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Unformatted text preview: Shelley and Sartre: The Shelley and Sartre: The Politics of Literature IAH 207: “Dangerous Art” October 31, 2011 Politics and Literature Politics and Literature Plato: merely imitative poetry is dangerous to a well­governed state and should therefore be excluded: “If you once admit the pleasurable muse in lyric or epic, pleasure and pain will be sovereign in your city, instead of law and reason, which is ever in common judged to be best” (341, my emphasis). Aristotle: implicit suggestion that drama (esp. tragedy) could serve to keep citizens more even­tempered, esp. through catharsis Sidney: poetry benefits the state by teaching people moral behavior and leading them to virtuous action Shelley: poets are the visionaries who reveal revolutionary transformations on the horizon – imagination promotes morality (and therefore social improvement) through love, sympathy Sartre: literature (and writing more generally) constitutes a “pact of generosity” between writer and reader which appeals to the freedom of each and constitutes a world­making process that promotes freedom Peacock’s Critique of Modern Poetry Peacock’s Critique of Modern Poetry From Thomas Love Peacock’s “The Four Ages of Poetry”: “we may easily conceive that the day is not distant, when the degraded state of every species of poetry will be as generally recognized as that of dramatic poetry has long been…because intellectual power and intellectual acquisition have turned themselves into other and better channels, and have abandoned the cultivation and the fate of poetry to the degenerate fry of modern rhymesters, and their olympic judges, the magazine critics, who continue to debate and promulgate oracles about poetry, as if it were still what it was in the Homeric age, the all­in­all of intellectual progression, and as if there were no such things in existence as mathematicians, astronomers, chemists, moralists, metaphysicians, historians, politicians, and political economists, who have built into the upper air of intelligence a pyramid, from the summit of which they see the modern Parnassus far beneath them, and, knowing how small a place it occupies in the comprehensiveness of their prospect, smile at the little ambition and the circumscribed perceptions with which the drivellers and mountebanks upon it are contending for the Reason vs. Imagination Reason vs. Imagination “Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance” Classes of Mental Action (801) Imagination Principle of Synthesis Reason (Logic) Principle of Analysis “mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another, however produced” Enumeration of quantities “mind acting upon those thoughts so as to color them with its own light, and composing from them, as from elements, other thoughts, each containing within itself the principle of its own integrity” Valuation of quantities Poetry: “expression of the imagination” Danger of Reliance on Reason Danger of Reliance on Reason “We want [lack] the creative faculty to imagine that which we know; we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine; we want the poetry of life: our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave. To what but a cultivation of the mechanical arts in a degree disproportioned to the presence of the creative faculty (which is the basis of all knowledge) is to be attributed the abuse of all invention for abridging and combining labour, to the exasperation of the inequality of mankind? From what other cause has it arisen that these inventions, which should have lightened, have added a weight to the curse imposed on Adam? Poetry, and the principle of Self (of which money is the visible incarnation) are the God and Mammon of the world” (805­6). Poetry and Morality Poetry and Morality “The great secret of morals is love [again, a neoplatonic concept similar to sympathy or empathy with others], or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause” (805, my emphasis). “Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man [ the imagination], in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb. A poet therefore would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong (which are usually those of his place and time) in his poetical creations (which participate in neither)” (805). Conception of an encompassing morality that transcends any one religion or institution – compare to the “imperative” of Poetry and Divinity Poetry and Divinity And yet Shelley (unlike Sartre) bases this imperative in a sense of divinity, despite an earlier tract in support of atheism. “A Poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one [a neoplatonic conception of divinity – compare this to Plato]; as far as relates to his conceptions, time and place and number are not” (803). Poetry “awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” (804). “Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life, and veiling them or [either] in language or in form, sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy to those with whom their sisters abide—abide, because there is no portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit which they inhabit into the universe of things. Poetry redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in man” (807, my emphasis). Poetry as Perpetual Revolution Poetry as Perpetual Revolution This reference to the immortality of poetry seems to belie an earlier statement that poetry is a perpetual process that must constantly restore this vision of beauty in the world: “the pleasure resulting from the manner in which [poets] express the influence of society or nature upon their own minds [recall the Aeolian lyre metaphor], communicates itself to others, and gathers a sort of reduplication from the community. Their language is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things, and perpetuates their apprehension, until words which represent them, become through time signs for portions or classes of thought instead of pictures of integral thoughts; and then, if no new poets should arise to create afresh the associations which have been thus disorganized, language will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse” (803, my emphases). Fading Vision in Poetic Composition Fading Vision in Poetic Composition In fact, even the vision of any given poet is short­lived and falls away from the initial inspiration even by the time pen hits paper: “the mind in creation is as a fading coal which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness. This power arises from within, like the colour of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure…. when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet. I appeal to the greatest poets of the present day whether it is not an error to assert that the finest passages of poetry are produced by labour and study” (806). Poets as Prophetic Legislators Poets as Prophetic Legislators And yet this idea of perpetual transformation ties in with Shelley’s conception of poet as prophet in addition to legislator (see what changes will and must come), as well as his revolutionary political stance: “Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called in earlier epochs of the world, legislators or prophets. A poet essentially comprises and unites both these characters. For he not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest time” (803). “Poets are the hierophants [oracles] of an unapprehended inspiration, the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present, the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (810). Poets in Shelley’s England Poets in Shelley’s England This also relates to Shelley’s perspective on the revolutionary promise of his own time in England (and returns us to Peacock’s critique): “the literature of England, an energetic development of which has ever preceded or accompanied a great and free development of the national will, has arisen, as it were, from a new birth. In spite of the low­ thoughted envy which would undervalue contemporary merit, our own will be a memorable age in intellectual achievements, and we live among such philosophers and poets as surpass beyond comparison any who have appeared since the last national struggle for civil and religious liberty [English Civil War]. The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry” (810, my emphasis). “It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all­ penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely Sartre and Shelley Sartre and Shelley Like Shelley, Sartre also upheld this idea of perpetual revolution with the ideal of “freedom” in mind – emphasis on “becoming” rather than “being” Unlike Shelley, however, Sartre believed that the writer does not “lift the veil” from the “hidden beauty of the world” – rather, beauty stems from the perception of a free spectator who also takes responsibility for the beautiful object. And yet the writer, the partial producer of beauty, also bears responsibility for preventing the authorization of “injustice” in writing (and the reader in reading works supporting injustice), since the only subject of writing should ultimately be “freedom.” Freedom and Responsibility in Sartre Freedom and Responsibility in Sartre “Ever­changing, we [humans] are always free to make ourselves what we are, negating what we currently are and do in favor of some other mode of action and existence. Indeed, one should not say that we are but that we become. Our existence is contingent, unfixed, dependent on our interactions with an ever­ changing environment. To live in the world, to ‘become’ in freedom, we are forced to project ourselves into the void of nothingness, the as­yet­nonexistent future” (Richter 621) “The responsibility for conscious choice of what we shall become at every moment of existence produces in the authentic individual the feeling of angst, or existential dread. So terrifying is our freedom and responsibility that we are constantly tempted by what Sartre calls bad faith (mauvaise foi), comforting lies by which we reassure ourselves that we have been merely formed by circumstance, that our choices are predetermined by psychic or social forces beyond our control” (Richter 621). People are Inessential Revealers People are Inessential Revealers “It is our presence in the world which multiplies relations. It is we who set up a relationship between this tree and that bit of sky…With each of our acts, the world reveals to us a new face” (48). “But if we know that we are directors of being, we also know that we are not its producers. If we turn away from this landscape, it will sink back into its dark permanence…. Thus, to our inner certainty of being ‘revealers’ is added that of being inessential in relation to the thing revealed” (48, my emphasis) This “dark permanence” is the “void of nothingness” that awaits interaction with the person for “the world” to be revealed – might compare this to the “black marks on paper” that await a reader’s interaction (50) Reason for Artistic Creation Reason for Artistic Creation We create art in order to feel essential in relation to the world. However, by creating, we lose the power of revealing: “One of the chief motives