Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gass on Poetry/Philosophy

"I have a distrust—not so much from Wittgenstein as a natural bent of mind—a very Wittgensteinian distrust of philosophical pronouncements, the difficulty of getting anywhere in the subject, so that the suspicion about ideas is very great. But the notion that literature was going to give them to me I never really had. For example, Rilke, I suppose my favorite writer really, and in the best sense a profound writer, is full of shit. I mean his ideas as nonsensical. As philosophical notions I have no respect for them at all, but as poetic notions they are absolutely beautiful. This is one of the reasons I am really a Heidegger hater, because Heidegger gets most of his ideas from Rilke and does not have the sense to see that this is great poetry. He projects it into religion, and I have an immense mistrust of that."
William Gass in conversation with G.A.M. Janssens in 1979. From Conversations with William H. Gass (University of Mississippi Press, 2003).
 This is a pretty good summation of a basic problem that can arise when literature and philosophy are undertaken in close proximity. A couple caveats:
1) I am not as ready as Gass to separate philosophical feasibility with poetic beauty, and I happen to find Rilke full of shit as a poet as well as as a philosopher. I think it is healthy to have a distrust of literary pronouncements (especially profound ones) as well as philosophical pronouncements.
2) Heidegger got most of his ideas from Husserl, not Rilke, but it was indeed the literary, Rilkean spirit of his approach that led him to make such a botch of phenomenology.

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