1 feb. 2007

A lot of lyric poetry is the mimesis of an imaginary self. Styles of self-presentation, stylized selves. From here comes the illusion that the author's biography is at all relevant to the reading of lyric poetry. Yet all the facets of personality that are relevant are already there in the mimesis of the self. Suppose the stylized self is narcisissist, brooding, and reckless. Well, if we found that the biographical self of the author is also narcissist, brooding, and reckless, we might be tempted to say, "Aha, I've found the explanation." A moment's reflection is enough to conclude, though, that this explanation is tautological. Suppose we find that the biographical subject is a nicer or meaner person than the lyric subject. This doesn't explain anything either, obviously, though it might help to dispel the biographical illusion.

Taking the Aristotelian idea, we could say that some writers try to construct an ideal self, "better" than they are. Others deliberately try to make their stylized self "worse." And some try to pitch the lyric self somewhere in the middle. (Some don't really present a mimesis of the "self" at all, which might be a topic for another post.) Of course, this is only "better" or "worse" in terms of one's idea of what the average "self" is, not in reference to a biographical self as it truly is. For example, a self-deprecating style of mimesis is obvious, but maybe the biographical subject is even worse than the jerk presented in the poem. This would still count as presenting the self as "worse," even if it was an actual improvement on the "real" self.

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