of artistic creation is certainly the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world. If I fix on canvas or in writing a certain aspect of the fields or the sea or a look on someone’s face which I have disclosed, I am conscious of having produced them by condensing relationships, by introducing order where there was none, by imposing the unity of mind on the diversity of things. That is, I feel myself essential in relation to my creation. But this time it is the created object which escapes me; I cannot reveal and produce at the same time” (48­49, my emphasis). Inability of Producer to Reveal Inability of Producer to Reveal The reason we cannot reveal is that we cannot completely objectify the work of art – cannot separate the subjective from the objective: “The results we have obtained on canvas or paper never seem to us objective. We are too familiar with the processes of which they are the effects. These processes remain a subjective discovery; they are ourselves, our inspiration, our trick, and when we seek to perceive our work, we create it again, we repeat mentally the operations which produced it; each of its aspects appear as a result. Thus, in the perception, the object is given as the essential thing and the subject as the inessential. The latter seeks essentiality in the creation and obtains it, but then it is the object which becomes the inessential” (49­50). “Thus, the writer meets everywhere only his knowledge, his will, his plans, in short, himself. He touches only his own subjectivity; the object he creates is out of reach; he does not create it for himself” (51) Necessity of Reader Necessity of Reader For this reason, a reader is necessary in order to reveal the object that is the work of art: “To make [writing] come into view a concrete act called reading is necessary, and it lasts only as long as this act can last. Beyond that, there are only black marks on paper” (50). “the operation of writing implies that of reading as its dialectical correlative and these two connected acts necessitate two distinct agents. It is the joint effort of author and reader which brings upon the scene that concrete and imaginary object which is the work of the mind. There is no art except for and by others” (51­52). Reading vs. Perception of World Reading vs. Perception of World Unlike mere perception of the world, in which the perceiver remains inessential to the object itself, the reader is a key participant in the creation of the artistic object (Sartre thus identifies a difference between artistic and worldly objects – see 59 as well): “Reading seems, in fact, to be the synthesis of perception and creation. It posits the essentiality of both the subject and the object. The object is essential because it is strictly transcendent, because it imposes its own structures, and because one must wait for it and observe it; but the subject is also essential because it is required not only to disclose the object (that is, to make it possible for there to be an object) but also so that this object might exist absolutely (that is, to produce it). In a word, the reader is conscious of disclosing in creating, of creating by disclosing” (52) Reading is Directed Creation Reading is Directed Creation “Nothing is accomplished if the reader does not put himself from the very beginning and almost without a guide at the height of this silence [of the literary object]; if, in short, he does not invent it and does not then place there, and hold on to, the words and sentences which he awakens. And if I am told that it would be more fitting to call this operation a re­invention or a discovery, I shall answer that, first, such a re­invention would be as new and as original an act as the first invention” (52­53, my emphasis). “To be sure, the author guides [the reader], but all he does is guide him. The landmarks he sets up are separated by the void. The reader must unite them; he must go beyond them. In short, reading is directed creation” (53). Appeal to Reader’s Freedom Appeal to Reader’s Freedom In writing, the writer appeals to the reader’s freedom, the latter’s willingness to take up the book and become involved in its creation (and therefore the reader’s assuming responsibility for it as well ­ 56): “Since the creation can find its fulfilment only in reading, since the artist must entrust to another the job of carrying out what he has begun, since it is only through the consciousness of the reader that he can regard himself as essential to his work, all literary work is an appeal. To write is to make an appeal to the reader that he lead into objective existence the revelation which I have undertaken by means of language” (54) “And since this directed creation is an absolute beginning, it is therefore brought about by the freedom of the reader, and by what is purest in that freedom. Thus, the writer appeals to the reader’s freedom to collaborate in the production of his work” (54) Writer and Reader’s Freedom Writer and Reader’s Freedom And yet, in reading the reader also acknowledges the freedom of the writer, so that the freedom of each becomes apparent in the act of reading: “Thus, the author writes in order to address himself to the freedom of readers, and he requires it in order to make his work exist. But he does not stop there; he also requires that they return this confidence which he has given them, that they recognize his creative freedom, and that they in turn solicit it by a symmetrical and inverse appeal. Here there appears the other dialectical paradox of reading; the more we experience our freedom, the more we recognize that of the other; the