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DOI: 10.


What Are Poets For?: Renewing the

Question with Hegel and Heidegger

Abstract: This essay is a renewal of Hlderlins poetic question as raised again

philosophically by Heidegger, and is an attempt to frame the issue anew bringing
Hegel into the conversation. At stake, first, is the way in which poetry and philosophy
respectivelyor perhaps in conjunctionare able to address the chief question of the
time as a question of truth. What is it that poetry and the poet properly and uniquely
do in relation to their time? Does the poet think, and how does she think poetically in
language? And, crucially, how does poetic thinking differ from philosophical thinking?
But at stake is also, second, the way in which philosophy canand shoulditself
speak of poetry. Significantly, both Heidegger and Hegel propose a thoroughly new
way of addressing the question of poetry in philosophy.

Key words: memory, poetry, thinking, Dichten, Hegel, Heidegger


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but

they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become

2015. Philosophy Today, Volume 59, Issue 1 (Winter 2015).

ISSN 0031-8256 3760
38 Angelica Nuzzo

the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf

a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician
nor is it valid
to discriminate against business documents and
school-books; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
literalists of the imaginationabove
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,

we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

(M. Moore)

1. Wozu Dichter in drftiger Zeit?

ozu Dichter in drftiger Zeit? asks Hlderlin in his 18001801
elegy Brot und Wein. The very fact that the poet finds himself
posing the question already betrays the historical predicament of
modernity in which poetic activity and poetic language are no longer, as in the
ancient Greek world, naturally and immediately flowing from the things them-
selves, from the proximity of the gods toand even unity withthe natural
What Are Poets For? 39

and the human world (Brot und Wein, 5). In fact, the poet who self-doubtingly
raises the question is the poet who feels that as a poet he has come too late. The
ancient times belong to a long-gone, irretrievable past, the gods are once and for
all removed from the disillusioned human world, and if they have not entirely
disappeared they do live in another world, the poet is alone (ohne Genossen).
In the fracture that is modernity the poets question arises: why then and for what
be a poet in destitute times? Poets seem to be the holy priests of the gods
wine (Weingott),who wandered from land to land in holy night (Brot und Wein,
7). This is what the poets friend Heinze suggests. Poets are those mortals who
pursue the fugitive gods wherever this pursuit takes them: in a chase from land
to land but always in the darkness of nightalbeit a holy one.1
Hlderlins question is raised again in 1946 by Heidegger. Other, indeed much
darker and much more troubled times hover over the question at this juncture.
Now the interrogation is further removed from the poet. In fact, it does not come
from the poet himself but from the philosopher. If the question still expresses a
(self-) doubt it is the doubt of the philosopher who now turns to the poet for a
possible salvation, for the possibility that a new beginning of philosophical
thinking itself be revealed to him by the poet. This is, in effect, the way in which
Hlderlins poetry has opened the path for Heideggers new way of philosophiz-
ing beyond the strictures of metaphysics and contemporary phenomenology.
It follows that now the question does not regard only the what for (wozu) of
poetry but also and in the first place the identification of those poets whom the
question may be seen to concern (lets name then the poets inand ofour
destitute time, the poets who may save us; is Rilke one of them, and in what way,
namely, how is his poetry related to the destitution of the time?: WPF 94). For,
it is the poet of destitute times who will show us what poets are for because it is
such poet who must especially gather in poetry the nature of poetry (WPF 92,
95). But since questioning is, truly, Heideggers most proper way of philosophizing
or of thinking philosophically (and of experiencing thinking), the very way of
posing (and re-proposing) the question opens up the space in which poetry and
philosophyDichten and Denkenmay possibly come close to a meeting or to
a point of convergence.2 The very act of raising the question then constitutes the
pursuit of this meeting point, of this new beginning original and future at the same
time, and is the attempt to institute a dialogue between philosophical and poetic
thinking. Ultimately such dialogue, foreclosed until poetry is viewed only as a
rich source for a philosophy, is a dialogue of the history of Being (WPF 9394).
While on the face of it what constitutes the darkness of the times in the case
of Heideggers 1946 essay seems self-evident, we need the philosophers broader
conception of the present in its relation to the history of metaphysics to make
us appreciate the measure of such darkness as well as its connection with the
problem of thinking the event of Being. But we also need to understand what it
40 Angelica Nuzzo

is that poets as poets properly do. For, in raising Hlderlins question, Heidegger
makes clear from the outset that we hardly understand the question today (WPF
89). Why dont we understand the question? The philosopher asks a question the
actual historical meaning of which seems obliterated, and must accordingly first
be retrieved before any answer may be attempted. But precisely because today we
do not understand the question, raising it becomes even more urgent. In so doing,
the philosopher renews the question posed by the poet Hlderlin, who, however,
is declared a precursor of poets in destitute timesnot properly one of them
(WPF 139). Did Hlderlin, then, properly understand the very question he poses,
the question which has now become Heideggers question? Did he, as a poet, ever
need to understand it? And is Heideggers question truly the same question as
Hlderlins? Can it be? An intriguing relation is adumbrated herein: Hlderlin
poses the question of the poet in destitute times but he is a precursor, not himself
one of those poets; in our own dark times, by contrast, it is the philosopher (not
directly the poet) who poses the question, which has now become a question we
no longer seem to understand. Accordingly, we need to look for the poets in and of
our destitute time, the poets who may help us understand the question (and then,
perhaps, also answer it). Thus Heideggers questioning turns not to the precursor
Hlderlin but to Rilke. On Heideggers view, poetically Rilke is not so accomplished
as Hlderlin; for Rilkes poetic thinking is still enmeshed in metaphysical thinking.3
This, however, is also what may make of him a poet of destitute times.
Hlderlins contemporary (and for a while his close Genosse at the Tbinger
Stift), Hegel never asks the question so directly. However, it is evident that, agree-
ing with the broad lines of Hlderlins diagnosis of modernity, Hegels theory of
world-history as well as his idea of a philosophy of art that succeeds traditional
philosophical aesthetics (both in the form of various theories of taste and of
Kants transcendental theory of aesthetic judgment) and is part of a philosophy
of absolute spirit is the answer precisely to Hlderlins question within the
framework of his later system (after the 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit and after
the crisis of the French Revolution). Or, at least, this is the claim within which I
present the discussion of this essay.4 Whatever it is that art properly doesand
that characterizes lyric poetry in particular as the highest form of modern artit
does it from the starting point of its rootedness in its own historical time. And yet,
it is also true, as Hlderlin rightly sees, that the poet just as the philosopher, in
her specific activity comes to her time always too late (R TW 7, 28).5 On Hegels
view, however, it is precisely this late-coming or this necessary delay that allows
art (again, just as philosophy) to fulfill its specific absolute function in relation
to times that may indeed be traversed by the wound of real contradictions, hence
be profoundly destitute and placed beyond the possibility of actuali.e., social,
political, institutionalreconciliation. It is precisely from the impossibility of
intra-historical reconciliation, from the failure of a social and political resolu-
What Are Poets For? 41

