Lyric Self-Expression

In Sonia Sedivy (ed.), Art, Representation and Make-Believe: The Philosophy of Kendall Walton (2021)
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Philosophers ask just whose expression, if anyone’s, we hear in lyric poetry. Walton provides a novel possibility: it’s the reader who “uses” the poem (just as a speech giver uses a speech) who makes the language expressive. But worries arise once we consider poems in particular social or political settings, those which require a strong self-other distinction, or those with expressions that should not be disassociated from the subjects whose experience they draw from. One way to meet this challenge is to consider the poem expressive of a plural subject, which frees us from looking for a particular individual whose voice we hear in the work, whether she be fictional or actual. Some lyrics give voice to a group whose experience is attended to in the work. This may be done through a posited fictional speaker, but the ontology of the speaker is shown to be less important. Attending to a group whose concerns are voiced allows us to explain how poems can manage to address our-worldly concerns even when lacking actual persons whose expressions we encounter in the poems.

Author Profiles

Hannah Kim
University of Arizona
John Gibson
University of Louisville


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