more he demands of us, the more we demand of him” (58) Sartre refers to this exchange as a “pact of generosity” Pact of Generosity Pact of Generosity “I call a feeling generous which has it origin and its end in freedom. Thus, reading is an exercise in generosity, and what the writer requires of the reader is not the application of an abstract freedom but the gift of his whole person, with his passions, his prepossessions, his sympathies, his sexual temperament, and his scale of values” (58, my emphasis) “Thus, reading is a pact of generosity between author and reader. Each one trusts the other; each one counts on the other, demands of the other as much as he demands of himself. For this confidence is itself generosity. Nothing can force the author to believe that his reader will use his freedom; nothing can force the reader to believe that the author has used his. Both of them make a free decision. There is then established a dialectical going­and­coming; when I read, I make demands; if my demands are met, what I am then reading provokes me to demand more of the author, which means to demand of the author that he demand more of me. And vice versa, the author’s demand is that I carry my demands to the highest pitch. Thus, my freedom, by revealing itself, reveals the freedom of the Renewal of the World Renewal of the World The production of art constitutes a form of world­ making. But what exactly the nature of the relationship betweenthe physical world and the world produced by art? “through the various objects which it produces or reproduces, the creative act aims at a total renewal of the world. Each painting, each book, is a recovery of the totality of being. Each of them presents this totality to the freedom of the spectator. For this is quite the final goal of art: to recover this world by giving it to be seen as it is, but as if it had its source in human freedom” (63, my emphasis) “the writer chooses to appeal to the freedom of other men so that, by the reciprocal implications of their World as Task World as Task “The world is my task, that is, the essential and freely accepted function of my freedom is to make that unique and absolute object which is the universe come into being in an unconditioned movement. And…the preceding structures imply a pact between human freedoms, for, on the one hand, reading is a confident and exacting recognition of the freedom of the writer, and, on the other hand, aesthetic pleasure, as it is itself experienced in the form of a value [because of the appeal to the reader’s freedom], involves an absolute exigence in regard to others; every man, in so far as he is a freedom, feels the same pleasure in reading the same work. Thus, all mankind is present in its highest freedom; it sustains the being of a world which is both its world and the ‘external’ world. In aesthetic joy the positional consciousness is an image­making consciousness of the world in its totality both as being and having to be, both as totally ours and totally foreign, and the more ours as it is the more foreign…. To write is thus both to disclose the world and to offer it as a task to the generosity of the reader. It is to have recourse to the consciousness of others in order to make one’s self be recognized as essential to the totality of being; it is to wish to live this essentiality by Transformation of the World Transformation of the World Writing (and reading) must transcend the “real world” in order to take up the task of transforming it: “as the real world is revealed only by action, as one can feel oneself in it only by exceeding it in order to change it, the novelist’s universe would lack depth if it were not discovered in a movement to transcend it” (65) Problem with Realism: “how could the writer, who wants himself to be essential to this universe, want to be essential to the injustice which this universe comprehends?” (66) Author and reader must bear responsibility for universe, and writing, because it depends on the freedom of reader and writer, must be “shot through and through with a freedom which has taken human freedom as its end” – “it must be a becoming…[it] must have an air of generosity” (66 – see rest of this passage). Subject of Writing: Freedom Subject of Writing: Freedom Ultimately, writing should be employed to point out the injustices in the world and to promote the freedom that emerges from the pact of generosity between reader and writer: Writer should use indignation against injustices – “at the heart of the aesthetic imperative we discern the moral imperative” and “the work of art…is an act of confidence in the freedom of men” (67 – see entire passage) African­American expressions of hatred for whites is supportable because the purpose is racial freedom. On the other hand, it is “not possible to write a good novel in praise of anti­Semitism” because “it cannot be demanded [of the reader] that [she] use [her freedom] to approve the enslavement of a part of these men” (68) “a free man addressing free men has only one subject—freedom” (68). “One does not write for slaves. The art of prose is bound up with the only régime in which prose has meaning, democracy” (69). “however you might have come to it, whatever the opinions you Sources Sources Richter, David H., ed. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd. ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998. ...
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This note was uploaded on 01/13/2012 for the course IAH 207 taught by Professor Johns during the Fall '08 term at Michigan State University.

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