tion of historical conflicts that art eventually arises taking the problem (and the
conflict) a step farther (or rather a step back) and properly solving it in its own
peculiar,absolute way. Poetry comes too late because it comes after all practical
solutions to the contradictions of the historical present have been attempted (and
have often failed) at the level of actuality. But it is precisely this late-coming that
allows it to present, this time successfully, a poetic or indeed poietic solution for
the same contradictionsa solution, however, that lives in the different element
provided by aesthetic intuition and imagination.
On the other hand, however, if we turn from this relatively close (and strictly
German) philosophical debate to the world of literary criticism, we see how the
question at stake is a much broader and recurring one, one that has always been
raisedand in quite similar terms at thatalthough from a quite different
perspective. Let us consider, just to remain in unequivocally dark times, T.S.
Eliots 19321933 Norton Lectures, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism.
Eliot frames his reflections by quoting Nortons ominous remarks in a letter of
December 1869remarks that must have sounded menacingly contemporary
in November 1932 as Eliot addresses his Harvard audience: The future is very
dark in Europe, and to me it looks as if we were entering upon a period quite new
in history.6 Endorsing the Hegelian sounding idea that the poetry of a people
represents its highest point of consciousness, hence is rooted in its own time
and culture, Eliot sees the chief task of the poet-critic to be that of challenging
the usual assumption from which the relation between poetry and criticism is
generally addressed, namely, the assumption that we know already what poetry
is, and does, and is for. Thus, he proposes: Let me start with the supposition that
we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, or of what use it is;
and try to find out, examining the relation of poetry and criticism what poetry
and criticism are really for.7 Of course, Eliot recognizes that there is a sense in
which criticism never does find out what poetry is. The question is answered,
directly, only by the experience of poetrybut also, I want to add, by the fact
(or rather the act) that is the poem itself. On the other hand, and circularly, Eliot
suggests that it is precisely the experience of poetry (which he importantly quali-
fies as experience of good poetry) that leads to the question: what is poetry
and what is it for?8 This, however, is not directly the question of poetry but that
of criticismor it is the question of the poet who becomes critic, as Hlderlin
or Eliot himself do once they pose that question. And yet, in this case, the poets
question still indicates a perspective that is different from that of the critic (or,
indeed, of the philosopher) as it voices the poets experience of his own poetic
activity, related in terms of his own mind. At stake is the difference between
the critical mind operating in poetry and the critical mind operating upon
poetry9a distinction that, stressing the point of immanence within the poem,
bears an interesting proximity to both Hegelian and Heideggerian themes.10 In
42 Angelica Nuzzo

particular, it is Heideggers suggestion that an experience somewhat similar to

the active and poietic experience which Eliot ascribes to the poet is the experience
of the philosopher who may come upon the poeticand indeed poieticnature
of thinking, the Dichtungscharakter des Denkens as he intimates in Aus der
Erfahrung des Denkens.
Finally, coming again close to Hegel and Hlderlin, Eliot does point out that
the question of criticismwhat is poetry, and what is it foris also fundamen-
tally dependent on historical conditions. For, even without having to go back
to the special conditions of the poetic world of ancient Greece, there are times
in which the issue of what poets are for is simply taken for granted and agreed
upon.11 Accordingly, the fact that the issue is raised at all already reveals some-
thing important concerning the status of poetry in a certain period. And this is,
most likely, a time of historical crisis, a time in which a certain spiritual unity is
broken (be it the unity of a shared world, of a consensus taken for granted, of a
common thread establishing a connection with religion).
In the following reflections I propose a renewal of the question: What are
poets for in destitute times? from our contemporary standpoint. In renewing this
question I bring together Heidegger and Hegel by using some of the resources
found in their theories of history, art, and in their idea of philosophical thinking.
But I am interested, more pointedly, in seeing what this philosophical and critical
question may mean to the poet. After all, as we have seen, the question is alterna-
tively and at once the question of the poet (and poet-critic), of the philosopher,
and of the critic. Thus, I am interested in taking up Heideggers idea of the ne-
cessity of leading thinking into a dialogue with poetry (WPF 93)although I
believe that both dialogue partners should be led into the conversation with the
same urgency. To this aim, I want to take the issue outside of the narrower circle
of this philosophical debate keeping in mind Eliots suggestions regarding the
relationship between poetry and criticism.
Our central question What are poets for in destitute times? displays two
thematic and problematic strands, which we find differently intertwined in the
way in which Hlderlin and Heidegger directly, and Hegel (and Eliot) indirectly
raise it. First, setting the emphasis on the destitution and darkness character-
izing the time in which poetry is, respectively and successively, inscribed, at stake
is the relation of poetry to its contemporary world, hence to history, as this world
is caught in the moments of its deepest crisis. The relation looks, alternatively,
to the past from which the present has issued (with Hegel), and to the future on
the way to which the present sends us (with Heidegger). At stake is the relation
that poetry may be in charge of disclosing precisely on the basis of what it is
considered to be for and to be properly doing as poetry. History is, with Hegels
concept of Weltgeschichte, the scene in which open contradictions and real con-
flicts characterize the fractured world of politics and the non-linear movement
What Are Poets For? 43

of social changes. But history is also, with Heidegger, the history of metaphysics
from Parmenides to Nietzsche with its oblivion and concealment of Being and
its event, and the twofold movement or implication of altheia, a history that is
fundamentally linked to the question regarding the essence of technology, the
danger produced by the obliteration of this question, and the possibility of a salva-
tion met perhaps precisely with and in the most radical danger; but is also linked
to the rise of political totalitarianism in the first half of the twentieth century.
Second, the poets questionHlderlins question to the extent that it is also
Eliots questionleads us to a reflection on what poetry or the activity of Dichten
properly is and doesboth in the narrower sense of the activity of the lyric poet
and in the broader sense that Heidegger gives to Dichten. At stake herein is more
a reflection on the activity of poetry than on the fact of poetry; on what poetry is
and does both in connection with or alternatively in separation from philosophical
thinking and (philosophical) truth. But this aspect of the question also brings to
light the issue of how the philosopher should be speaking of poetry itself (and
how she should read poems) if she does not simply want to misuse poetry as a
rich source for a philosophy (WPF 93) or propose yet another interpretation of
poems with allegedly philosophical content or make of poetic thinking a chapter
in the development of conceptual thinking. Here again it is clear that important
resources can be drawn from Hegels theory of absolute spirit, which distinguishes
but also connects the way in which spirit creates in art and in philosophy, and
from his controversial thesis that art is something of the past; and important
suggestions can be found in Heideggers claim of the original unity of Dichten
and Denken as well as in his way of reading the poets. Finally, both in Hegel and
in Heidegger we find the fruitful idea of a connection between thinking, art, and
memoryHeideggers andenkendes Denken and Hegels Erinnerung. The thinking
proper to poetry just as the thinking proper to philosophy is truly (although in
different ways and with different implications) a re-thinking process, a memorial-
izing act, the response to an original call capable of producing a new beginning.
Thus, my task in the next sections is neither to offer an internal exegesis of
Hegels and Heideggers texts on this issue nor to provide a critical comparison
of their positions. Instead, I set out to ask how and to what extent (if at all) the
philosophical reflection mobilized in Hegels and Heideggers aftermath may
resonate with the way in which the poet does actually think in and through poetry.
Clearly, in what follows, I can offer only the beginning of a discussion on this is-
sue. This reflection, however, is crucial precisely in the aftermath of Hegels and
Heideggers suggestion that poets somehow do, in fact, think. Either because art
(and specifically lyric poetry)12 is overcomein the dialectical act of a historical
and systematic Aufhebungin philosophical thinking (Hegel) or because in the
berwindung of traditional aesthetics art discloses the original unity from which
Dichten and Denken arise (Heidegger).
44 Angelica Nuzzo

