Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Poetic Acts

Poetic acts are acts with potentially limitless reference. Interpretations of poetic acts are legitimated by the recognition of some thoroughgoing mapping between the act and its scene, on the one hand, and some other domain. Poetic acts refer to whatever it is that they map onto in these other domains, or whatever those things refer to. The legitimation of an interpretation is both epistemic and ontic. That is, we learn of these interpretations just as they come into existence – by grasping them mentally. An interpretation can become legitimate, even though the domain might not have had a configuration appropriate for the interpretation at the time of the act; as the world changes, as our concepts and knowledge change, so do the possible interpretations of poetic acts. The reference of a poetic act is potentially limitless because there is no (obvious) limit to the mappings that might be grasped by human minds, or the domains into which these mappings might be projected.

I think that the aesthetic evaluation of poetic acts is, in large part, a matter of aesthetically evaluating their referents, with extra weight given to more detailed mappings and mappings with greater salience. If we take a sports game, religious ritual, or dance performance to be a poetic act, then, whatever the other aesthetic characteristics of the game or performance, it seems that it grows more beautiful the more beautiful its referents, or more profound the more profound its referents, or more tasteless the more tasteless its referents. One explanation of what is sometimes unsettling (to me) about competitive sports when I have war or human conflict on my mind is that there is such a clear analogy between the sport and these domains.

There is something more to say about the attractiveness of poetic acts and the attractiveness of the religious life. Stay tuned.

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