence as operations of thought

·      Poetry as critical/political/feminist/queer theory

·      The intersection between poetics and black studies

·      Poetry as anti-philosophy

·      Computational and information-theoretical approaches to poetics

·      Encounters and non-encounters, historical and constructed, between poetry and philosophy/science/mathematics

·      The relationship of poetic thinking to embodiment and sensation

·      The incorporation of extra-textual materials into poetic thinking

·      Poetic thinking and the ‘elocutionary disappearance of the poet’ (Mallarmé)

Please email abstracts of no more than 250 words to poeticthoughtconference@gmail.com by 6th March 2022.

Website: https://poeticthoughtconference.com