PhD-Candidate: Divya Nadkarni | University of Amsterdam | The Lyric We: A Pragmatist approach to the Politics of Poetry | Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Josef Früchtl and Prof. Dr. Ellen Rutten | 2016-2020
Current understandings of the political value of poetry can be broadly seen as taking one of two possible directions: Poetry as activism, and poetry as facilitating social critique through its formal autonomy from social, ideological, and communicative structures of its present moment. Both remain exclusionary, in that, in either view, it is not so much poetry as a whole that has social relevance, but only certain poems dealing with certain issues in a certain way. Furthermore, despite the often-irreconcilable differences between the autonomist and activist positions, they cohere in one important respect: both have been conceiving poetry as a subjective thing, with the subject being either outside of politics (autonomist) or inside of politics (activist). Taking seriously, Richard Rorty’s (1989) critique of the notion that “at the deepest level of the self there is no sense of solidarity”, this project asks: how can we begin to rethink our relationship to poems towards an emphasis on intersubjectivity, solidarity, and sharing, as facilitating political community, rather than as individualist instances of expression? I propose a pragmatist approach to the politics of poetry, based primarily on John Dewey’s Art as Experience (1932). Through this approach, I argue that the crux of poetry’s politics is in facilitating complex forms of understanding and communication. Through a pragmatist approach I characterise poetic understanding as a kind of “feeling with” or “caring with”, and examine the socio-political value of this kind of understanding today.
This project aims, ultimately, to arrive at a notion of the “we” in poetry, and argues that poetic understanding can play a critical role in enriching current understandings of community and emancipatory solidarity. For the ethical formation of communities, of solidarities, we need to understand not merely the cause which binds us, but also the variegated and differential nature of particular and personal experiences of and within it. This project makes an innovative case for the continued social necessity and relevance of poetry in today’s politically turbulent times, as a practice that helps facilitate and train the social conditions wherein forms of poetic understanding can become widely accessible.