2. Poetic Thinking:
Heideggers berwindung of Aesthetics in the Question of Art
Both Hegel and Heidegger (albeit with entirely different results) frame their
philosophical account of art and poetry in terms of a new theory that revolution-
izes the way in which the problem of aesthetics is addressed philosophically
in contrast to the preceding tradition. I take it that what leads them both to this
project is the common recognition that there is some peculiar form or indeed
figureGestaltof thinking occurring in the creative act of poetry in a funda-
mental and constitutive way. There is thinking in poetryalthough, of course,
everything hinges on the way in which thinking is understood.
In his 1935 lecture Die berwindung der sthetik in der Frage nach der
Kunst, which constitutes the basis for Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes, Hei-
degger proposes the necessity of an overcoming or berwindung of traditional
aesthetics in order to free up the space for a new experience of art. While art is for
Heidegger a unique mode of disclosure, a way of revealing the worldand even
further the earthin which the possibility of a meeting point between man
and world occurs, in his view the traditional ways of thematizing the aesthetic
domain and of thinking and evaluating classical and modern artworks aestheti-
cally, necessarily foreclose arts unique mode of revealing and its unique relation
to truth. This assessment includes Hegels philosophy of art as the culmination of
such tradition. The later Zusatz (Addendum) to the Ursprung des Kunstwerkes
(written in 1956 and published in 1960) makes it clear that the shortcoming of
traditional aesthetic theories consists in the gesture of fixing in place of truth
within the domain of Erlebnis, i.e., within the strictly subjectivist, consciousness-
centered and ego-centered constitution that the modern tradition (culminating
with Kant and German Idealism) assigns to it. It consists in the closing up and
enclosing of the ontic region of the aesthetic to which philosophical thinking
(first and foremost Hegels philosophy of art) is then directed. Enclosed in the
ontic subjectivist and objectifying realm of aesthetics, art objectifies the world
instead of revealing it. In fact, Heidegger suggests that since reflection on what
art may be is completely and decidedly determined only in regard to the ques-
tion of Being, art should be considered neither an area of cultural achievement
nor an appearance of spirit (which is precisely Hegels perspective). It should
be seen instead as belonging to the Ereignis disclosing the meaning of Being.
Thereby Heidegger already offers a general answer to the question of what art
(and the poet) is for. Now if art is a way of disclosing the meaning of Beinga
way of letting happen of the advent of truth (OWA, Addendum, 210)13 or most
properly is itself a becoming and happening of truth (OWA 196)the gesture
with which philosophical thinking encloses and enframes it within the domain
of the aesthetic and reduces it to object and instrument (of consciousness) is
What Are Poets For? 45

precisely the way in which thinking blocks the movement of coming-to-presence

through which the essence of art converges in its very origin with the event of
Being. It is, by contrast, the ancient Greek meaning of the setting and positing
implicit in the idea of thesis that must be recuperated so as to allow the revealing
potential and the peculiar relation to truth proper to art to come to light (OWA,
Addendum, 207).
Heideggers claim in the third part of Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes,
concerned with the issue of truth and the artwork, is that all art, as the let-
ting happen of the advent of the truth of things, is as such, in essence, poetry
[Dichtung] (OWA 197). Although fundamentally linguistic, Dichtung as con-
notation of the essence of art has for Heidegger a value that exceeds poetry or
rather, perhaps, extends the strictly poetic to all the art forms with regard to the
creative activity that produces them. On Dichtung both the poetic work and the
poet originally depend. Through the claim that art ... is a becoming and hap-
pening of truth Heidegger addresses the issue of arts origin bringing it back to
the creative act whereby art can be said to arise out of nothing. The becoming
and happening of truth is arts arising out of nothingas opposed to arising out
of things and out of the something at hand in the ordinary way. For, art rather
challenges and displaces the ordinariness of existing things opening up to their
unconcealement. Indeed, as truth is never gathered from things at hand, never
from the ordinary, the ordinary is not the dimension within which the creation of
the artwork or the activity of Dichten proceeds.14 Truth as the clearing and con-
cealing of beingsi.e., truth as the twofold movement of altheia as Lichtung and
Verbergunghappens in being composed: truth geschieht, indem sie gedichtet
wird. (OWA 19697). Poetic creation is the happening of truth; Dichtung makes
truth happen out of the ordinariness of things and of the world, and as such it is
the essence of all art. Within this essence poetry and the poet are originally placed.
Through them truth is set into work (or rather,sets-itself-into-work). Thus,it
is due to arts poetic essence [dichtenden Wesen] that, in the midst of beings, art
breaks open an open place, in whose openness everything is other than usual
(OWA 197). This is an extremely fruitful and, as it were, true insight into what
poetry actually doesan insight that the poet might very well share. Dichtung
is the creation that, taking place in the midst of beings, is the poetic re-creation
of the ordinary world from a place of openness in which truth happens and is let
happen. But this is also what thinkingDenken as An-Denkenproperly is and
does. Heidegger insists that poetry should by no means be conceived (as it often
is) in opposition to thinking as an aimless imagining of whimsicalities and ... a
flight of mere notions and fancies into the realm of the unreal [Verschweben des
blossen Verstellens und Einbildens in das Unwirkliches] (OWA 197). Both with
regard to truth and with regard to the real world, Dichten is rather the very root
of Denken (and of the possibility of the latters truth).
46 Angelica Nuzzo

It is clear that only the move away from the enclosing and enframing realm
of traditional aesthetic thinking allows Heidegger to present the essence of all art
as Dichtung and to conceive Dichtung in this fruitful way. Now, if it is true, with
Eliot, that it is the experience of poetry that leads to the (critical) understanding of
what poetry isand is forit is also true, with Heidegger, that a certain concep-
tion of art as enframed in the objectifying ontic realm of the aesthetic forecloses
the experience, in thought, of the truly poetic essence of art. This conception of
Dichtung is also, significantly, what institutes the properly historical dimension
of art. Dichtung discloses the new beginning15 that poetry itself is. Unlike the
historicity of Hegelian art, which is due, on Heideggers view, to the subjectively
centered idea of spirit and is brought back, yet again, to the ontic strictures of
the aesthetic realm, poetry sets the historicity of art in relation to the history of
Being thereby allowing poetry to disclose a new beginning. Whenever art hap-
pensthat is, whenever there is a beginninga thrust [Stoss] enters history;
history either begins or starts over again (OWA 201). In this regard I can only
point out that at stake, for Heidegger, is not the gesture that inscribes arts de-
velopment within the chronological succession of time (which may seem closer
to Hegels program) but rather arts relation to the history of Being. And I also
have to leave aside Heideggers problematic-sounding suggestion that history is
instead the transporting of a people into its appointed task as entry into that
peoples endowment (OWA 202). But I want to briefly underscore the connection
that Heidegger institutes between the historicity first introduced by poetrys new
beginning and the historicity connected to the question regarding the essence of
technology. This will bring us back to the question of the poet in destitute times
and to the issue of what constitutes those times destitution.
Once art is seen in its revealing essence as Dichtung but is also connected
in its very origin to the history of Being, it becomes possible to understand that
what poetry now properly reveals is the epochal closure to truth brought forth
by metaphysical thinking, hence the utmost danger posed by the current state
of the world dominated by technology once its essence is obliterated by meta-
physical thinking. The latter, being a mode of thinking that is not attuned to its
proximity to poetic thinking and creating, i.e., to Dichtung, being blind to the
essence of technologyand unable to raise and properly understand the ques-
tion that the essence of technology posesis the same mode of thinking that
is unable to meet the danger inherent in the oblivion of technologys essence,
hence is unable to touch the destitution of the times. Denkenphilosophical
thinkingmust go back to its original unity with Dichten. Then and only then
the destitution of the times can become apparent, and the worlds night, the
abyss [Abgrund] of the world can (as it must) for the first time be experienced
and endured. In order for such experience to be possible poets are needed. This,
then, is what poets are for in destitute times. For, the poets are those mortals
What Are Poets For? 47

