We are on our second chapter of Poetic Knowledge, and this was a dense and full of ideas chapter. I will hopefully get to the title of the post in a not so long post, that is at least my honest intention.
Reading this book and writing about it is like being back to college (I studied philosophy), but this time I UNDERSTAND what I am reading.
1. I finally understood Plato’s alleged censorship of the arts, and I do agree there is a thinking to what children should be (or not) exposed to. As Taylor says, many today have the same principle. And I will not get into details of why this is not controlling, but it is not, take my word or challenge me if you don’t agree with this.
2. Poetic knowledge is not poetry but it encompasses poetry, art, and it was considered valuable knowledge, unlike now, when only what is of use or has economic relevance is valued.
3. Poetic knowledge is becoming the thing, and the first knowledge in the order of things. I like what Taylor says that without poetic knowledge musicians will play the notes not music, doctors treat diseases not the whole person who is ill.
First rabbit trail. It is clear we have abandoned poetic knowledge in our days. Many go to the doctor to get a pill for whatever is wrong with them and people see themselves broken, not as a whole. We do not do introspection and try to see why we have chronic headaches, or why it is that our stomach aches, etc. And we expect something external that will hide or eliminate the problem superficially, without going to the root which is the only hope of eliminating it forever.
I also think about some recent neighborhoods such as our own, the houses look like square boxes, all the same, mere functionality and the most square feet for the money (market driven), and I see older neighborhoods, built in a time when more attention was paid to this poetic aspect of life. Without being the villages of the Medieval times, they are certainly more inspired than some of the modern ones. That is why as much as we can, our yard, our rooms, the inside of our home is something we always desire and are working at making it more “poetic”. I’m with Mystie, when you clean and organize a space, take some time and thought to beautify it a bit too. That is something we always do here and I give testimony that your senses will appreciate it.
4. Poetic knowledge is this trascendent vision of reality, these (yeah, I wrote THESE) moments of being led by the ordinary objects of delight and wonder into “something very much like perfection”. I witnessed this last week as my little girl was swinging and singing, the birds too, the breeze perfect, a scrumptious aroma coming from the oven…
Second rabbit trail. While reading The Twilight of American Culture Berman spoke of brutality and chaos, which is at the antipodes of poetic knowledge. Socratic or Traditional Education aimed at this healthy atmosphere (Faith, I again see Charlotte Mason here, it may be as you said that I am conditioned to see what it is in my mind). Socrates and Plato knew how important it was for the children to be immersed in this environment, surrounded by beauty and truth. This is a harsh contrast with the reality that children in ghettos live. Taylor experienced this when he was in the schools of those children who were at risk. He says that in this world of spiritual-intellectual disintegration, “the future of the Third World may finally be our own.” He then quotes Kaplan in An Empire Wilderness, were one of the characters says:
Look all around you in the Southwest; most of the buildings you see are mobile homes. Inside most of these homes are filthy people who can’t read, who don’t talk to each other, who have few or no relatives or friends, who are one unpaid bill or one small tragedy away from being homeless; people who can’t put food on the table or watch over their kids. The little money they have is used to install cable TV. I know. I go into these places every day… When I think of the future of the United States, I think of a little girl I saw inside one mobile home, a girl who-I can tell you from my own experience- is not so untypical. She’s about three years old. Her parents plop her down all day by the TV, turned to the channel for soap operas and game shows. There’s dirt all over the house. There are tabloid magazines and TV schedules and beer cans. There’s not much furniture, no books. It smells.
Now think about the gymnasiums, the music, the healthy atmosphere of the schools of the Greeks, school understood as leisure (not entertainment). And I see those parents exhausted from the fun vacation to the expensive park where they worked their way in lines, and end up consumed and tired. The modern consumable education is not the organic picture of education we have in the Socratic tradition. And it is important to notice this poetic knowledge is not seen as outgrown or inferior to the idolized by today’s education, Scientific Knowledge.
