Friday, 5 April 2013

Pollock Replies

Immensely gratified as I am by Stewart Cole's thoughtful and sensitive review, I'm puzzled by his critique on these points. On "the work of art per se": the whole thrust of the essay he quotes that phrase from ("The Art of Poetry") is to greatly expand the reach of my own thinking about poetry to include pragmatic, mimetic and performative values. Early in the essay I write that "to ignore all other values besides the aesthetic would be to miss a great deal of what a lot of poetry does." And by the end of the essay I say things like this: "[The] object [of truly great poetry] is ultimately the formation, and transformation, of the human self and community." Granted, I argue that aesthetic value must be central to any good theory of poetry. But my position is much broader than Cole gives me credit for here.

On the matter of our aesthetic sensitivities being affected by our material conditions: of course they are, but I'd argue that we shouldn't merely surrender to our own social conditioning; we should strive to overcome it. That's what it means to be a true cosmopolitan. As I say later in the same essay, "particular aesthetic values change over time: some eras and readers will especially value classical clarity and restraint, others romantic passion or intellectual challenge; but in our time it should be possible to value a wide range of aesthetic qualities, because we have the benefit of a vast literary history. I can value Lorca's fierce rhetorical passion and surreal imagery, and also Cavafy's classical restraint and clarity; nevertheless I can also value Lorca over some minor French surrealist and Cavafy over some dull author of versified history. It is not the poet's particular aesthetic values that should determine the critic's estimation of the poem, but the quality of the art."—James Pollock

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