who reach into the abyss. Again, on this crucial issue it is the poet Hlderlin
who points the way to Heidegger. Poets are the holy priests of the gods wine,
who wandered from land to land in holy night (Brot und Wein, 7). But poets
are also the mortals/Who reach sooner into the abysssooner than anyone
else also because everyone else can only follow them (Mnemosyne, 4, 225; WPF
9091). The movement of touching into the times destitution and of reaching
deep into its abyss is the epochal (and peculiarly historical) turning of the
age brought forth by that thinking which embraces its poetic essenceDenken
that recognizes its origin in Dichtung (WPF 90, 11516). Such poetic thinking
is the thinking that finally touches and discloses the utmost danger to which
the oblivion of the essence of technology has led by preventing the experience
of the nature of technology, by distracting us in the experience of the manifold
technological things that surround us.16 The poet now is the one who sees this
radical danger and points it out to all of us. The poet is the mortal who reaches
sooner into the abyss (WPF 115). And at this juncture, in Wozu Dichter? as later
on at the end of the 1953 Die Frage nach der Technik, Heidegger cites the verses
of Hlderlins Pathmos: Wo aber Gefahr ist, wchst/Das Rettende auch.17 Salva-
tion or that which saves can come only from where the danger is; and can
come only from the point of utmost danger, for, only this salvation is holy or is
the salvation from that epochal danger. Thereby Heidegger indicates the highest
historical function of Dichten in the abyss of the times destitution. Herein the
epochal turn which is the new beginning of poetic thinking takes place (WPF
11516). This is now a memorial thinkingandenkendes Denkenthinking
that steps back deep into the essence (and the abyss) in a movement that is both
revealing and concealingtwofold as altheia itself.
Ultimately, it is the berwindung of aesthetics in the question of art that
leads Heidegger to a conception of poetic creation (Dichtung) that in its revelation
of truth allows a new kind of thinking to emerge, a memorial and memorializing
thinking, which being itself poetic, reaches back deep into the essence of tech-
nology and allows the saving force of poetry to emerge.
In the Epilogue to Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes Heidegger refers to Hegels
well-known and often-cited and way too-often interpreted claim regarding the
pastness of artthe idea that art is ein Vergangenes. Thereby he consolidates
the motivation for his proposed berwindung of aesthetics. Heidegger recog-
nizes that the most comprehensive reflection on the essence of art that the West
possessescomprehensive because it stems from metaphysics is the theory
that Hegel consigns to his Vorlesungen ber sthetik (the last of which was held
in Berlin in the winter of 18281829). And it is here, in the introduction to the
Vorlesungen, that Heidegger finds Hegels claim: Uns gilt die Kunst nicht mehr als
die hchste Weise, in welcher die Wahrheit sich Existenz verschafft. To be sure,
Hegel does not fail to express the hope and the certainty that art will continue to
48 Angelica Nuzzo

advance and perfect itself; he recognizes, however, that historically art no longer
is das hchste Bedrfnis der Zeit. On this basis the famous conclusion follows:
In allen diesen Beziehungen ist und bleibt die Kunst nach der Seite ihrer hch-
sten Bestimmung fr uns ein Vergangenes.18 Importantly, the latter claim stands
under two conditions. For us (who occupy the standpoint of the present) art is
something that, first, belongs to the past, i.e., to a past historical world and to a
past form of spirit when considered in all the relations in which the poetic activ-
ity of the artist as well as the objectivity and material existence of the artwork is
placed. These for Hegel are the manifold historical, social, and cultural relations
that sustain the absoluteness of art within the objective and subjective world of
spirit and constitute its proper form of historicity (and for Heidegger represent the
ontic realm of the aesthetic to be overcome). But, second, and most importantly,
in all those relations art for us belongs to the past to the extent that at stake is
the side of its highest determination, namely, its absolute determination (art
displaying many other determinations which are not as high). On this latter
point, Hegel agrees with Hlderlin. We are no longer in the ancient Greek world
in which, in short, art immediately gives voice to the unbroken unity of ethical
life, to its highest needs, values, and aspirations, as well as to the lived unity of
the divine and human world.
Heidegger rejects Hegels Spruch, which he sees (and rightly so, in a certain
respect) as running counter to the point he has been making throughout Der
Ursprung des Kunstwerkes. He takes Hegels claim as raising the question: Is art
still an essential and necessary way in which that truth happens which is decisive
for our historical existence, or is art no longer of this character? To this question
Hegel offers a negative answer, Heidegger a positive one (OWA 205). Now this I
take to be a question analogous to the one that I have been re-proposing in this
essay: What are poets for in destitute times? And this is the question that must
now be explored with regard to Hegels idea of art and poetry.

3. Thinking Poetry: Hegels Aufhebung of Art in Philosophy

Art as the Absolute Memory of Spirit
I do not want to appraise here the merit of Heideggers reading of Hegels claim,
and I also do not want to offer yet another interpretation of such a claim. But I am
interested in underlining two very general points. First, Heidegger correctly brings
Hegels position back to the same question that he himself raises: What is art or po-
etry for in the contemporary world, i.e., ultimately, in relation to (historical) truth/
altheia and to the destiny of truth in metaphysical thinking? Second, at stake
in Hegels claim as well as in Heideggers argument is the fundamental relation
between Dichten and Denkena relation that the two philosophers (leaving aside
the crucially different meanings they attribute to these terms) configure according
What Are Poets For? 49

