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This report is taken from PN Review 230, Volume 42 Number 6, July - August 2016.

Rough Notes for One or Two Undelivered Lectures on T. S. Eliot’s Dante Frank Kuppner
1. We begin with the memorable claim which, if true, is surely one of the very greatest of the Great Oracle’s very many great thoughts. To wit: ‘It is a test (a positive test, I do not assert that it is always valid negatively), that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.’


2. Meaning, I suppose – (one tries one’s best) – (even if I hardly dare assert it) – that, while ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’, the mere fact that some gorgeous effusion or other does not communicate before it is understood doesn’t in itself necessarily establish that this effusion might not be genuine poetry too. (Which would leave it as being what? Fake poetry perhaps? (Anyway, presumably not the sort of listless and inauthentic versifying which is understood even before it communicates[?]))


3. Is it not, however, the case that, taken literally and without further elaboration, the idea that ‘genuine poetry’ (or any other sort of utterance, for that matter) can communicate before it is understood, is simply wrong? If the content is not being understood (I assume there is a content, I admit) then what can be being communicated? Not the content, self-evidently. So … something else perhaps? It’s actually communicating something other than (some part of) its own content? (No easy trick, one might think.) (Yes. What else, exactly?) (Or even inexactly?) And what could understanding realistically amount to, if not to a grasp or appreciation of [at least some of] the actual content? ...


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