April 6th, 2004

mepublicenemy

what kind of re-creation is a poem?

Ayn Rand's theory of art holds that art is a certain kind of re-creation of reality. In this respect, her theory is like traditional "mimetic" theories of art which go back at least to Aristotle and Plato.

Architecture and music present some apparent difficulties to the re-creation classification, because they seem more creative than re-creative. Unlike painting, sculpting and story-telling, they don't *portray*, they don't re-present entities and actions from the external perceptual world. There are ways to make them fit the re-creation model, and there is also the option of simplifying the problem by tossing architecture out of the equation which appears to leave only music as a difficult case. (This last option is the road taken in the book *What Art Is*.)

But there is another interesting difficult case, recognized as an issue since the time of Aristotle and Plato. That difficult case is lyric poetry.

Here is how the case arises. Suppose Robert Burns sits down and writes "My love is like a red red rose..." and so on, and gives it to the woman he loves. Is this really re-creating? Or is it simply stylized expression?

What is such a poem a re-creation of? It does not create any make-believe facts. It tells the truth with metaphors and meter and rhyme.

In her Romantic Manifesto, when Rand discusses poetry briefly, she mentions that poetry need not have character or plot. It does, of course, need a theme and a style.

If Burns had first written out a prose declaration of love, I suppose you might claim the poem was a re-creation of the prose version. But that is not the usual way a poet works.

You might argue that the poem recreated Burns' internal feelings, and there would be a lot of truth in that, but this meaning of "recreate" is practically identical to the meaning of "express".

Personally, I think the moral of this is that "recreation vs. expression" is often presented as a kind of false dichotomy in theories of art, that in fact the relationship is more of a continuum, and that some art forms lean to one side and some lean to the other.

Rhyme of the day:

Re-create or express?
The answer is yes.