Power and Poetry

So Barack Obama has been talking down the humanities once again. I’ve been writing a whole bunch of posts about why the present-day conversation on the arts and humanities gets so much wrong, and I don’t really need to repeat any of the things I’ve said. I’ll just quote something I rather like that I came across in my recent Occupy-related researches:

…never, perhaps, have we lived in such unpoetic times, in an age that relegates the non-utilitarian to the car boot sale of our culture, to the distant hinterlands of a world whose sole inspiration is the crude application of “facts.” One reason for this relegation of the poetic sensibility, and its relative marginalization in social life, may be that, secretly, power fears poetry, that it is somehow unnerved by the disruptive, magical energies of poetic thought, of poetic acts. Out loud, it laughs at poetry. In private, under its breath, power is wary of poetry because it speaks a language power can barely understand, acts in a way it can hardly fathom. Poetry resides somewhere else, somewhere inaccessible to power; it evokes sentiments, touches being, and speaks in a strange tongue. And sometimes it talks back to power, in its special voice, its spectral voice, with a spirit that can never be suppressed, can never be entirely silenced—try as power might. The unity of dream and action is reconciled in the poetic act, in the poetic moment, and that can produce its effect with the certainly of lightning . . .  

Andy Merrfield, Magical Marxism: Subversive Politics and the Imagination (London: Pluto, 2011), 162-63.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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