Poetry as a way of being: poetics of care in Heidegger, Emerson, Wordsworth, and Cavell
Clay, Adam Bernard
This thesis investigates the idea that care is a notion that is relevant to the study of literary theory, its history, and the study of literature, especially poetry and poetics. Care is as a notion under which are subsumed a range of behaviours and activities that preserve or promote the integrity or wellbeing of things or beings, and that involve taking care, being careful, caring, attentive and respectful. The field of care ethics discusses various aspects of such a notion of care, but not its relation to poetry, which is what this investigation explores. Chapter One thus turns to the works of Martin Heidegger, who wrote about both care and poetry, in order to establish the philosophical relevance of the notion of care for literary theory. The chapter demonstrates how poetry manifests and pertains to what Heidegger calls authentic care through poetry’s acknowledgment and opening up of semantic and ontological wealth, which preserves and respects a thing or person’s Being. Chapter Two then discusses the works of another thinker who wrote several essays on poetry—Ralph Waldo Emerson—and demonstrates how his ideas constitute some of the origins of the notion that poetry manifests care. This is achieved by revealing the phenomenological and ontological scope of Emerson’s views and by showing how his poem “Each and All” manifests authentic care. Going even further back in the history of ideas about poetry, Chapter Three studies William Wordsworth’s poetics. This chapter highlights Wordsworth’s proto-phenomenological claims about poetry and the ordinary, and it argues that these both testify to an engagement with the legacies of David Hume’s philosophy, and lay some of the foundations of the idea that poetry manifests care—as further demonstrated by an analysis of his poem “The Thorn.” The fourth and final chapter, centred on Stanley Cavell, traces the legacies, in his works, of the ideas about poetry and care put forward by the authors discussed in chapters one to three. This chapter demonstrates how Cavell’s views, notably about how Romanticism constitutes a response to scepticism, provide further arguments supporting the idea that poetry manifests care. This idea, the chapter concludes, implies ways of being and of relating to things and to people that share core characteristics with those both Cavell and care ethicists describe as ethically and sociopolitically valuable. The purpose of this study is threefold. First, by uncovering some of the philosophical filiations and affiliations of the idea that poetry manifests care, this investigation endeavours to contribute to the study of the history of ideas—of theories about literature and poetry in particular. Second, this investigation hopes to make contributions to the field of literary theory and criticism, particularly poetics, by showing how asking a literary text whether it contains ideas pertaining to the notion that poetry manifests care uncovers new philosophical aspects within. Third, this exploration seeks to contribute to Heidegger, Emerson, Wordsworth, and Cavell scholarship, not only by demonstrating the philosophical connections between these authors’ ideas, but also by providing new interpretations and ways of reading these authors’ works, and by uncovering new relationships between poetry, phenomenology, ontology, and ethics therein.