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Sunday, March 24, 2013

National Poetry

I have my copy of Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics out and I see and article by Jusdanis on "National Poetry."
While the Epic of Gilgamesh, the verses of Sappho, or Aztec poetry were composed and rooted in their respective langs. and societies, they were neither considered a reflection of their cultures nor regarded as autonomous aesthetic artifacts. National, poetry, on the other hand, is a paradoxical entity, both a self-conscious aesthetic form and a participant in social life.
Of course, these works were not originally "considered" to be "rooted" in a particular society either. They were not considered autonomous artifacts because autonomy was a subsequent debate, culminating in the 19th century, but the poetry of Sappho was always pretty close to what we consider artistically self-sufficient lyric poetry. It doesn't seem to be ritualistic or a vehicle for the retelling of myth. I am also confused about why being self-conscious aesthetic form and participant in social life is seen as a paradox. National poetry can only participate in social life on the condition of its being a self-conscious aesthetic form. Those are not two separate things, after all.

The rest of the article is very good, though focused a bit too much on Jusdanis's own speciality, modern Greek. He says that national poetry "was syncretic while all the time claiming to be monocultural." I would put this a bit differently: "it often claims to be syncretic while still advocating for a single understanding of a national culture." There is an uneasy tension between syncretism and monoculturalism that cannot be explained by an either / or. The idea of writing about national poetry (rather than a national literature) is useful for my purposes.

Now I realize I must read his book Belated Modernity.


Vance Maverick said...

Does he go on from Sappho to Homer and Virgil? If not, the choice of S seems misleading. (Yes, in the time of the canonical national and nationalizing poems, there was other poetry too!)

Jonathan said...

No. He skips ahead to late 18th century! Even though he is a classicist. This is a bit odd. Even in 16th century Spain there was a consciousness of a national poetry as can be seen in reactions to Garcilaso's Italian-style poetry.

Virgil would be a good example, not as the poetry of a modern nation state, but of an imperial poetry deriving its civic function from its aesthetic accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

Time for me to reread Cornejo Polar on heterogeneous nations.