Did Descartes "cut poetry's throat," as one early modern reader suggested? The introduction argues instead that Descartes needed poetry to make his thinking happen. Situating the definition of poetry both in the context of early modern discourses on vernacular poetic form and in more recent debates that question just what constitutes poetics, the introduction shows how poetry was, for Descartes, a kind of influence without anxiety, essential to the atmosphere in which he was educated and in which he wrote and thereby able to contribute to a poetics in prose in his work. Showing how, for Descartes, thought entails a “logic without definition,” the introduction argues that literary-critical method in general, and close reading in particular, is necessary to detect a poetics in prose, interpret its significance to thought, and to expose the feelings and attitudes that shape thinking itself.
Keywords: poetry, poetics, thinking, interpretation, literary criticism, Descartes, close reading, influence, feeling, Carnap