poetic wisdom, Vico




Vico describes poetic wisdom as a whole modality of knowledge that developed historically, from “crude” beginnings, by which he means the necessity to explain and communicate. 

This modality was a metaphysics: the necessity of communication and explanation was first of all a way of “making sense” (also in relation to the senses) by linking natural phenomena to a divine plan, and explain the order of the world by reference to an entity.

This modality expanded (we can think of what Deleuze writes about the refrain) and differentiated in several differing modalities, each concerned both with a certain domain of knowledge. Language, logic, morals, economics, politics but also physics, astronomy (and chronology and geography) all articulated from such necessity, and were all in their own way “poetic.”

This is what Vico refers to as “history of human nature” a view therefore that underlines—we would say in contemporary parlance—nature as a becoming.

An historical approach also entails an understanding that such poetic wisdom is both different and related to “scientific wisdom” (what at times Vico calls “civilized nature”). Different, because it is not Christian, and because it ignores the “scientific causes” that organize nature. Related, because scientific wisdom is a product of poetic wisdom and could not be without it. This relational difference has theological roots, and can be retrospectively seen as an important axis of anthropology as a discipline about difference (and sameness). We could say that it encapsulates the “political-theology” of anthropology as a European/Nord-American discipline.

Some of you might have in mind L-S distinction between “savage” and “scientific thought,” and his argument about their ultimate identity. But in Vico the link is historical (and recursive) and disjunctive. 

poetry is useless, poetry cannot be consumed


Poetry, many argue (e.g. Montale, Pasolini), stands in an oppositional relationship with what is useful (and therefore what is consumable).

This oppositional relationship is not a negation. Pasolini for example does not argue that poetry cannot be consumed: it is. But this consumption does not exhaust what one might call the “power of poetry” its potentiality, its capacity to persevere. In other words, one could say that even if poetry assumes the form of the commodity, and circulates as such, its use value is not effaced.

Likewise, claiming that poetry is useless, does not mean to celebrate or denigrate its (social, political, economic, even existential) irrelevance, but rather to argue that its relationship with utility is one of implication, in that it is by being irrelevant that poetry is indeed relevant.

This corresponds to suggesting that there is something in language that cannot be consumed, that cannot be made useful. It pushes one to ask, is this useless inconsumable element something that is within language or is it something that is not in language in itself? But this question appears ill conceived because it wants to operate a distinction in what is indistinguishable.

Rather, considering what is useless or inconsumable in poetry as something that cannot be separated from its utility/consumption (exchange value), can suggest:

• poetry is a necessity

• the necessity of poetry is in a certain relationship with history. It is it’s non-historical dimension.

• those that identify poetry with human existence, and thus separate it out from the “world” as a creative capacity that would stand against capitalism, politics and other forms of control, by making poetry into an object of contemplation end up reproducing the distinction that empowers these forms of control.

Poetry as Symptom


The relentless return of the notion that poetry is an experience of truth should be read as a symptom of the impossibility of both experience and truth except as domains that are separated from the everyday.

The character of such declarations becomes even clearer when poetry is attributed political valence, as an existential act that is also a commitment to others, as in this article.

 "Poetry is always a form of political intervention, since it creates a reader who is interested in other people, in relations between experience and truth."

The fact that the author of this anthology is promoting it at the time of publication, suggests that “experiential value” and “exchange value” have become indistinguishable. But this equivalence is what remains hidden from experience, truth and politics.

At the exact moment when poetry is declared to be at once experience, truth and politics, its power is reduced to exchange value.