Thursday, January 17, 2008
What do poems do in the world?
Occasionally brilliant, more often not so much, Stanley Fish has written a recent article claiming that “it is not the job of the humanities to save us” and that the humanities “don’t do anything, if by ‘do’ is meant bring about effects in the world. And if they don’t bring about effects in the world they cannot be justified except in relation to the pleasure they give to those who enjoy them.” You can find his comments on his original article, his original article, and the comments by 484 others on his comments here:
At least he seems to understand the value of thinking again.
Now, I’m not so interested in what the humanities, understood as some kind of singular whole, do in the world. Probably there is no such whole and probably a lot of people are doing a lot of different things with the idea of the humanities. Probably different uses of the humanities do different things for different people.
But I am interested in what people think poems do, either in the world or in some small portion of it. And I don’t mean poems generally, but what this or that poem specifically does or doesn’t do, to whom or to what. My sense is, that if one was being specific, one could reach some literal conclusions about what this or that poem has done, and one would find that there are some ways in which it is impossible to know what a given poem does or doesn’t do. And we’d probably find that some poems have done this, some that, some a lot of this and nothing of that, and etc.
Have any comments or stories about what a specific poem or poems have done in the world, or any small portion of it?