This “treatise” on ethics and literary practice is a self-reflective piece that argues and enacts ethical criticism through poetic form as well as content. That is, I deliberately employ poetry not only as a literary genre but also as rhetorical arguments—investigative, demonstrative, and evidentiary—and as forms of ethical action. The two previously unpublished poems here are drawn from a larger, lyrical discourse sequence tentatively entitled “Heidegger, Ethics, and Time: After the Anthropocene.” The “poetic arguments,” then, concern the possible interrelations and effects of time and ethics within the philosophical context of post-human “being” collectively, and also of personal death as a shared event. There are a couple of famous theories of time and ethics that ebb and flow within the different formal abridgements of time in these two poems. One set of theories is expounded in Martin Heidegger’s major work, Being and Time
, as well as many of his other treatises on language, poetry, and ethics. Another set of theories is founded in Emmanuel Levinas’ work on time and alterity. But unlike these philosophies, the two poems here deal in detail with (1) the potential particularities of lived sensation and feeling (2) as they might be experienced by sentient and non-sentient ‘being’ (3) that survive death—of our species (poem II) and/or individual death (poem III). However, rather than simply rehearsing philosophy or recasting it into poetic form, these two poems argue for and against the notion that time is a physical and thus materially moral absolute, necessary for any (conscious) life to exist at all; and these two poems also argue physically, through their structure and style. They argue that physical dimension of time is not only a material force that is “unkind to material things” (aging, decay), as articulated in the content of one poem for example, but also a moral force that is revealed and played against in the constricted temporal motion and music of the poems (i.e., their forms, and variations within). In addition to philosophical arguments that poetry by its nature deliberately leaves ambiguous (indeterminate, but also will-free), the aural, temporal forms of the poems themselves flow in or move through but also reshape time. A simple instance of this is the way meter and rhyme are activated by time, yet also transform time, pushing back against its otherwise unmarked inexorable ineffable… The temporal properties of poetic forms in conjunction with content therefore constitute “lyrical ethics” in literary practice. Thinking (and putting aside as well) Heidegger and Levinas, these poems as temporal forms may physically shift, even if only momentarily, the relation of the listener or reader to Being/Death, or Alterity/Other. For example, the enhanced villanelle and modified Spenserian stanza offered here each shapes time differently, and thus differently shapes the intuitive, affective, cognitive responses of readers. With its cyclical repetition of lines, usually over five tercets and a quatrain, the villanelle with every advancing stanza physically ‘throws’ time (the concept and the line) back on itself (or perhaps is “thrown forward” [Geworfen
]). In contrast, the pattern of the Spenserian nine-line stanza allows time to hover around a still but outward-expanding point (like a partial mini-[uni]verse) before drifting to the next stanza (especially here, where the final rhyme at the end of each stanza is much delayed.). Within and without the context of Heidegger and Levinas, I assert that these structural features are ethical statements in literary practice. The choice of these traditional forms of poetry in itself is an ethical statement. Stylistically as well as thematically, these two poems argue “all sides” of ethical positions in relation to the end of being human
. Perhaps more importantly, these two poems explore the inevitably human
experience of philosophically different ethical positions on death “post anthropocentrically”—what might come in the rhetorical after we can never know except poetically.