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Poetry and Philosophy: From Plato and Homer to Heidegger and Celan

Lecturer: Desmonda Lawrence

Originally Taught: Winter School 2018

Plato famously claimed there was an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry and declared the poets ought to be cast out of the republic of philosophy. In this course we will look at different aspects of the often-troubled relation between the discourses of poetry and philosophy, starting with an analysis of Plato's censure of poetry in The Republic and Aristotle's defence of it in The Poetics. We then turn to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement to look at poetry's place in philosophical aesthetics. The final two lectures will take up the question of what sort of discourse poetry is and how it relates to philosophy in two contemporary juxtapositions: through Heidegger's question 'what are poets for?' examining the different sorts of answers that emerge from the poetry of Paul Celan, as well as the views of Czeslaw Milosz on the difficulties of Modernism, and Alain Badiou's reply.

Course Schedule

Lecture 1 will be a general introduction to 'aesthetics of poetry' and a reading of Plato's arguments against poetry in Books IV and X of The Republic, analysing Plato's complaints censure of poetry, and why Plato sees no place in the ideal republic for poets – especially given his own status as a poet and his professed love of poetry.

Lecture 2 will look at Aristotle's reply to Plato, often considered to be a defence of poetry, in The Poetics. These two first lectures will introduce some categories in which philosophy has tended to inscribe poetry, such as mimesis, and introduce more generally early forms of literary criticism.

Lecture 3 will cover the development of philosophical aesthetics in Kant's Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, and also touch on Romanticism in philosophy and in poetry.

Lecture 4 will look at Heidegger's writings on literature and art in his collection Poetry, Language, Thought, in particular the essay (and question) 'What are Poets For?' in the light of (or perhaps it would be better to say in the shadow of) the post-holocaust poetry of Paul Celan.

Lecture 5 will consider some of the particular difficulties – in interpretation and criticism – of modern poetry (that is, poetry of Modernism) in terms of the exchange between Polish poet Cezlaw Milosz and Alain Badoiu.


  • Plato, The Republic.
  • Aristotle, The Poetics.
  • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Aesthetic Judgement.
  • Martin Heidegger, 'What are Poets For?' in Poetry, Language, Thought.
  • Paul Celan, Selections, (ED. Pierre Joris).
  • Czeslaw Milosz, The Witness of Poetry.
  • Alain Badoiu, 'A French Philosopher Responds to a Polish Poet' in Handbook of Inaesthetics.