5. Intrinsic to poetic knowledge is music. And again Berman tells us the adolescents at risk he saw in some schools had a certain aura or fog, something he thinks it is depression. If poetic knowledge is passive, not all passivity is poetic. Precisely the students described by Berman are deprived of leisure, have no experiences of beauty or truth, their ability to be motivated is crippled since they have no models worth of imitating, they have no reality that MOVES them to desire or love. On page 17 of Poetic Knowledge we read:
But to love rightly is to love what is orderly and beautiful in an educated and disciplined way…for the object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful.
6. Now I also understand that modern education comes from the sophists tradition, it is education driven by marketplace, as Taylor calls it. It is the postmodern view of nothing being right or wrong, if the sophist gets paid by a client, he will defend “his truth”. Nowadays, corporations are united by their Darwinian survival of the fittest, and they do not operate by the love of their trade, country where they operate, founders, workers… Roger Schank in his blog Education Outrage, writes about the love for trains and transportation that the males in his family have had for generations. This love is what he saw in his son and he then told him to get a degree on “subways”. He recognized this type of knowledge experienced by his son as a good trampoline to choose studies and eventually a profession, instead of presenting him with the best paid jobs to motivate him to study something that will lead to one of those. I venture to say he is not a person who just knows about trains, as the musician who can truly play music, or the doctor who can treat the whole person.
7. Poetic Knowledge is aesthetic, enjoyed by its own sake. It is a delightful contemplation done by the whole person. I like Taylor’s simile of it as a path or winding road with detours versus the superhighway of modern education.
8. Page 33 has also a beautiful passage to remember:
He (the student) learns not by means of spoken words, but by means of the realities themselves and his senses…hence I do not teach even such a one, although I speak what is true. For he is taught not by my words but by the Realities themselves made manifest to him by God revealing them to his inner self.
May this be the reason also why CM told us to be in touch with the real thing, and leave the words and abstractions for when they are older? (I have no cure, haven’t I?)
And this part which I have to write in paper and carve in my heart: TO LISTEN is not only the first disposition for learning anything, it is also a poetic disposition, state of leisure prior to activity.
9. A poetic response is that of disinterested pleasure, not connected to animal needs or utility, as in PLAY and opposed to the educational toys and learning games of today. Before I even read the words educational toys, I already wrote learning games. It was easy to see the contrast between this way of seeing play in the poetic knowledge and play of today. The first is initiated spontaneously by the person, the second is artificially extracted and controlled and analyzed.
The rest of the second chapter goes in detail defining what knowledge, perception, and cognition are in the Socratic-Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. It tells us about how Aristotle reconciles Plato’s dichotomy between the body and soul. And defines the spiritual power called the will or loving will as the activity of passivity. A will that draws us to things more than discursive systems of thoughts. I would describe the last twenty pages of the chapter as difficult. They were very technical. Taylor says he will use reason or rational knowledge (I forgot how he words this) to define poetic knowledge, and that he is just describing what Aquinas said, not questioning its validity, in order to help us to understand commentaries on the concepts of connatural knowledge and knowledge by intentionality. He speaks of Jacques Maritain and Joseph Pieper, and how the third chapter will pave us the way to understand these two philosophers.
In all honesty, I did not spend careful time when reading those specifics, but I trust that I have some insights in that connatural knowledge and knowledge by intentionality as not to be at total lost in the next chapter. To read this one and be on time for the book club has been a titanic effort to me. I was going to be a total brat and ask Mystie if we could give a bit more time to each chapter. But I understand it may not be possible, in which case I will do my best to keep up with the readings, and if I can’t post, at least jump to the comments.
Now I have to go back to life, cook dinner, take care of some readings that were not done yet today, and be back to translate. Yes, I’m working on a lengthy but rewarding translation and what’s best, this Thursday we are going to a short vacation until Saturday, to a nearby park and motel! I hope to have much true LEISURE but I will keep disconnected too for I need to rest from the working mode.