Beyond Autonomy and Activism:

‘Poetic Understanding’ as a Ground for Political Community


  • Divya Nadkarni University of Amsterdam



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.


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