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This review is taken from PN Review 207, Volume 39 Number 1, September - October 2012.

We Are All gertrude stein, Stanzas in Meditation: The Corrected Edition
(Yale University Press) $22
juliana spahr, Well Then There Now (Black Sparrow) $17.95

In his treatise On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (1800), Friedrich Schiller famously divides poetic sensibility into two modes of perception: the naïve, which 'is nature', and the sentimental, which 'will seek her'. According to Schiller, naïve poets operate unselfconsciously within the natural order, creating artworks in untroubled unity with the world around them, while sentimental poets reflect nostalgically on their alienation from nature and make art out of their yearning for an originary simplicity of experience and expression. The ancient Greeks were naïve, we moderns are sentimental.

Though we may question the rigour of Schiller's binary on a number of counts (it problematically feminises nature, it idealises the primitive, it sets modern poets up to fail, etc.), his theory does continue to pose relevant questions about the immanent vs. transcendent aims of art. Should a work of art strive to be all of a piece, a formally and thematically unified, self-sufficient thing? Or should it be prepared to take up a position 'outside' its own formal and thematic precincts, even to the point of undermining itself? Should art somehow embody its subject matter, or should it reflect on it? Can it do both? What are the political implications of these strategies? Is there even a real difference between them?

As an intellectual exercise (and let us here suspend our disbelief), we might ask what the quaint Romantic categories of naïve and sentimental poetry would look like in our own time - that is, after the ...


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