to an opposite direction. While on Heideggers view Dichten is the salvation of

Denken in the destitute time of the present, for Hegel philosophical Denken is
the salvation of Dichten, i.e., it is that which confers to the poetic act its proper
truth or its absolute value under the conditions of modernity, i.e., in a time
in which art seems to have lost its highest determination in the life of spirit.
While Denken constitutes the innermost and most essential nature of
spirit (sthetik I/II, 52),19 and is precisely that which art brings to expression in
an absolute way, art in general channels thinking in the sensible forms of intu-
ition, imagination, and representation. Lyric poetry, however, displays a peculiar
connection with thinking both on the basis of its constitutive linguistic way of
expression and on the basis of the interiorizing function of Er-Innerung. Through
the latter in poetry spirit gets in touch with its own innermost essence and truth
in a privileged way, in a way that is less and less dependent on sensible intuition
and closer and closer to pure thinking (sthetik III, 60). Now, under the condi-
tions of the contemporary world, which is an increasingly abstract and mediated
world, artistic intuition is no longer in touch with the truth of history and ethical
life in the same concrete, immediate, and immediately revealing way it was in
ancient times. Hence artistic intuition is no longer the privileged or indeed the
highest way of expressing spirits essence. In the contemporary world, it is rather
thinking that, in its abstractness and universality, discloses the mode in which
art, this time by thinking poetically, can grasp historical truth and more directly
bring to light the thinking essence of spirit. Thereby art as poetic thinking (and no
longer as mere intuiting) is led to the new, specifically contemporary phase of its
development. Art is something of the past, then, because the separation between
poetic intuition and thinking, which sustained the progress of artistic forms up
to modernity, belongs to the past of arts development. Now poetic intuition in-
creasingly converges with more abstract and universal forms of thinking. Poetry
thinks. This is the trajectory of poetry in the contemporary worlda trajectory
that Hegel sees as progressively closing the gap between poetic and philosophical
thinking, thereby bringing art closer to philosophy.
To be sure, compared with Heidegger, Hegel seems to shift both the diagnostic
value of poetry with regard to actuality (the destitution of the present), and its
redeeming power with regard to the danger of the time to philosophical think-
ing. And he does seem to overturn Heideggers argument: if there is a possibility
for art to continue successfully in its historical trajectory and to continue suc-
cessfully in its absolute grasp of truth (which is its proper function as form of
absolute spirit), this is due to poetrys ability to think, i.e., to overcome its own
limits and boundaries, and accomplish its own Aufhebung into the highest form
of absolute spirit which is philosophy. While Heidegger saves philosophical
thinkings relation to altheia by bringing thinking back to its new beginning in
poetizing, Hegel saves the truth of art by bringing the poetic activity close to the
50 Angelica Nuzzo

domain of philosophical (conceptual and abstract) thinking. While for Heidegger

metaphysical thinking is overcome (berwindet) in the co-originality of thinking
and poetizing, for Hegel the intuitive modality of art is overcome (aufgehoben)
in poetic thinking. Finally, there is an additional common point that both for
Hegel and for Heidegger further qualifies the specifically modern convergence
or, alternatively, co-originality of Dichten and Denken. This is the reference to a
re-collective, memorial and memorializing activityHeideggers idea of anden-
kendes Denken, Hegels notions of Gedchtnis and Erinnerung. The latter, already
responsible for the transition from intuition and representation to thought in the
Psychology of subjective spirit, eventually qualifies the activity of poetry as a form
of absolute spirit bringing the language of poetry increasingly close to thinking.
While most interpretations of Hegels philosophy of art focus (as Heidegger
does) on the Vorlesungen ber sthetik, I want to underscore the importance
of reading Hegels idea of art within the systematic context of the Encyclopedia
where art is the first form of absolute spirit arising out of the overcoming of
world-history, and followed by religion and philosophy. In this systematic context
Hegel offers his new conception of a philosophy of art meant to overcome both
traditional theories of taste and Kants transcendental account of aesthetic judg-
ment. Art is the first form of activity in which spirit is engaged once it emerges
from the vicissitudes of world-history and is declared absolutehigher than
objective spirit and the unity of its subjective and objective dimensions. Or,
alternatively, art is the first form of activity in which spirit engages in order to
prove itself truly absolutein order to place itself beyond the quandaries of
world-history aiming at a form of eternity of its own, as unity of theoretical
and practical spirit, and truly conclusive of spirits development. At stake in the
dialectic of art is the problematic relationship between spirits absoluteness and
its historicity. Is spirit absolute in art because it is no longer world-historical? A
simple way to put the issue is to say that this question seems to warrant, para-
doxically and contradictorily, both an affirmative and a negative answer.20 This
is indeed much more evident in the Encyclopedia than in the Vorlesungen. To see
how the contradiction here may indeed be a fruitful one or one that captures the
most vital character of Hegels theory of art let me summarize my claim as fol-
lows. In the late systematic of Hegels philosophy of spirit, artand lyric poetry
in particularexpresses the dialectical nexus of history and absoluteness by
functioning as spirits absolute memory. The absoluteness of spirit is conferred
to it by poetrys peculiar way of rendering internal and interior to spiritof
remembering, re-collecting, and thereby re-shaping and re-producingspirits
personal and collective reality. This highest act of Er-Innerung is now articulated
in poetic language. Spirits historicity, on the other hand, is the historicity that
poetry consigns to a memory that is itself outside and beyond history, a memory
that is self-standing, eternal, and absolute.21
What Are Poets For? 51

In the Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, Hegel distinguishes the

absolute forms of spiritart, religion, and philosophy placed next to world-
historyon the basis of the distinction between intuition, representation, and
thought explored in the Psychology. Herein the difference between art, religion,
philosophy on the one hand, and world-history on the other is not a hierarchical
difference in the levels of spirits development but merely a difference in the ele-
ment of existence in which the same universal spirit displays its forms. In art
the element of existence of the universal spirit is intuition and image, in religion
is feeling and representation, and in philosophy is pure, free thinking; in world-
history is the spiritual actuality in its entire sphere of interiority and exteriority
(R 341). In the Psychology, crucial to the development that connects intuition,
representation, and thought are the moments of Erinnerung and Gedchtnis.
Memory is an interiorization process that liberates intelligence from the depen-
dence on given external facts, and allows it to articulate, for the first time, its own
subjective history. Significantly, in the Psychology intuition and representation are
already, implicitly, forms of Erinnerung. In the dialectical movement that develops
them to free thought memory is always active. This constellation offers a first hint
regarding the memorializing function of art in generaland particularly of poetry
on the basis of its linguistic, freer, more interior and more subjective natureas
intuitive expression of spirits absoluteness in relation to world-history. But it is
also the basis on which Hegel can claim the systematic connection and the his-
torical convergence of Dichten and Denken, i.e., the role played within thinking
by the freedom and interiority attained by poetry in its memorializing activity.22
Poetry is spirits absolute memory voiced by a form of thinking expressed
in poetic (rather than conceptual) language (sthetik III, 68). At stake herein is
the transformation that memory undergoes at the level of absolute spirit, where
it is no longer individual, subjective memory but also not just ethical, collec-
tive memory. At this level the question regards the way in which the memory
of absolute spirit leads to a reflective consideration of the history from which
and beyond which art systematically arises but within which its forms exist and
develop. Both issues articulate the meaning of poetrys absoluteness. Develop-
ing on the objective basis of history and having the historicity of spirit as its
systematic presupposition, poetry conveys the intra-historical,absolute memory
of world-historynamely, a memory that is individual and collective, subjective
and objective, trans-historical and time-dependent at the same time. It provides
an intuitive and imaginative knowledge that is spirits recollected history
(erinnerte Geschichte), the final integration of historical and collective memory
in the dimension of truths eternal present. Poetrys absolute memory comes
after world-history and depends on it, yet extends historical consciousness in a
reflection that reaches beyond objective spirit thereby constituting its peculiar
absolutenessan absoluteness in and of memory.
52 Angelica Nuzzo

