The Poetic ImaginationErnie Lepore (Rutgers University), Ernie LePore
Room 243, Senate House
In this talk, I will make some remarks on the poetic imagination. The practice of poetry involves a specific kind of interpretive engagement from the audience. To a first approximation, poems invite us to interrogate the diverse and particular relationships of form and meaning that they manifest, and to allow our efforts to prompt new or unexpected insights. I will draw on discussions from a variety of critics to describe in more detail the interpretive engagement I have in mind. My goal in understanding this interpretive engagement is to clarify the status of poetry in a broader account of speakers’ knowledge of language and their linguistic practices. In particular, by articulating a clearer account of the poetic imagination, I can better defend two claims that I have made in recent work (Lepore 2009, Lepore and Stone 2010). First, poetry is like quotation in that both privilege and problematize relationships of form and meaning. Second, poetry is like many other figures of speech in that the distinctive insights we draw from our interpretive efforts should not be understood as the contents of any level of linguistic meaning or even speaker intentions. I connect the poetic imagination to these two points. The significance of this proposal is to help reconcile what critics say about poetry with what philosophers and cognitive scientists say about language. Most importantly, the proposal makes clear how poets could use conventional forms with public, rule-governed meanings, but, by inviting the audience to engage in a distinctive way with their art, prompt insights that make their works untranslatable and even unparaphrasable. I conclude by exploring these more general implications of the view.
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