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Poet in the World: Reading Zaher & Rorty

By Harriet Staff

Maged Zaher

At the Seattle Review of Books, Samuel Filby reads Maged Zaher’s 2017 poetry collection, Opting Out, through the lens of Richard Rorty’s 2016 Poetry as Philosophy. In his posthumously published book, Rorty “suggests that the conflict between philosophy and poetry is rooted in philosophy’s reluctance to admit that it is the imagination, not reason, that sets the bounds for human thought,” Filby explains. Let’s pick up with his analysis from there:

“At the heart of philosophy’s quarrel with poetry,” he writes, “is the fear that the imagination goes all the way down.”

But Rorty, good disciple of Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” that he was, uses the words “poetry” and “poet” broadly. For example, he contends that Nietzsche, Parmenides, and Plato are properly seen as “all-too-strong poets,” and in Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, Rorty extended Harold Bloom’s notion of a “strong poet” to cover the likes of Plato, Newton, Marx, Heidegger, and Donald Davidson. Rorty’s “poets” include both poets and philosophers, together forming a group he likes to call the Romantics. Against the Romantics are the philosophers Rorty baptizes the Platonists, the thinkers who fret at the notion that reason may be subsumed under the imagination.

In Philosophy as Poetry, the Romantics play the role of the good guys, and the Platonists play the role of the bad guys — in conflict about whether “human beings can transcend their finitude by searching for truth.” For the Platonists, such a transcendence is possible: there is an ultimate Reality (God, atoms and the void, or whatever), human minds can access this reality, and they can have knowledge of it with the help of reason.

Against the Platonists, the Romantics hold that the notion of ultimate reality is nonsense and that we would do better to ignore it. “To take the side of the poets in this quarrel,” Rorty writes, “is to say that there are many descriptions of the same things and events, and that there is no neutral standpoint from which to judge the superiority of one description over another.” To the Romantics, the Platonists are (as Berkeley described) kicking up dust and then complaining that they can’t see: they raise unneeded problems and spend all their time solving them.

Continue at Seattle Review of Books.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, June 16th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.