Abstract: Unlike the obvious fact of poetry’s close connection to emotion, the nature of the connection is a problem that criticism and theory approach from various, often incompatible angles. Where is the feeling in poetry located? The poet, the reader, or the poem? Affect and discourse are inseparable in Aristotle’s rhetoric, Kant’s aesthetics, and Heidegger’s poetics. For Hegel, lyric subjectivity is concrete insofar as it is fictive; for T S. Eliot, experience and emotion are realized poetically insofar as they separate from the poet’s actual experiences and emotions. Gilles Deleuze and Susanne K. Langer develop aesthetic theories founded on the premise that aisthesis belongs to the artwork or poem not to the creator or recipient. By contrast, G. Gabrielle Starr and Stanley Fish lodge affect in the reception of artwork or poem, Starr via neuroscience and Fish through affective stylistics. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht argues that a collective feeling-atmosphere-undergirds the poet’s expression of individual feeling. These various theoretical approaches are illustrated, and tested, with reference to poems by Shakespeare, Milton, Elizabeth Bishop, and WS. Merwin.
Lyric and emotion what could be more obviously connected? That’s just the problem, for while the fact of connection is obvious, its nature is not. My task here, as I see it, is to point out some of the ways that criticism and theory attempt to comprehend poetry’s particular power to convey, evoke, disclose, express, or name affects-recognizing that each of those verbs can imply a radically distinct perspective on the question. As a result, I will maintain a certain methodological agnosticism toward the plurality of perspectives. Nevertheless, my own perspective on some basic questions inflects my account, so let me summarize salient features of my view at the outset.
In their strong form, three of the theses I develop in Mood and Trope extend the implications, nearly to the breaking-point perhaps, of pivotal ideas in Aristotle, Kant, and Heidegger. Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric establishes such an intimate relation between rhetoric and the emotions that not only are the modes of persuasion intrinsically linked to the orator’s capacity to arouse or dampen particular emotions but also, beyond this explicit argument, the emotions Aristotle enumerates are inseparable from the social and discursive fabric in which those modes of persuasion themselves are embedded. The socio-discursive conditions of rhetoric at the same time condition the emotions. Rhetoric and emotion are co-emergent and interdependent. . . .