Hegel claims that at the level of Absolute Spirit the concept of spirit has
its reality in spirit (Enz. 553). The new reality of spirit is self-knowledge. Art,
religion, philosophy are forms of spirits self-knowledge and constitute its true
and adequate reality. Thus, at stake is the proof that spirits absolute knowledge is
indeed its highest realitya reality that lives up to and indeed surpasses the free,
self-conscious reality of subjective spirit and the realized freedom of objective
spirit. The strong identity between concept and reality is the first meaning of
spirits absolutenessits expression is art. In lyric poetry such identity reaches its
most complete and perfect expression because spirits reality is here purely linguis-
tic, interior, and self-conscious. The development of the concept of art is entirely
contained within the most comprehensive and extensive reality of spirit, namely,
world-historyand yet somehow also exceeds it. Arts reality is absolute: it is
both the subjective reality of the individual and the reality of world-history that is
now mediated, appropriated, and transformed by spirits highest poietic and poetic
memory (1817 Enz. 453). These requirements define the range and function of
the specific memory proper to poetry. This is contained in and dependent on
world-history but also reaches, reflectively, beyond it by encompassing (or indeed
re-collecting) in it the entire movement of subjective and objective spirit. While
the process of Weltgeschichte leads up to the concept of absolute spirit, the reality of
world-history is not adequate to spirits self-knowledge. In other words, what spirit
comes to know in world-history is not the reality of absolute spirit. Accordingly art
must provide the adequate knowledge of this relation. Thereby spirits realization
in poetry is presented as a sort of necessary repetition correspondent to but also
different from the realization of freedom in world-historya repetition or indeed
a re-collection that profoundly changes the reality of spirit. The reality of art is now
identical with spirits absolute self-knowledge. Art exists in world-history, reflects
and expresses the contents of history; and yet, it cannot be reduced to history but
is, somehow, a double of the historical reality that it expresses and recollects. In its
highest form, poetic memory articulates the self-conscious and eternally present
reality of absolute spirit. Poetry is spirits absolute memory just as philosophical
thinking is. And yet, while poetic memory appropriates and constitutes the past
process as the totality in which spirit now displays its reality and knowledge, it
also fundamentally alters such reality and provides a different knowledge of it,
i.e., a knowledge that is neither historical nor philosophical but poetic.
At the beginning of Absolute Spirit Hegel establishes a further condition that
brings to the forefront the connection between art and the movement of liberation
of intelligence to free thinking presented in the Psychology. It suggests that the
identity of concept and reality which first introduces absolute spirit expresses
the necessity that intelligence, potentially free in itself,23 attain a figure able
to display value and dignity commensurate to the concept of the free intelligence
living and acting in a world that is now not only world-history but the reality of
What Are Poets For? 53

absolute spirit. That the actuality of free intelligence must confer on its concept a
wrdige Gestalt is the condition that art must fulfill (Enz. 55253). Memory
plays here a fundamental role. The Erinnerung that, going back to spirits system-
atic past, establishes its concept as absolute, giving to it figurative form, is the
generative principle of arts poietic thinking. In art the subjective and objective
dimensions of spiritthe subjective value of free intelligence and the objec-
tive value of the free ethical communityare recollected and raised to their
self-conscious absoluteness, i.e., to a value that exceeds both individuality and
community, that is world-historical and contingent but also eternal and necessary.
The reality that lives in the absolute memory of poetry as its present is not just
an epoch of world-history but its reflected and recollected double. It is a reality
poetically (re-)created in the element of intuition and imagination; a reality that
is, at the same time, historically past and fully present.
The absolute memory embodied in the poetic work can be construed
analogously to Pierre Noras lieux de mmoire.24 After memory and history have
parted wayswhich is, on Hegels view, the condition of modernity parallel to
and intersecting the loss of immediate unity between classical art and ancient
ethical lifethe memorializing function of poetry is not to call back the past
or reconstruct it within a national language and tradition but to create a living
and plural representation of it in the present. In fact, such representation is a
new reality that is itself changing and developing as it constantly generates new
meanings and interpretations. In poetic thinking the individual and the collec-
tive dimensions of both memory and history converge. Unlike Noras lieux de
mmoire, the memorializing productions of Hegels absolute spirit are neither
directly social or political institutions nor empty symbols nor natural objects all
tied to a national tradition. They are cultural artifacts with a universal and global,
yet concretely and intimately individual significance and reality, a reality that
traverses the realms of nature, of individual existence, of intersubjective practices
but is also always beyond them. These are the sources of poetrys content. The
poem becomes the site of a meaningful recollection of personal and collective
history in the dimension of a present that is no longer national or political but
cultural in a universal sense, i.e., at once, individual and truly global, historical
(and post-historical) and eternal.
On the basis of dialectical memory, what poetry produces in recalling and
apparently repeating the path of objective and subjective spirit are new forms and
a thoroughly new reality. Poetrys absolute memory does not bring us back to the
past as something that has always been there. Rather, it first posits the past as
an eternal present thereby generating the new figures that constitute at once its
worthy figures and lieux de mmoire. With this last act of dialectical memory
universal spirit produces a reality that is a truly universal (human) realityno
longer confined to the limits of national states, particular cultures and languages,
54 Angelica Nuzzo

and individual stories, no longer the limited possession of a people or an epoch

alone. The universal reality of the poetic work transcends these limitations in
force of the way in which it is produced by a spirit that has eventually reached
its absoluteness, i.e., the only position from which an act of recollection with
truly universal depth and breath is possible. For, it is only at this point that spirit
can remember in a truly universal way. Herein lies the realized universal value
of poetry and its proximity to the universality of philosophical thinking. In the
universality common to poetic and conceptual thinking we find a first sense of the
conciliation achieved by the lyric form. The universality of world-history is con-
stitutively animated by contradiction; it is precarious, transitory, and contingent,
and does not belong to all humankind. It is only contingently and conditionally
universal because the Weltgeist that is successively appointed as the representa-
tive of spirits absolute right is itself particular, the force and absoluteness of its
right is based on exclusion (the other Volksgeister are simply rechtlos in front of
it), and it plays this role only within a determinate phase of world-history (Enz.
550). Only the concrete universality of art is able to overcome the contradiction
of the limited universality of the Weltgeist (Enz. 552). For, poetrys universal-
ity expresses, in the most inclusive way, the deepest interests of humanity and
brings to consciousness the most comprehensive truths of spirit (sthetik I/II,
45). As such it belongs to humanity not in force of an imposition as the right of
history does, but on the basis of a recognized and shared truth.
How then, and to what extent are the contradictions of history reconciled by
poetry? In constituting a new present through recollection, a present crystallized
in the poem, spirits absolute memory allows the contradictions of the objective
world to be articulated and thereby lived in a different way or, rather, in a different
elementneither in the hardness of objective facts nor in the dimension of
social and political institutions but in the medium of poetic language. In this way,
if the poem does not properly solve the contradictions that affect individual lives,
shape society, and propel history, it does lay the conditions for addressing them
in a different way both in individual consciousness and in the social world.25 And
herein again the work of poetry converges with that of philosophy. This is true,
first and foremost, in the modern world, in which memory no longer immediately
shapes and inhabits history, and which therefore stands in need of its lieux de
mmoire.26 It is also true that in relation to actuality the poietic activity of art just
as the conceptual activity of philosophy emerges always too late. For, being the
highest instance of dialectical memory, it displays memorys necessary delay.
Such delay, however, is precisely what allows history to be revisited in a new light,
allowing for a new form of comprehension and organization of reality. Memorys
retrospective glance is, truly, the gesture of its looking forward. Hegel famously
insists that as the rational comprehension of the world, philosophy appears only
at a time when actuality has gone through its formative process and attained its
What Are Poets For? 55

completed state. The specific function of philosophy is indeed similar to that of

poetry. Philosophy paints its gray in gray not in order to rejuvenate or bring
back an aspect of reality that has already run its course but to allow for the rational
comprehension and indeed recognition of such realityindeed, to transfigure
such reality through Er-Innerung (R TW 7, 28). The meaning that both poetic
and philosophical thinking bring to light with this Erinnerung does not make
historical events happen nor does it make historical events change their course.
And yet, thinking allows such events to be lived, experienced, and reflected on
in new ways, which ultimately and indirectly may have an impact on the course
that history successively takes. Thereby, by articulating a new present through
recollection poetrys absolute memory confronts the contradictions of history
and helps shape a new development that is continuous with the conceptual work
of philosophical thinking.

