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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Social Poetry

The epigram at the start of a book I read recently was from the art historian Kenneth Clark:

Facts become art through love, which unifies them and lifts them to a higher plane of reality.

Quite so, but what does it mean? It is a syntactically correct English sentence that fails to convey anything very definite to me. I can parse it but I can't tell you what exactly is being asserted about the world. The only conclusion I can reach is that it is a species of poetry. It would be absurd though, I think, to say that the sentence or indeed poetry in general is meaningless. What poetry conveys about the outer or indeed the inner world depends on symbolism - which is just a vocabulary of associations that is, to an extent, culturally learned. If I'm right it makes, belated, sense to me of an important part of studying poetry at school - "learning how to respond". To be sure learning to do science is also a culturally acquired behaviour, but what is learned is rather different from what is required if one's modus operandi is social poetry. The great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga hit the nail on the head:

From the causal point of view, symbolism appears as a sort of short-circuit of thought. Instead of looking for the relation between two things by following the hidden detours of their causal connexions, thought makes a leap and discovers their relation, not in a connexion of cause and effects, but in a connexion of signification or finality.

He was writing about the medieval mentality, but he might have been writing about an influential strand of contemporary British sociology.

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