Beyond Autonomy and Activism:
‘Poetic Understanding’ as a Ground for Political Community
Keywords:Poetic Understanding, Political community, Poetry, Plurality, Intersubjectivity
This paper takes the particular case of poetry to chart a middle route between the extremes of the autonomist and activist dimensions of understanding aesthetic politics. I argue that the politicality of poetry lies neither in the politics of the author or the text (activist), nor in their removedness vis-à-vis concrete political situations (autonomist). Instead, politicality needs to be located in the intersubjective dynamic between readers and poems or works of art more broadly. I propose an intersubjective pragmatist framework of interpretation, which takes the actualization of a decolonial and anti-identitarian political plurality as the basis of poetry’s politicality. I develop the framework by bringing together three conceptual frameworks: Hannah Arendt’s theory of political plurality, Édouard Glissant’s concepts of relation and opacity, and John Dewey’s pragmatist theory of aesthetic experience. At its core is the concept of ‘poetic understanding’, a transformative quality of understanding that facilitates between the reader and the text a dynamic and contingent process of mutual transformation and constitution. I explore the potential of such understanding as a ground for political community.
Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory. Edited by Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
Altieri, Charles M. “Why Modernist Claims for Autonomy Matter.” Journal of Modern Literature 32, no. 3 (2009): 1–21.
Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Second Edi. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Awkward, Michael. “Negotiations of Power: White Critics, Black Texts, and the Self-Referential Impulse.” American Literary History 2, no. 4 (1990): 581–606.
Baraka, Amiri. SOS: Poems 1961–2013. Edited by Paul Vangelisti. New York: Grove Press, 2015.
Bernstein, Charles, ed. The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy. Berkeley: Roof Books, 1990.
Britton, Celia. Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance. New World Studies. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.
Butler, Judith. Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
Cavell, Stanley. Must We Mean What We Say?: A Book of Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Coombes, Sam. Edouard Glissant: A Poetics of Resistance. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.
Dean, Jodi. Solidarity of Strangers: Feminism after Identity Politics. Berkeley: Univ of California Press, 1996.
Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Perigee, Penguin, 2005.
Diawara, Manthia. “Édouard Glissant’s Worldmentality: An Introduction to One World in Relation.” South Magazine, Documenta 14, no. 6 (2015). https://www.documenta14.de/en/south/34_edouard_glissant_s_worldmentality_an_introduction_to_one_world_in_relation.
Drabinski, John E., and Maria Parham, eds. Theorizing Glissant: Sites and Citations. Creolizing the Canon. London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015.
Fish, Stanley. “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics.” New Literary History 2, no. 1 (1970): 123–62.
Fitterman, Robert. “Does American Political Poetry Have a Future?” Vice, 2014. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/9bznvp/does-american-political-poetry-have-a-future-707.
Glissant, Edouard. Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
Haider, Asad. Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump. London: Verso Books, 2018.
Hirsch, Edward. A Poet’s Glossary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
Hong, Cathy Park. “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde.” Lana Turner 7, no. 7 (2014): n.p. http://www.lanaturnerjournal.com/print-issue-7-contents/delusions-of-whiteness-in-the-avant-garde.
Iser, Wolfgang. Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
Kaufmann, David. Reading Uncreative Writing: Conceptualism, Expression, and the Lyric. Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics Series. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
Kautzer, Chad. “Political Violence and Race: A Critique of Hannah Arendt.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 21, no. 3 (2019): 2–12.
Kivy, Peter. The Performance of Reading: An Essay in the Philosophy of Literature. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
Lamarque, Peter. “Philosophy and the Lyric.” Journal of Literary Theory 11, no. 1 (2017): 63–73.
Loidolt, Sophie. Phenomenology of Plurality: Hannah Arendt on Political Intersubjectivity. New York: Routledge, 2018.
Marchart, Oliver. Conflictual Aesthetics: Artistic Activism and the Public Sphere. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019.
Marchart, Oliver. “Democracy and Minimal Politics: The Political Difference and Its Consequences.” South Atlantic Quarterly 110, no. 4 (2011): 965–73.
Marchart, Oliver. Post-Foundational Political Thought: Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
Mufti, Aamir R. “Orientalism and the Institution of World Literatures.” Critical Inquiry 36, no. 3 (2010): 458–93.
Murray, Georgia. “Travis Alabanza: What Navigating Public Space Is Like As A Trans Person.” Refinery29, 2017. https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2017/08/166568/travis-alabanza-before-i-step-outside.
Nadkarni, Divya. “Poetic Understanding and Political Community: Actualizing Plurality through Poetry.” University of Amsterdam, 2022.
Nadkarni, Divya. “I Understand You, Across the Chasm That Divides Us: Rethinking Community through Poetry.” Jaarboek Voor Vrouwengeshiedenis 40 (2021): 137–42.
Owens, Patricia. “Racism in the Theory Canon: Hannah Arendt and ‘the One Great Crime in Which America Was Never Involved.’” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 45, no. 3 (2017): 403–24.
Perloff, Marjorie. Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2004.
Perloff, Marjorie, and Craig Dworkin, eds. The Sound of Poetry, the Poetry of Sound. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Reed, Anthony. Freedom Time: The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing. The Callaloo African Diaspora Series. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2014.
Roelofs, Monique. Arts of Address: Being Alive to Language and the World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020.
Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Rosenblatt, Louise M. “Towards a Transactional Theory of Reading.” Journal of Reading Behavior 1, no. 1 (1969): 31–49.
Shepherd, Reginald. “The Other’s Other: Against Identity Poetry.” Michigan Quarterly Review XLII, no. 4 (September 1, 2003). http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.act2080.0042.407.
Stanley, Eric A. “Anti-Trans Optics: Recognition, Opacity, and the Image of Force.” South Atlantic Quarterly 116, no. 3 (2017): 612–20.
Tobias, Saul. “Hegel and the Politics of Recognition.” Owl of Minerva 38, no. 1 (2006): 101–26.
Rooden, Aukje van. Literature, Autonomy and Commitment. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.
Vasterling, Veronica. “Postmodern Hermeneutics? Towards a Critical Hermeneutics.” In Feminist Interpretations of Hans-Georg Gadamer, edited by Lorraine Code, 149–80. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.
Verheyen, Leen. “The Aesthetic Experience of the Literary Artwork. A Matter of Form and Content?” Aesthetic Investigations 1, no. 1 (2015): 23–32.
Wang, Dorothy J. Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014.
Copyright (c) 2023 Divya Nadkarni
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal. Note: up to volume 4 issue 1, an incorrect copyright line appears in the PDFs of the articles.
Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).