The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry Revisited

The turn to poetry need not be a turn to the less disciplined as opposed to the rigorous, to the figurative as opposed to the technical, precise or literal, to one truth as opposed to another.  This opposition, while a powerful tool for both spheres–but even keeping them separate, contained away from one another is becoming problematic–is unnecessary, and it is part of the future of our thinking to dispel the quarrel between philosophy and poetry.

Epidaurus Theater

One way in which this quarrel has been framed is as a quarrel between two disciplines, one which is rigorous in its search for truth, the other which is winding, more tolerant of the particular and the messy details, more–well, undisciplined.  The main objection to this framing of the quarrel does not consist in simply pointing out that philosophers, too, have Eureka moments, moments of the sudden coming of inspiration of the method and path towards the solution to the problems facing them, if not the solution itself.  Nor is it simply a matter of bringing to bear the great strictness that can underlie poetry and poetic craft, the search for the proper saying or the fitting word, the care in reading and writing that can be involved in poetizing.  This framing of the quarrel rather relies upon a misleading demarcation, insofar as the split between the disciplined and the undisciplined does not give one over to philosophy, the other over to poetry.  It is tempting to say in our examples above that the sudden fits of inspiration in the life of philosophy are poetic moments within philosophy, that the strict questioning, the painstaking following through with an effort to attain a vision, are moments when poetry has kinship with philosophy or science, yet remains poetry.  It is tempting to say that philosophy remains philosophy only insofar as it is trained and precise in its phrasing and thinking, that poetry remains poetry only insofar as, at bottom, it is open to experimentation in linguistic structure, open to matters of concern, open to tarrying or taking wrong paths.  In truth, however, these moments of openness or severity relate to both disciplines as themselves, that is, insofar as we continue to separate them.  If we eliminate the talk of disciplines and the thought that separates two disciplines, philosophy and poetry, in order to pit them against each other, we are led to see that the divergence between disciplined and undisciplined is a divergence within the human life, as a manner of approach or as the way in which something appears.

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