“The man deaf to the voice of poetry is a barbarian”, wrote Goethe. We live in a society that has allegedly moved away from barbarism, yet we read fewer and fewer poems. The change in our values and priorities explains this supposed contradiction: we are more informed, but we like to read less for pleasure. We understand words but their most hidden meanings escape us.
Poetry, in fact, is food for the soul. It arouses emotions. Play with words and meanings. It follows its rules. Freely. Trap reason. It escapes the restricted signifiers. It opens up new horizons. Claim awareness. Encourage the flow.
Perhaps it is precisely for all this that one reads less and less poetry. In this regard, philosopher Byung-Chul Han believes that we are developing a phobia of poetry as a society because we are no longer receptive to that wonderful literary chaos with which we have to connect emotionally and aesthetically.
We use pragmatic language stripped of its playful character
Han thinks that in recent times we have impoverished the role of language, relegating it to a mere transmitter of information and producer of meanings. With the daily rush, language has become an eminently practical tool, stripped of its signifiers. Of course, "language as a medium usually lacks brilliance, it does not seduce," as Han points out.
In modern society we don't have time to stop and savor a poem that plays with language and pushes the imagination beyond the practical. Permeated by the daily rush, “we have become unable to perceive the shapes that shine on their own,” according to Han.
In fact, “in poems one enjoys one's own language. Laborious and informative language, on the other hand, cannot be enjoyed […] Instead, language plays into poems. The poetic principle restores its joy to language by radically breaking with the economy of the production of meaning. The poetic does not produce ”and in a society obsessed with production, results and objectives, there is no space to dwell on what the end of which is pleasure.
“Poetry is made to feel and is characterized by what it calls superabundance and signifiers […] Excess, the superabundance of signifiers, is what makes language seem magical, poetic and seductive. This is the magic of poetry ”. On the other hand, “the information culture loses that magic […] We live in a culture of meaning that rejects the signifier, the form, as superficial. It is hostile to joy and form, ”explains Han.
Unlike the meaning, which is the most essential, the signifiers refer to the forms and the symbolic. Meaning refers to the content, concept or idea while the signifier is its expression, the way that content, concept or idea is conveyed. However, “poetry is an attempt to approach the absolute through symbols”, as Juan Ramón Jiménez wrote. In poetry, what is said is as important as how it is said.
We're in too much of a rush today to get to the content and grasp the idea. We want to get to the heart of the matter. And this leads us to forget the playful aspect that rests on forms and expressions. For this reason, poetry that resonates emotionally has less and less place in today's society.
Cognitive laziness and the emptiness of the soul
The fact that we read fewer and fewer poems is not only due to our renunciation of signifiers and forms, but also has its roots in the growing culture of politically correct. In a culture that imposes more and more unbreakable rules, poems are insurrectionary and transgressive because they play with imprecision and ambiguity, firmly opposing that mere production of meaning.
Poems play with the unspoken. They are open to interpretation. They enter the terrain of uncertainty. And this generates more and more aversion to us. It makes us feel uncomfortable, as if we are walking on a minefield. In this context, the poems themselves represent an act of rebellion against an essentially productive society.
Beyond the social discomfort, poetry also requires cognitive work that many are no longer willing to do. After all, most readers are used to reading and decoding text from its generally clear and straightforward syntax. This means that we are trained to understand a text almost immediately and "mechanically". We read with reason. But since the poem goes through an indirect syntax, many people find it "incomprehensible".
Its peculiar syntax, its tropes and its metaphors shift our sense of "immediacy". No matter how hard we try, there is no uniqueness in reading the text. This makes us uncomfortable. It forces us to look for other points of reference, often within ourselves.
Paraphrasing Octavio Paz, each poem is unique and each reader must look for something in it, but often what they find is what they carry inside. If we are too busy looking outside, obsessed with the culture of productivity and accustomed to eminently pragmatic language, reading poetry will be too futile and convoluted an exercise. Then we give up. We do not realize that this inability to play with signifiers is the expression of the playful inability to enjoy beyond what is given and expected in life.