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Literary Dimensions Seminar

Thursday, May 2, 2024
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Poetry's Forgotten Information Concepts
Lea Pao, Assistant Professor of German Studies and Chair of Undergraduate Studies, German Studies, at Stanford University,

"Only a fool reads poetry for facts": to read a poem with the same fact-seeking attention required by using a dictionary, reading a newspaper article, or following a recipe is, perhaps, foolish. But if it is, it is so only because it means the reader has not understood what a poem is supposed to do. Consider Wittgenstein's famous warning: "Do not forget that a poem, even though it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information." A poem, even though it is made of the same (kinds of) words as information, ought not to be treated as information (the sentence seems to say). Distinct in their respective functions, poetry and information form two ends of an opposition: one for the creative possibilities for human expression, the other for the practical and mechanical tasks of everyday life. But what really "is" information? Has poetry not, since the beginning of time, also functioned as vehicle for storing, quantifying, and communicating things from historical events, the law, to agricultural manuals, just as "informational" texts do? This talk asks: what happens when we treat poetry as one of the oldest sources of information practices and concepts, and what changes about our idea of information if we include poetry in its definition, theory, and practice?

For more information, please contact Joanna Poon by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email at [email protected].