What is an aesthetic? Part 2

In a previous post, I considered the meaning of the word “aesthetic” and its implications.

When one poet asks another poet what his/her aesthetic is, the implication is that there are many types of aesthetics (why ask if there aren’t?) and that, therefore, there are a number of ways of recognizing/creating beauty.

The other implication in the question is that a poet would have an aesthetic—not many aesthetics.  The implication is that to have many aesthetics would somehow be contradictory, just as one person is supposed to have one personality.

Without getting too much into philosophical stances of what is personality (and without seeming to advocate multiple or split personalities), I’d like to make the following statement: doesn’t personality depend on context, and, analogously, doesn’t aesthetic depend on context?

Let me back up for a moment.  When one poet asks another poet about his/her aesthetic, really what the first poet is wondering is: what is the nature of the other poet’s work?  What type of work is it?

The assumption, therefore, is that a poet’s work is consistently similar in nature (otherwise, how could the question be answered?).

But, unless there is only one poem, or unless the poems are all exact copies of each other, the poems shall be dissimilar (and even copies have a dissimilarity in the context of time, of when each copy began existing).  Therefore, making a general statement about the nature of the work does the poems a disservice: their distinctions from each other are not acknowledged.

That said, identifying similarities is worthwhile as well.  Sure, someone’s work could be said to have certain concerns or themes, or tends to be in a certain form.  But the problem I see is in sticking within the realm of the aesthetic that prior work established.  The problem I see is making the aesthetic become a part of one’s identity.

Aesthetics, I think, are meant to be explored, not to become statically stuck to.  After all, the aesthetic is a consequence of the specific—of the poems themselves.  The aesthetic is a byproduct, a dependent variable rather than primarily a driving force (although, yes, someone’s poetics can help shape how he/she approaches poetry and writes, and as discussed in the previous post, there is some overlap between the terms aesthetics and poetics).

To describe an aesthetic is to derive an averaging of the poems—identifying a “norm” by assessing their similarities.  My point is, the primary is the poetry itself—the poems are the tangible, are what certainly exist.

When one poet asks another poet about his/her aesthetic, really what the first poet is wondering is: what is the reality of the other poet’s work?  What can be said of it?

To describe an aesthetic is to try to attempt a generalizing metaphysics, to try to summarize the reality, the nature of the work; however, the poems themselves are the only measurable phenomena.

My thoughts are not finished (this is part of a series), but what are your thoughts on this?  What have I overlooked or underlooked?

Go to Part 3