Friday, August 14, 2009

The trouble with poethics

I really have trouble with poethics. In fact, I think one of the most beautiful, free and expansive ideas about art is that it — unlike just about everything else in our culture — doesn’t have to partake in an ethical discourse. As a matter of fact, if it wants to, it can take an unethical stance and test what it means to be that without having to endure the consequences of real world investigations. I find this to be enormously powerful and liberating and worth fighting for. Where else can this exist in our culture? -- Kenny Goldsmith

Plainly the only problem is to avoid that love of lost-identity which drives so many clever people to hold difficult points of view - by difficult I mean big, hungry, religious points of view which absorb their personality. I for one am resolved to mind or not mind only to the degree where my point of view is no larger than myself. I can thus have a great number of points of view, like fingers, and which I can treat as I treat the fingers of my hand... It is all indeed, I admit, rather horrible. But if I remain a person instead of becoming a point of view, I have no contact with horror. -- Laura Riding

I can't get rid of the idea that we demand less and less of poetry. Just a nudge or a sting to our imagination and thought. For this you don't need more than a few words. Sometimes entire long poems pass through us like air. We rush to the final pont, to the conclusion. All of it results from a shortening of the inner time of art, perhaps also of man. -- Anna Kamienska

[from her notebooks, in Astonishments: Selected Poems of Anna Kamienska, ed. and trans. Grazyna Drabik & David Curzon; more of her notebooks, translated by Clare Cavanagh, will appear in an upcoming issue of

We can set our own standard for quality and stick to it. We can demand to know the true costs of what we buy, and refuse to allow them to be externalized, We can enforce sustainability, minimize disposability, and insist on transparency. We can rekindle our acquaintance with craftsmanship. We can choose to buy or not, choose to bargain or not, and choose to follow our hearts or not, unencumbered by the anxiety of that someone somewhere is getting a 'better deal." -- Ellen Ruppel Shell

[Shell is talking about cheap shoes, not about poetry, alas; from her book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, in which she asks, "What are we really buying when we insist on getting stuff as cheaply as possible?" The answer, as paraphrased on Boing Boing: a low-quality food supply, a ruined economy, a polluted environment, low wages, a shoddy educational system, deserted town centers, ballooning personal debt, and the loss of craftsmanship.]


Jim Murdoch said...

I have to say I have struggled to find a definition of poethics that I could understand. The best I could come up with is this:

[Poethics is] what we make of events as we use language in the present, how we continuously create an ethos of the way in which events are understood. (from Joan Retallack's, 'Essay as Wager')

I suppose it's fair to say that a person's ethics do change in life although not normally as radically as their taste in, say, clothes but a poem is a fixed point in time, assuming that we're applying poethics purely to poetry for the moment, and so it is an ethical (or possibly unethical) snapshot of how the poet felt – or what he wanted to communicate – at that moment.

We understand ethics linguistically because that's what everything in our modern world gets reduced to, words; they are our lowest common denominator. I'm sure some ethnolinguistist would have some thoughts about if ethics can exist apart from language but I'm already way over my head on this comment so I think I'll stop there. The word just fascinated me and I had to know more.

J.H. Stotts said...

it seems to me what we need is a codex ex ethics, not of. what else is poetry but cultural synthesis by means of rejection? a logic of poetics is to ethics like superman is to mensch.

we are the degustators, the nimrod flaneurs