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'Critical Mutism in Kant and Wordsworth'

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This paper juxtaposes Wordsworth’s criticism with Kant’s Third Critique to clarify their influential yet surprisingly disabling preview of the critic’s work within our modern sense of poetry, or art more generally. My starting point is that Kant’s explanation of aesthetic judgement leaves to criticism only the most tentative constructive role. Once determinate or ordinary cognition have been banned from properly reflective judgement, it becomes an open question what could properly be said in aid of our experience of art. Kant’s own prominent example is how we express that ‘this’ or that ‘is beautiful’ – but then such statements are themselves a category mistake: ascribing, as they do, the beautiful as if it were a property of works, and not, as Kant insists, an index of a certain form of affect or experience. Wordsworth’s account of poetry shares much with Kantian aesthetics. Yet it is understandably far more invested in the interactions between poetry as passion (one of Wordsworth’s starting points) and verbal communication or, accordingly, explicit thought. If we were to look for an original account of criticism that could help develop our contemporary understanding of the artwork, we might want to look to Wordsworth after (or indeed with) Kant.

This talk is part of the Queens' Arts Seminar series.

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