Paul Magee on “the Retrospective Nature of Poetic Mimesis”

Bringing the Original into Being by Copying It: On the Retrospective Nature of Poetic Mimesis

Thursday 28 April, 4.30-6pm, A. D. Hope Conference Room.

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A long line of commentators (Johnson 1751; Attridge 1982; Ford 2021) have pointed out how little the sounds in any given line of poetry relate to the actual sounds (e.g. the pounding of horses’ hooves) they are purported to imitate—even as poets and critics continue to assess poetic soundscapes in such terms. Could it be that the mimesis in question is less about imitating a pre-existing reality than producing, by insisting on it, a link between a meaning like “horses hooves” and a suggestive soundscape, that will come to sound like horse’s hooves for ever afterward? Maybe this is what actors do more generally: create what will come to be taken as imitation. The paper proceeds to argue that the rightness associated with poetic coinages partakes of a similar retrospectivity. In sum, the poet’s mot juste (“perfect word”) is not opposite to, but rather predicated upon, a direct engagement with arbitrariness.

Paul Magee is author of Stone Postcard (John Leonard Press 2014), Cube Root of Book (John Leonard Press 2006) and the prose ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego (University of Illinois Press, 2000). Suddenness and the Composition of Poetic Thought is forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield International’s Performance Philosophy series in April 2022. Paul is Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Canberra.

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