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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

Poetry in its Place David J. Levy

IN "The Concrete Universal: Observations on the Understanding of Poetry", John Crowe Ransom writes, "I do not know how it is possible to deny to the literary critic the advantages of philosophy; I suppose we have fears that he, or his audience, will be unequal to them. But does he not try for a radical and a decisive understanding of poetry? . . . The reading of technical philosophy is the critic's homework. It should be fruitful of radical and decisive ideas-if his mind is strong enough to take them". (Poems and Essays pp. 159/60) Actually, of all "laymen" the critic of poetry ought to be the best equipped and disciplined to the comprehension of philosophical discourse. For philosophy demands of the reader a degree of rapt attention to what is written for which mathematics and poetry may be the only adequate preparation.

Yet, if the degree of attention demanded by poetry and philosophy is the same, the type may not be. The "intransitive, rapt attention", which Eliseo Vivas tells us is necessary to the reading of poetry, loses, I would think, some of its intransitivity in the reading of philosophy, where primary concentration on the form of discourse is or ought to be replaced by intellectual sensitivity to content and reference. In both poetry and philosophy there is a dialectical relationship between the form and content of the text, but the balance between them is different in the two forms of discourse. Poetry and Philosophy both ...


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