IS A POEM A PERSON OR A THING?

All poets I know would say a poem is a thing,
A piece of rich imagining,
A thing other things are holding
For some other time.
A life, a soul, a rhyme.

But I know a poem is a person,
I know this poem is me.
And you—my love! reading this poem—
Can I count on you to agree?

4 Comments

  1. Laura said,

    May 24, 2014 at 12:52 am

    All I can say is that the traditional Zen perspective is that you are NOT the poem you write/wrote. (I won’t express my own views on the topic, but I think it’s a worthy one.)

    You can take it from there…

  2. thomasbrady said,

    May 24, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Zen, schmen. You are always referring to some “greater” authority, Laura. Women, I suppose because of their upbringing, tend to fall victim to this the most. Anyway, I don’t know if I am saying exactly that I am the poem I wrote—a poem could be ANY person: the argument is really for a universal, and there is the added proviso that if the reader, who must be a lover, does not agree, then the poem cannot be a person.

    The poem is not so much saying ‘a poem is a person’ as asking the question, ‘what is a person?’

  3. Laura said,

    May 24, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    You’re misreading me, Tom. (Again, your reading into my reply a meaning that simply isn’t there–or at least it certainly wasn’t intended!) How is Zen an authority? There was no fellow named Zen I could appeal to here. (It’s generally accepted that Zen arose in PART from Taoism, so where’s this authority to whom/which you’re referring? Because I sure don’t know who or what it is!) I’m not even asserting that this particular Eastern view is the (or even A) CORRECT view; I was just offering it as one non-Western view, something SOME readers might find of some value.

    I NEVER appealed to authority as a student, and that’s one of the reasons I was a damn good one. Why must you so often assume the worst on my intentions? Zen is a PERSPECTIVE–one of many–and I offered it. I mean, you’re the one who keeps citing Poe, the Romantics, and Plato (though you read him quite differently from the way I do!).

    I wrote nothing above that most people I know would find offensive in the slightest.

    Another perspective I’ll offer: a Western one, the kind I critiqued in papers I wrote on a regular basis in traditional philosophy courses, and did almost NEVER relying on secondary sources. Many students consulted secondary and tertiary sources, but I didn’t believe in going outside the text I was discussing unless in was necessary, which it rarely is for a standard philosophy paper. In fact, it was a matter of principle for me that I avoid bringing views other than my own into my papers with the exception of disagreeing with another philosopher’s critique of the text at hand; philosophy papers aren’t like history papers, where you cite a bunch of contemporary scholars; you’re pretty much on your own–which I liked immensely. Sink or swim.

    Now, a question I have been interested in since many years before your post above: Yes, what is a person? What, in other words, is PERSONHOOD? This is the province of philosophy of mind, as well as moral philosophy (and other areas, including neuroscience). Philosopher Daniel Dennett addresses the question quite seriously (he’s known best for philosophy of mind, but he also does work in philosophy of science and, more specifically, philosophy of biology). So you won’t waste your time countering ME regarding this essay or writing that Daniel Dennett is a “moron” or a twit, I want to make it clear that my including the link is NOT an endorsement of his views on the matter in general or in this essay in particular, but the essay does raise fascinating questions, in case someone might be at least a little interested.

    Does a nonhuman ape have more personhood than a human being who is brain dead? I would have to say yes, considerably more, because the latter, while genetically a human being, has no personhood at all.

    These types of questions are far from trivial, but the student who dismisses them immediately or draws quick conclusions about them generally leaves philosophy as a major (I’ve seen it happen) because a) they don’t find the nuances even interesting, let alone fascinating and b) as a result, they don’t do all that well in those kinds of classes.

    I find these question both interesting and important–including in reference to issues surrounding animal welfare (though that doesn’t mean the questions can’t be genuinely controversial).

    I don’t ascribe to Peter Singer’s utilitarian approach to the topic, though.

    It’s one chapter (around 20 pages long, starting on p. 175) in this book:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=GsxDABuVh9YC&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=Conditions+of+Personhood&source=bl&ots=xPZOKt1WCn&sig=iAmuoshX0wN3X3W1wnLQbDa_e3E&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cxmBU-iaMoGjyASL3ILQCw&ved=0CFoQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Conditions%20of%20Personhood&f=false

    And, as well as being discussed in numerous other entries, the issue is taken up in the Stanford Encyclopedia entry on the moral status of animals (and this entry does NOT represent my views in general on the topic, but it raises interesting and worthy questions):

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/

  4. thomasbrady said,

    May 25, 2014 at 1:07 am

    Dennett fails to distinguish person from thing and thus fails to say anything meaningful. He speculates widely on personhood, but in such a way that a thing for him can be a person. All we have to do is put his conditions into a chess playing computer and voila! Personhood.

    Locke’s “accountability” gets us into law and justice, the dog deceiving his master to get his seat gets us into reasoning plus motivation, and desire is certainly key. But again, if we don’t distinguish things from persons—and computer programs are things—then we are just playing chess or being a jury or witnessing a plant reaching for the light—within a computer program.

    A person being a person through a person is of course a sign of a person, though this still begs the question: what is a person?

    A person being a person through a thing gets us to computer programs that play chess, for instance, or to those who argue like Dennett, and this does not really help us, either, but at least comparing thing and person gets us closer to understanding the problem/challenge.

    Plato came closest when he defined persons (in the Symposium) as those who desire immortality. This Dennett conspicuously ignores, for he never mentions personhood in terms of potential—which is the crucial thing and which is why very small children are fully persons and breeding nature is the background for personhood. Personhood exists in the future—whatever thrusts itself self-consciously into a new future existence possesses personhood; whatever will be more of a person tomorrow than today is the highest standard for personhood.


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