Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A reflection from Goethe

"My relationship with Schiller was based on the decisive bent of both of us towards one object; our shared activity rested on our differing ways of striving to achieve this object,
On a slight disagreement between us which we once discussed and of which I am reminded by a passage in his letter, I made the following reflections.
There is a great difference whether a poet is looking for the particular that goes with the general, or sees the general in the particular. The first gives rise to allegory where the particular only counts as an example, an illustration of the particular; but the latter in fact constitutes the nature of poetry, expressing something particular without any thought of the general, and without indicating it. Now whoever has this living grasp of the particular is at the same time in possession of the general, without realizing it, or else only realizing it later on."

From "Maxims and Relections", Penguin edition.

I think this is pretty good, and that it applies not just to poetry but to all writing, including non-fiction creative essay writing. Finding the general in the particular is the true way to get closer to the reality behind things, to generate ideas through extracting them from Nature, as it were. Allegories, if they're only done first and not following the extraction of the general from the particular, are of limited use because reality hasn't touched them. When the general that rises from the particular is in turn used to generate a standard that you need a further particular to illustrate, then you have something that's based not on pure abstraction without reference to reality but something connected to the world around us.

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