4. Poetry Thinking
Although, again, much hinges on the way in which thinking is understood, the
idea that there is thinking in poetry or that poetry thinks (or that there is something
like poetic thinking) marks a fruitful position recently endorsed by Helen Vendler
who seems to do with regard to poetry and from the disciplinary side of literary
criticism, something similar to what Heidegger does with regard to philosophi-
cal thinking (Denken is Dichten); and something not entirely unrelated to what
Hegel does in stressing the necessity that poetic intuition and imagination be
overcome in the form of poetic thinking and poetrys absolute memory. I suspect
that Vendler would not hesitate to strongly protest this suggestion. Hence I wont
attempt to argue for it any further. But I want to dwell briefly on her side of the
argument; and then, again all too briefly, bring another voice into the conversa-
tion. Our question, what are poets for? is still open. Poetry thinks. My aim is to
begin by taking on Heideggers suggestion regarding the necessity that thinking
be led into a dialogue with poetry. Anticipating the difficulties of such a dia-
logue Heidegger concedes that scholars of literary history inevitably consider
that dialogue to be an unscientific violation of what such scholarship takes to be
the facts; while, on the other hand, philosophers consider the dialogue to be a
helpless aberration into fantasy (WPF 9394). Yet, the proximity of poetic and
philosophical thinking seems to demand that such a dialogue take place.
Assuming a conception of thinking that, to be sure, neither Hegel nor Hei-
degger advocates27 but which, instead, can be minimally endorsed by much of
recent (especially Anglo-Saxon) philosophy, namely, the idea of thinking as the
building of arguments based on rules of logical inference and logical coherence,
Vendler reacts against the general view that sees poetry as an art of which there
can be no science (Poets Thinking, 3). Interestingly the latter is precisely one of
56 Angelica Nuzzo

the objections that Hegel assumes may be raised against his idea that art is in fact
worthy of a scientific (i.e., philosophical) account, hence a topic of a philosophy
of art. To this objection Hegel simply answers: there is truth in art; poetry is
about truth (and about the highest truth); thinking is not alien to poetry but its
very essence (sthetik I/II, 42). And Heidegger makes a similar point. He insists,
as we have seen, that poetry should by no means be conceived (as it often is) in
opposition to thinking as an aimless imagining of whimsicalities and not a flight
of mere notions and fancies into the realm of the unreal (OWA 197).
Vendler, on her part, clearly identifies the obstacles that stand in the way of
recognizing that thinking is at work in poetry. Critics normally viewed a poem
as an essentially static object, an entity that could be seen as a verbal icon ... or a
gesture formed out of language, arrested in its signification. In any event,in no
case was the poem depicted primarily as a fluid construction that could change
its mind as it proceeded. Nor was the poem seen principally as a work bent on
following the lead of a law of aesthetic thinking (Poets Thinking, 4).28 And even
critical theory, generally more attuned to the temporal development of thinking,
has never been too interested in the lyrical poem, privileging instead different
narrative forms such as autobiography, philosophical writing, and drama (Poets
Thinking, 56). On Vendlers view, by contrast, the poem is not a static unity or
an object meant only to express some already given and formed content (a feel-
ing, an emotion, a worldview, a philosophical position or a theoretical thesis).
Until the poem is conceived in this way there is no place for the recognition that
the poem itself is, in fact, a unique thinking process, the depiction of the mind
thinking according to specific laws of aesthetic thinking. For, in the former case,
the static view of the poem-object clearly makes any account of the development
proper to thinking impossible; while in the latter the assumption is that if there is
any thinking in the poem it has to be due to the content it addresses: a content
that may be philosophical, religious, political, socialbut, in all these cases, the
burden of proof is on the poet who has to show she is more qualified than (or
at least equally qualified as) the philosopher or the social scientist in taking on
those issues poetically.29 Thus, here is Vendlers account of what a poem is. She
views the poem as an exemplification of its own inner momentum rather than
as an illustration of a social, psychological, rhetorical, or theoretical thesis. It
follows that criticism ought to infer from the text the emotional motivation that
not only compelled a poet from silence into speech but also produced the origi-
nally unforeseeable contours of the evolving inner form of the work of art (Poets
Thinking, 4). The poem is the development of a unique thinking process that is,
to a certain extent or to the extent that its poetic value is at stake, self-enclosed
and self-referential. Its thinking value lies in the linguistic and stylistic cipher
as well as in the very form that the thinking process confers on its emotional
motivation. It lies, however, neither in the thesis the poem allegedly attempts
What Are Poets For? 57

to argue for nor in the programmatic content it puts into poetic form. This is the
crucial step that, it seems to me, Heidegger is unable to undertake, namely, to
recognize that the thinking belonging to the poetic activity is not dependent on
the allegedly philosophical content it assumes as its own. Suffice it here to refer
to his reading of Rilke in Wozu Dichter?, which is entirely aimed at translating
Rilkes poetry into themes from the metaphysical history of Being, and pays no
attention whatsoever to questions of form and style. And this is why, by contrast,
Vendlers choice of poets thinking explicitly rules out those poets that seem
particularly philosophical in the themes they address (Poets Thinking, 8). The
point is that her argument applies to all poetry qua poetry.
Lets turn finally to a poet. Marianne Moores Poetry is a poetic reflection that
directly stands foror whose intention is to directly embodywhat poetry is.
It can be seen as the poets direct answer to our question: what is poetry for, and
what is it that the poet does? Moore confirms the position of the critic. First of all,
she confirms it with regard to the in-progress nature of the reflection that is the
poem, which, in this case, is additionally mirrored in a five-decade long history
of successive revisions undergone by the poem Poetry. But also because Poetry
is a poetic argument that takes us through an on-going thinking process to the
understanding of what poetry isand achieves this not by setting up and prov-
ing a thesis but by the very poetic unfolding of an aesthetic thought. Importantly,
Moore denies that what constitutes poetry should be looked for, alternatively, in
certain specific topics or contents, or in certain textual formsdiscriminating,
as the cited Tolstoy does, between poems and business documents and/school-
books, for example. By contrast, Moore declares, all these phenomena are
important. Moreover, poetry must be intelligible and convey understanding.
Its realm and element is the intelligibility of thinking. For, it is this simple: we
do not admire what/we cannot understand. And as much as we dislikeand
even pretend a perfect contempt forall the fiddle going around versifica-
tion and choice of words and the like, we do come to discover in it a place for
the genuine, and admire it accordingly (the condition, however, always being
intelligibility and understanding). In fact, poetry is important as it deals with
things that are important, but not because these can become material for a
high-sounding interpretation (or for a philosophy: Moores position here is
echoed by Heideggers rejection of the view of poetry as a rich source for a phi-
losophy, WPF 9394). Poetry makes things important. These things are the like
of Hands that can grasp, eyes/that can dilate, hair that can rise/if it mustand
they become important because poetry discloses the genuine in them beyond
their ordinariness. Indeed, it is due to arts poetic essence that, in the midst of
beings, art breaks open an open place, in whose openness everything is other
than usual (OWA 197). But Moores further suggestion is that poetry deals with
things that are important because they are useful. However, again, this should
58 Angelica Nuzzo

