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Poetic Thinking 2016 | February 26, 2020

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Poetic Thinking and The Future

Poetic Thinking and The Future
Andrew McLeod

I’ve recently been pondering three questions at the intersection of ‘Poetic Thinking’ and ‘The Future’.

First, to the extent that Poetic Thinking has the potential to change how we think and relate to ourselves, it seems worthwhile to consider the ways it might have a hand in shaping the future (of individuals or culture at large). However, it’s not clear to me how this question relates to the question of how art, more generally, shapes the future. Perhaps all art that appreciably effects the future is, by virtue of this effect, Poetic Thinking. Or, if not, how do these two questions come apart?

Another question worth exploring is the extent to which existing creations that don’t currently strike us as having the potential to give rise to Poetic Thinking might emerge as having this potential in the future. For instance, the Book of Miracles about which I recently posted seems a potential site for Poetic Thinking today—but was this true when it was first produced? Or were the miracles it presents all understood by its audience to fit into a biblical/apocalyptic narrative of which they found themselves at the center? It seems to me that video games may turn out to be a contemporary example of this emergent fecundity.

Finally, what about the creation of new mediums through which Poetic Thinking can be expressed? Science fiction seems a good place to look for possibilities in this realm. Perhaps terraforming? Or the art of skimming across cultural eons through advanced cryogenics?

Since I haven’t offered much in the form of answers, I’ll at least leave you with something more succinct:

  1. In what ways can Poetic Thinking shape the future?
  2. How and where might existing creations emerge as sites for future Poetic Thinking?
  3. What new mediums will make novel forms of Poetic Thinking possible in the future?


  1. Harry Desmond

    Interesting questions, although perhaps too broad and open-ended for any concrete answers! I am most intrigued by #3. In particular, this seems to raise important questions about the relationship between the poetic and the state of the world. To what extent is our poetic thinking rooted in and dependent on the economic, social and technological conditions in which we as a society find ourselves? The conception of poetic thinking as either a means of inserting ourselves into the world or of lending it human meaning suggests that it must evolve with and adapt to the world around it. A century ago there was no need to think (poetically or otherwise) about the possibility of global nuclear war, human cloning, climate change, space exploration, or instant communication (to name a few), while now there most certainly is. As you say we can expect the future to provide much more that we will have need of making sense of poetically.

    To put in my two cents on your other questions: 1) Equally important, surely, is the extent to which poetic thinking has shaped the world as it is now. Indeed if we could understand this we’d be in a good position to guess its impact on the future. 2) You wouldn’t count the development of a biblical/apocalyptic narrative as poetic thinking? The relation between the poetic and the religious is still unclear to me. Part of me wants to subsume the religious under the poetic, but another part thinks this would do violence to the religious and that they ought to be held apart…

  2. Andrew McLeod

    Hi Harry, thanks for your thoughts. I more or less agree with everything you say—although, indeed, I don’t think I would count biblical/apocalyptic narratives as Poetic Thinking if they’re passively received. That is, a hypothetical serf who doesn’t question anything he’s told about the world he inhabits doesn’t partake in Poetic Thinking regardless of whether his worldview is resplendent with miracles or mundane and mechanical. The founders of a religion, however, may well participate in Poetic Thinking (although, like you, I’m not sure how these two realms relate).

    Perhaps we can use this intuition (which it sounds like you may not share…) to gesture at an answer to the first question. Namely, that Poetic Thinking can shape the future to the extent that it leads us to develop new narratives within which we are able to situate ourselves in the world (or breaks us out of old narratives). However, my intuition is that if one were to flesh this idea out, Poetic Thinking would merely act as a means by which such narrative creation/destruction was done, rather than provide the whole story. But this doesn’t preclude it as a possible answer.

  3. Thanks for your post. I think this question of futurity vs. pastness is very relevant to the project of poetic thinking. As an art historian, most of my poetic thinking concerns the past. To answer your question #2: I think that “existing creations” or past events/objects can absolutely be sites of poetic thinking in the present, that in turn, produce a new poetic act that can be received in the future. Perhaps the collapse of past, present, and future is the most poetic act of all.

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