How Our Minds Were Once Shaped By Poetry
We often now picture our minds in unsound ways. They’re built to resonate to poetry. We’ve all but lost the memory of poetry’s historic role in molding minds (that’s the unsung pretext of Plato’s poetry ban). Poetry is a key cognitive technology , so powerful it was the Internet of its time.
Few now sing the praises of when poetry shaped us. Its history of molding minds is almost lost (it lasted till prose, and its logic, could last). That’s the unsung pretext of Plato’s poetry ban.
1. You and I are both, right now, using the “most momentous” technology ever (Ong). It changed thinking itself. All other tech needs it.
2. It’s hard to imagine life before the technology of text. But before alphabetic writing, poetry was the one way to store and share bulk information.
6. Without text, what isn’t frequently repeated, is lost. Nontext cultures still record what matters by setting repeated formulaic phrases to a beat. Your lyric memory and “earworms” testify to its effectiveness.
8. Text-free cultures think differently, they’re concrete “image-thinkers,” with situational (vs abstract), aggregative (vs analytic), and participatory (vs objective) thinking patterns. We all start similarly, then learn text-centric thinking.
10. Poetry’s effects were “the exact opposite of rational objectivity.” It transformed you by “mimesis”—you “became Achilles,” absorbing his ethos. This mimesis was “essential to education,” but dangerous.
11. Plato saw how art could manipulate behaviorally dominant unreasoned emotions. Art usually glamorizes or ghettoizes something, even if unwittingly (see beauty vs duty). Plato grasped better than many now how emotions and reason interact.
12. Plato knew “the gods... have the character that the poets… give them” (Gass), so he “waged the first media war" (McLuhan). Philosophy needed “exotic new skills of abstract thought and objectivity,” which meant breaking oral-poetic thinking patterns.
15. Our text-centricity pictures our minds in unsound ways. They’re built to resonate to poetry. Its memorable mind-formative phrases still matter more than many now think.
Illustration by Julia Suits (author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions) modified by Jag Bhalla (using Lyre Clip Art from vector.me, by papapishu).
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