Thursday, February 08, 2007

poets as intellectual reference points

I posted a comment on a post by Jonathan Mayhew that led to some discussion between him and me about the following quotation from my translation of Durs Grünbein's "The Poem and its Secret," which appeared in the January 07 issue of Poetry: "When an average intellectual today reflects on the last century's great artistic and intellectual achievements, he first thinks of such names as Freud and Picasso, Stravinsky and Heisenberg, Hitchcock and Wittgenstein. It is impossible to imagine that one of them could be a poet. Not a single poet from the ancestral gallery (whether Pessoa, Cavafy, or Rilke, whether Yeats, Mandelstam, Valéry, Frost, or Machado) will cross the mind of the historically-informed thinker, who dares to claim a monopoly on Modernism anyway."

You can read the post and the comments if you want all the gory details, but the conclusion is what I wanted to post here: what "artistic" references do intellectuals use to support their points in cultural and political discussions? For example, when Frank Rich writes his weekly column on the state of prevarication and obfuscation in contemporary American politics, what "artistic" works (in the broadest sense) does he refer to?


Jonathan said...

I appreciate your comments on my blog, Andrew.

Frank Rich is more a journalist than an "intellectual." His field of references is more likely to include pop culture or very *obvious* names that his readers would be likely to recognize. Do reader of the NYT know who Fernando Pessoa is?

Andrew Shields said...

I like to think that it does not matter whether the readers know the reference or not. What matters is whether someone like Rich has such references at his fingertips. In the past few days, I have been wondering about why poetry might be a problem for the kind of allusions I am thinking of, while prose is not. I think it has to do with the fact that prose at least appears to contain claims that one can treat at face value, whereas the "intellectual claims" of poetry usually demand interpretation.