Readers, in my last post I began showing how examples in texts of aesthetic philosophy often betray universal human subjectivity to be limited to European white males. Last time I shared some examples from Kant. Today I’d like to go to one of Kant’s influences, Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful from 1757. Should you ever be tasked with teaching aesthetics, I highly recommend this text. It will make your students irate and nothing is better for class discussion.
At first I thought I would use this Commentary space to read through an online archive, but in the end such a gesture felt adjacent to my current preoccupations. What I hope to do instead is to elucidate a narrative of my own search for an adequate poetics, one that begins and ends with two very different theories, though each proposes “freedom” as the ultimate aim of poetic production. I want to attempt to rehearse an evolution of thinking around poetics that begins with Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Judgment and ends with Hurston’s Mules and Men, though I’ll make some detours.
Lawrence Giffin has done and said some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen or heard in poetry. His readings always feel to me like they walk along a fine line between uproarious and deeply critical. I can’t say exactly what they are critical of, because I can never quite tell. Is he making fun of poetry? himself for writing it? And this hilarious criticality comes in the package of always impressive, sometimes tour-de-force writing. There is clearly love for the art in his work — he works hard and that is a kind of love — but there also always seems to me a chasm of critical distance between Giffin and whatever he’s saying. And that chasm is often where the uproarious happens.