Cartesian PoeticsThe Art of Thinking

Cartesian PoeticsThe Art of Thinking

Andrea Gadberry

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226722979

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Cartesian Poetics is a defense of the “resultless enterprises” of poetry and thinking that enlists an unlikely ally in its cause: René Descartes. Against the historical charge that Descartes’ philosophy “slashed poetry’s throat,” this book argues that the resources of early modern poetry and rhetoric help make Descartes’ thinking possible. Against a familiar and still-prevailing narrative that holds Descartes responsible for initiating the moral injuries caused by Enlightenment reason and modern alienation, this book offers a new interpretation of his intervention in philosophy: the apparent triumphs of disembodied reason are recharacterized here as impassioned and poetic negotiations with the difficulties of thinking itself. In showing how, for Descartes, poetry structures a distinctive way of thinking, this book uses its readings of seventeenth-century works to pose questions urgent for the twenty-first: What is thinking? What does it feel like? What is it good for? Through close readings of Descartes’ most famous philosophical writings (the Discourse on Method and the Meditations along with the Regulae, the Principia, and the Passions of the Soul), the book reveals an implicit poetics in Descartes' body of work, from the puzzling forms of riddle, emblem, and anagram to the antecedents of more familiar Romantic and post-Romantic poetry in love lyric and elegy. The source of an atmosphere for Descartes’ philosophy rather than the object of its argument, poetry imparts the linguistic resources with which Descartes’ philosophy confronts, contains, or simply experiences life’s ordinary inadequacies and passions as well as the constraints of thought.