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You Must Change Your Life

Poetry, Philosophy, and the Birth of Sense

John T. Lysaker

Publication Year: 2002

Some poems can change our lives; they lead us to look at the world through new eyes. In this book, inspired by Martin Heidegger--who found in poetry the most fundamental insights into the human condition--John Lysaker develops a concept of ur-poetry to explore philosophically how poetic language creates fresh meaning in our world and transforms the way in which we choose to live in it. Not limited to a single poem or collection of poems, ur-poetry arises when, in the interaction of an author's principal tropes, the origin of poetry is exposed as a process whereby words with inherited meaning take on a new poetic life that draws our attention to the "birth of sense"--the manner in which the manifold realities that surround us are revealed. And it is precisely through an experience of the birth of sense that we are able to understand and dwell differently among these realities. To demonstrate ur-poetry in action, the book frequently refers to such poets as Akhmatova, Ammons, Celan, Mandelstam, and Stevens, but it focuses on the work of Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic. By addressing the nature of human existence, the origins of sense, and the signi¹cance of history in and for human action, Lysaker argues that Simic's writing exempli¹es the import that poetry can have for how we understand and live our lives.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: American and European Philosophy


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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

What follows is an attempt to work philosophically with poetry in a way that respects its manner of presentation. Of course, one could attempt to ferret out conclusions and their supporting premises, approaching the poem as a kind of argument.1 ...

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Introduction: Engaging the Work of Art

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pp. 1-15

Without much exaggeration, I can say that most of the reflections gathered here take their leave from this poem that, in 1908, initiated the‘‘other part’’ of Rilke’s New Poems.1 In fact, near the center of this study and at its rim the poem’s final two lines vibrate like a tuning fork, keying the leading questions and lines of inquiry: ...

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1. Heidegger’s Ear

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pp. 17-44

These are some of Heidegger’s starkest claims on behalf of poetry, claims lying at the heart of a dialogue with poetry already underway in the 1927 lecture course entitled ‘‘The Basic Problems of Phenomenology’’ and still percolating in the 1972 remarks on Rimbaud. ...

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2. Living Poetry

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pp. 45-77

At this point we have some sense for what orients Heidegger’s dialogue with the poets: ur-poems, poems of poetry, and in two senses: such poems concern poetry (in fact, the grounds of poetry) through events of autofiguration. And precisely because autofiguration is at issue, ur- poems belong to and even issue from the poetry they figure. ...

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3. The White of All ‘‘I’s’’

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pp. 78-108

Having explored what an ur-poem is and having witnessed its import, I would now like to consider what I take to be a contemporary instance of ur-poetry. I do not turn to Charles Simic’s work in order to ‘‘test’’ or‘‘vindicate’’ Heidegger’s style of interpretation, however. ...

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4. Ink

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pp. 109-134

The power of White—and thus a pivotal part of the power of Simic’s ur-poetry—lies in the silences that occur precisely at the points at which one expects to locate the white, that is, a substantive ground for the poetizing that is to be found there. ...

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5. Characterizing the Cosmos

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pp. 135-156

Ur-poetry’s power lies in its ability to expose and figure the origins of sense. By ‘‘sense,’’ I mean the manifold ways in which beings come to presence, the ways in which they come to be there as beings. One might regard a teacup as an object, for example, and identify its many traits: a porcelain container with a handle, and so forth. ...

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6. ‘‘Then Came History’’

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pp. 157-179

We have been thickening our feel for Simic’s ur-poetry and what it entails—endless tasks of converting ourselves into the conversions that we relentlessly are, that is, into the polyphony of underdetermined, singular, co-presencing characters that surround and permeate us, rendering us apolyphony unto ourselves. ...

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7. Preserving the Possible

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pp. 180-206

Introducing poems by Aleš Debeljak, Simic writes: ‘‘My sense while reading Debeljak is that this is what pondering one’s life feels like in this waning century’’ (Simic 1994a, 119). Less than a decade later, the century having waned, my thought while reading Simic is that this is what pondering (or better yet, experiencing) the birth of sense is like. ...

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pp. 207-210

Our discussions began with Rilke’s ‘‘Archaic Torso of Apollo,’’ and I stated that I wanted to explore how a work of art might address us such that it could change our lives. With the help of Martin Heidegger, and limiting our attentions to the work of Charles Simic (thus forgoing any attempt to speak of art in general), we have considered the idea of ur-...


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pp. 211-218


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pp. 219-224

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052755
E-ISBN-10: 0271052759
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271034324
Print-ISBN-10: 0271034327

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: American and European Philosophy
Devoted to the contemporary development of American and European philosophy in the pragmatic and Continental traditions, American and European Philosophy gives expression to uniquely American thought that deepens and advances these traditions and that arises from their mutual encounters. The series will focus on new interpretations of philosophers and philosophical movements within these traditions, original contributions to European or American thought, and issues that arise through the mutual influence of American and European philosophers.