Empowering Poetic Defiance: Baudelaire, Kant, and Poetic Agency in the Classroom

In Frank Jacob, Shannon Kincaid & Amy E. Traver (eds.), Poetry across the Curriculum. Leiden, Netherlands: pp. 141-157 (2018)
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Many strategies for incorporating poetry into non-poetry classes, especially outside of English and associated disciplines, appear to make poetry subservient and secondary in relation to the prose content of the course. The poet under consideration becomes a kind of involuntary servant to one or more prose authors, forced to “speak only when spoken to,” and effectively prevented from challenging the ideas of the course’s prose writers, and thereby the instructor. Fortunately, this is not the only strategy for incorporating poetry into prose-dominated courses. In this chapter, I will suggest an alternate approach which recognizes and facilitates the agency of poets and poetry per se, which I term “empowering poetic defiance.” In brief, this approach consists of the following four steps: (1) challenge one’s own poetic self-loathing (2) position the course’s poetry’s content to challenge the course’s non-poetic contents (3) position the course’s poetry’s forms to challenge your class’s non-poetic forms (4) comport oneself as interlocutor toward the poets featured in the course as the intellectual equals of oneself and the course’s prose writers. My first section will elaborate on these four steps, and my second section will flesh out the method further with a new reading of one of the most powerfully defiant poets in the Western canon, the nineteenth-century French Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire, in dialogue with one of the most formidable challengers to the power of poetry, the eighteenth-century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant.
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