Memorable Moments: A Philosophy of Poetry

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2006-08-07

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In my dissertation I give a philosophical account of poetry from an analytic perspective--one that is also informed by studies in linguistic communication (pragmatics) and cognitive psychology, and that takes into account the many varieties of poetic traditions around the world.

In chapter one I argue that philosophically rigorous study of poetry is long overdue, and that it should focus not on what poetry has in common with the other literary arts, but rather on what is distinct to it. In chapter two I give a cross-cultural history of poetry, showing the many types of features that are typical of the art form. From this history it emerges that beneath the variety of poetic traditions all over the globe lies a remarkably consistent set of features--the use of recurrence patterns.

In chapter three I argue for an intentional-historical formalist definition of poetry according to which a poem is either (1) a verbal art object relationally or intrinsically intended to belong in the poetic tradition, or (2) a verbal art object intrinsically intended to involve use of repetition schemes (naïve poetry-making). In my fourth chapter I investigate the psychological reasons for poetry to have begun as and remained an art that relies on repetition devices, focusing on two non-literate groups: the illiterate trovadores of Northeastern Brazil, and pre-literate children. Both cases suggest an innate predisposition to attend to and produce linguistic recurrence structures of various, sometimes highly intricate, sorts.

In my fifth chapter I consider the Relevance theory claim in pragmatics that, as a rule, repetition incurs extra linguistic processing effort, and that this must be outweighed by an increase in contextual effects, given the assumption of relevance. I argue that although this picture of poetic understanding is largely correct, repetition can also be seen as a cognitive facilitator, helping us draw connections that might have gone unnoticed without it.

I conclude by exploring the contributions my approach to poetry may offer to other topics in aesthetics and philosophy art, such as aesthetic experience, aesthetic properties, and theories of interpretation.

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