Rorty’s Reflection on his Life Studies

I was reading Rorty’s essay–The Fire of Life–which was written after he was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer.  He found that what comforted him in his dying days was neither religion, nor philosophy.  Rather, he simply wished he spent more time reading poetry.

“I now wish that I had spent somewhat more of my life with verse. This is not because I fear having missed out on truths that are incapable of statement in prose. There are no such truths; there is nothing about death that Swinburne and Landor knew but Epicurus and Heidegger failed to grasp. Rather, it is because I would have lived more fully if I had been able to rattle off more old chestnuts — just as I would have if I had made more close friends. Cultures with richer vocabularies are more fully human — farther removed from the beasts — than those with poorer ones; individual men and women are more fully human when their memories are amply stocked with verses.”

I think that this is important because I often look over poetry because I don’t normally find poetry that I understand, or enjoy.  I think that is because I haven’t ever had a class that has had a focus on poetry.  I was looking forward to taking an English class called, “Dickinson, Whitman, and Poe,” but the class conflicts with my French class.  I might be able to fix everything up, depending on the generosity of the French professor.  Otherwise, I will only be able to attend the class on Tuesdays.

I think that one interesting claim that Rorty makes is that poets lack access to a different sort of knowledge than philosophers.  Rather, they only have access to a different medium.  Ross once stressed the importance of how the message is the medium, and I think that this has to be very significant in the context of poetry.  Perhaps the medium helps bridge the rational thought/action or the rational thought/belief gap.  In the same way that Rorty thinks that ethics are expanded through literature, maybe he also wants to suggest that our personal theories and stances towards important personal matters are also more heavily influenced by poetry.

To generalize, poetry might be more useful for people who want philosophy for personal, life changing benefits, and philosophy might be more useful for people who want philosophy as an intellectual puzzle.

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