Monday, July 25, 2011
Philosophy and Poetry
What happens if a philosopher writes in verses? In many cases, hardly anything at all. Kumārila's Ślokavārttika (in verses) is as conceptual and dense as his Tantravārttika (mostly in prose). And the same applies, as far as I can judge, to Bhartṛhari, Dignāga, Dharmakīrti and several others.
Yet there are different cases, of authors who are able to use verses for their own sake. I think of Vedānta Deśika, who is a great poet exactly insofar as he does not use verses only as a metrical form. Rather, he expresses in poetry the paradoxical nature of God's relation to human beings, a nature which he also tries to analytically describe in his prose.
It might be that poetry is especially good for a certain kind of topics, the ones which cannot be just explained away by logic. And these constitute the bulk of what really matters to human beings, once logic and epistemology have paved the way for it.
I am particularly fascinated by the way poetry or narrative structures in general might be used to convey an additional philosophical meaning beyond the one which is analytically explainable. I think of cases such as the Buddhis Canon, the Upaniṣads, the Yogācāra Sūtras, etc. etc.
How do readers feel about such texts? Does their narrative structure act upon them, enhancing their intellectual understanding?
On Vedānta Deśika, see (among other posts) here (on Veda and Upaniṣads) here (on the epistemology of Sacred Texts), here (on dharma and direct perception), here (on sense perception), here (on pleasure and pain).