not be understood with regard to given contents or chosen topics: what is impor-
tant and useful is the poetic thinking or the poetic transfiguration of whatever
content is conveyed into poetic form. Poetry makes things important and useful
as it poetically thinks them. Thus, not only is poetry thinking and understand-
ingit seems to be a sort of pragmatic thinking and understanding. And yet
Moore warns, One must/make a distinction. Half poets cannot make poetry;
nothing whatever can become poetry in their hands. It is only the poet whom
Moore describes paraphrasing Yeatss remark about Blake as a literalist of the
imagination who can achieve poetic truthwhich is the impossible conjunction
of the imaginary world and the real world. The real poet is the one who gives us
imaginary gardens with real toads in them.
At this point, however, what the poet Mooreand her poem Poetry, which is
her thinking processhas achieved is not the proof of a thesis. Rather, she has
provided us with an experience that is at once a poetic and a thinking experience,
an experience which we ourselves have to think about further (and which we have
to compare with the mistrust we felt at the beginning; and continue by thinking
about the different versions of the poem itself).30 In the meantime, just think
about it: if you demand on the one hand,/the raw material of poetry in/all its
rawness and/that which is on the other hand/genuine, you are interested in poetry.

1. See Martin Heidegger, What Are Poets For?, in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans.
Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper, 1971), 9192. Henceforth WPF. Originally
published as Wozu Dichter? in Holzwege (Frankfurt a.M.: Klostermann, 1977),
2. See Henri Birault, Thinking and Poetizing in Heidegger, in On Heidegger and Lan-
guage, ed. Joseph Kockelman (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1972),
3. For a defense of Rilke against Heideggers reading, see Christopher Smith,Heideggers
Misinterpretation of Rilke, in Philosophy and Literature 3(1) (1979): 319.
4. I have argued for this claim in my book Memory, History, Justice in Hegel (London:
Palgrave MacMillan, 2012).
5. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bnde, ed. Eva Moldenhauer and
Hans Markus Michel (Frankfurt a.M.: Surhkamp, 1986). Henceforth TW. Other
works in this collection will be abbreviated as follows: Encyclopedia=Enz.; Grundli-
nien= R followed by section number.
6. T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1933), 4.
What Are Poets For? 59

7. Ibid., 5.
8. Ibid., 610.
9. Ibid., 20.
10. See Heideggers claim concerning Auslegung in Elucidations on Hlderlins Poetry
(New York: Humanity Books, 2000), 22, for example: for the sake of preserving what
has been put into the poem, the elucidation of the poem must strive to make itself
superfluous. The last, but also the most difficult step of every interpretation, consists
in its disappearing, along with its elucidations, before the pure presence of the poem.
11. Eliot, The Use of Poetry, 610.
12. In the argument that follows, in particular with regard to Hegel, I take his claims
regarding art in general as referred to poetry in particular. I do not justify this claim
here but I suggest that the argument in its support must hinge on the position that
lyric poetry has in the systematic and the history of the art form (in particular its
13. Martin Heidegger,The Origin of the Work of Art, in Heidegger, Basic Writings, trans.
David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993), 16263. Abbreviated here
and in what follows as OWA. Originally published as Der Ursprung des Kunstwer-
kes, in Holzwege (Frankfurt a.M.: Klostermann, 1977), 174.
14. See, in this regard, Heideggers reading of Van Goghs painting of the peasant shoes
in OWA,16263.
15. The topic is further developed with regard to the idea of poetic dwelling by Werner
Marx, The World in Another Beginning: Poetic Dwelling and the Role of the Poet,
in On Heidegger and Language, 23559.
16. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, in Heidegger, Basic Writ-
ings, 311.
17. WPF 115; Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, 333.
18. Heidegger quotes Hegels text in the Jubilaeumsausgabe, XX, 1, 134, 135, 16 respectively,
in OWA 20405 (my emphasis).
19. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen ber sthetik: sthetik I/II (Stuttgart,
Reclam, 1971) (here and henceforth sthetik I/II); sthetik III. Die Poesie (Stuttgart,
Reclam, 1971) (henceforth sthetik III).
20. See Enz. 549 Anm.: absolute spirit is not ber der Geschichte (sort of suspended
like above the waters); spirit lives in history and it alone is das Bewegendethe
moving principleof history.
21. For an extensive argument, see my Memory, History, Justice in Hegel.
22. See my History, Memory, Justice in Hegel for this. Paul De Mans argument in Sign and
Symbol in Hegels Aesthetics, in De Man, Aesthetic Ideology (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1996), 91104, can be considered as using Hegels reduction
of the distance between poetry and philosophical thinking (what he considers the
reduction of thinking to memorization) which is ultimately due to the connection
between memory (i.e., memorization) and thinking in the Psychology, as an argu-
ment against Hegels theory of poetry (since the poetic cannot be explained in its own
right in terms of Hegelian aesthetics because it converges into thinking, his theory
is useless). By contrast I see this argument as reinforcing the crucial link between
poetic and philosophical thinking, which I take to be a strength of Hegels theory.
23. Enz. 553; see the freie Intelligenz of 443.
60 Angelica Nuzzo

24. See Pierre Nora, Les lieux de mmoire, vols. 13, ed. P. Nora (Paris: Gallimard, 1997).
25. See Richard Eldridge,What Writers Do: The Value of Literary Imagination, Journal of
Literary Theory 3(1) (2009): 117; here, 34, 10. I do not agree with Eldridge, however,
that the theory of the Aesthetics cuts somewhat against the grain of the institutional
theory of the Philosophy of Right (10). I think the former completes the latter in the
overall structure of Hegels philosophy of spirit.
26. The organic, immediate relationship that connects Homers epic to the contemporary
public memory of the Trojan war is such that in the ancient world the strong connec-
tion between history and memory renders superfluous the memorializing function
of epic. Homer speaks to a public that already remembers; the function and value of
art is not to provide the collective memory that history is lacking but to confirm and
reflect the collective memory that animates history. The need for the memorializing
function of poetry emerges instead preeminently in the modern world.
27. But obviously do not reject.
28. Helen Vendler, Poets Thinking: Pope, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2004) (here and henceforth Poets Thinking).
29. See Vendlers recounting of the indignation that occasions her interest in the relation
of poetry to thinking in Alexander Pope in Poets Thinking.
30. The in-progress, shifting nature of poetry and of Poetry is embodied in its published
form. The poems last version in the 1967 edition of the Complete Poems was com-
pressed to the first three lines. And yet, the longer full version of the poem, the 1924
version, appears in the Complete Poems as a sort of endnote to the three-liner with
the heading Original Version. In this way, the two versions continue to challenge the
reader inviting comparisons, criticism, judgment; constituting, in short, the poetic
and thinking experience of Poetry.
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