Poetic Idealism and the Search, pt. 1

Many of the readers who end up at this blog do so by searching Google with the phrase “idealism in poetry” or something similar. While I think the overall contents of the blog offer my thoughts on the topic, I am sure that many of these searchers are looking for research for their undergraduate or high school papers. This post will offer some reflection on the concept in general, but I would like to also point them toward the recently updated “plagiarism note” in the right column. Your teacher/professor will recognize a voice other than yours, and drop text into Google to figure out where it came from. Then you will fail the paper, if not the course. Be forewarned.

If you’ve read this far, this is where the meat of this post starts. You can tell by the title that I intend to write several of these posts, but I have a lot going on, so they will come as they will.

The first thing I’d like to address is why I called this blog what I did. Frankly, it was available. That’s the short answer.

But also, it spoke to several ideas I have about poetry and writing. One is that the act of picking up a pen (or laying fingers on keyboard) requires a certain kind of idealism in itself. The vast majority of writers (and especially poets) make very little money off their writing; it can feel like yelling into an empty canyon. So the idea that what I have to say is important enough to put it into some sort of permanent existence for a few others to read is idealistic. It is also possibly naïve, egotistic, and vain; but idealism underlies these things.

And now might be a good time to define idealism:

From Dictionary.com:

1. the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.
2. the practice of idealizing.
3. something idealized; an ideal representation.
4. Fine Arts. treatment of subject matter in a work of art in which a mental conception of beauty or form is stressed, characterized usually by the selection of particular features of various models and their combination into a whole according to a standard of perfection. Compare naturalism ( def. 2 ) , realism ( def. 3a ) .
5. Philosophy.
a. any system or theory that maintains that the real is of the nature of thought or that the object of external perception consists of ideas.
b. the tendency to represent things in an ideal  form, or as they might or should be rather than as they are, with emphasis on values.

That’s a pretty thorough definition, although it doesn’t really get at the ideas I’m trying to approach. There is plenty of idealism present in texts: the Marxists, futurists, and modernists are great examples. In fact, all manifestos are examples of idealist thinking, because they only work in an idealized, non-networked, non-interactive, constant world; and this is not the world we live in, and never has been. As long as humans have used language, they have been networked and interactive and constantly changing.

So, given this dichotomy between the definition and what I’m trying to get at, how is writing idealist? Well, my argument would return to the previous idea, for a start. The act of engaging in writing for a purpose other than straight conveyance of information – in other words, the act of engaging in art – requires a certain level of idealism. This might be related to the previous post on the political. Certainly plenty of artists have said that they can’t not write/paint/sculpt/whatever-their-art-is, but that is not the only motivator for engaging. The concept that what is produced may go on to effect something in one of the few people who see it is also a motivator. That is certainly one of the motivations for political statement in art. That concept enables writers and artists to go on even when they must hold another job (or three) to make ends meet. That concept is also an idealism held within the artist.

No matter how jaded or pissed off or outright pragmatist we might think ourselves, or even actually be, there is still the hope that this new poem might be read, or published, or even influence someone for a minute.

So, does all writing fall in the definition above? No. But do writers have some little tickle of idealism buried somewhere in their minds? Yes. And this is one of the reasons for the title of this blog.