Badiou publishes a collection of essays on poetry. The volume had been preceded by its English translation last year (the collections are not identical, but almost).
Interviewed by Manou Farine, Badiou places philosophy and poetry at the antipodes. They are rivals. the transparency of mathematics on one side, the presence of the poem on the other:"let us do battle by recognizing the common task, which is to think that which was unthinkable, to say that which was impossible to say"
Whitehead had stated as much at the end of Modes of Thought, though instead of battle, he was seeking kinship:
Philosophy is akin to poetry, and both of them seek to express that ultimate good sense which we term civilization. In each case there is reference to form beyond the direct meaning of words. Poetry allies itself to meter, philosophy to mathematical patterns. (174)
There is a certain will to control, to contain poetic events within thought
Vico, The New Science, 1744
Nowadays Vico's discussion of the origins of poetry might be easily misread as a search for an original beginning. Instead it should be read as the articulation of a perspective-- what Vico would call ”principles“.
First, People [nations] were poets because of natural necessity (“dimostrata necessità di natura”), not because of fancy. This natural necessity is sensuous (see previous post on Vico): it originates in humans' relationship to nature. It would be a mistake to separate humans from the natural world and turn them into exceptions. Also, language and poetry are co-constitutive.
Second, given historical stratification and refinement (itself a natural process), today it is hard, almost impossible, to understand the natural necessity of poetry. Today it is much easier to consider poetry as the product of artifice and refinement, as an unnecessary, useless (because fictional) and unproductive activity (unless it sells, but that's a different discussion). Understanding the necessity of poetry requires the effort to see beyond the confined limits of abstract thinking. It requires a change of perspective, and a reflection on a different modality of knowledge.
Third, poetry embodied is thought in images -imaginative ("fantastici"), not abstract, ways of making sense of reality.
Fourth, these poetic genres were “true fables” and constituted history. This means that one can read poetry as history, if one keeps in mind that poetic genres also articulate a specific epistemology, that is to say, they embody a specific modality of knowledge. At the end of the passage Vico returns to the idea that poetry is a necessity and that poverty of words and expressions pushed people to articulate their images/ideas in poetic idiom.