Integral Thinkers, Like Poets, Underacknowledged Visionaries

In “How Has the Social Role of Poetry Changed Since Shelley?” in The New York Times, Adam Kirsch explains a key difference between Romantic poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and poets of today. It is the “the imaginative confidence of poets themselves”:

“Shelley was wrong to think that writing poems like ‘Queen Mab’ or ‘Prometheus Unbound’ would bring revolutionary change to England, but his conviction that they would is what allowed him to write the poems in the first place. Today, poets with a grasp of reality must start from the premise that nothing they write will be much read or have much influence on public discourse. A poetry written under such circumstances may have its own virtues, but they will not be the virtues of the Romantics — conceptual boldness, metaphysical reach, the drive to bring religion and politics themselves under the empire of art. As if in recognition of this fact, poets in our time prefer to imagine themselves not as legislators, but as witnesses — those who look on, powerless to chayou thinge the world, but sworn at least to tell the truth about it.”

One thing which hasn’t changed since the Romantics’ day is the lack of much acknowledgement of poetry among the majority of the population, including the folks in power. He writes:

It would be a mistake, then, to think that the social role of poetry has actually changed very much in the last 200 years. Poets were unacknowledged then, by a vast majority of the population, and they are only slightly less acknowledged now. No one in power in 1814 was asking for Shelley’s views on the Congress of Vienna, just as no one in power in 2014 is asking for John Ashbery’s views on climate change.

If you think about it, the social stature of Integral thought is aligned with poets in certain ways. And I would suggest that we can learn a thing of two from the Romantic poets’ boldness of vision.

In a day when poets have ceded the role of “legislators of the world”, any sort of grand epic vision of reality, one might turn to philosophy. But there too the mainstream philosophers of our time seldom make bold grand syntheses which put themselves as arbiters of truth, even people with something to say of Truth itself (by the way, who writes with capital letters these days? where have the neo-Platonists gone?)

No, for grand, bold thinkers who are in a sense similar to the Romantic poets setting themselves forth as “legislators of the world”, you have to turn to Integral thinkers and artists. I am one of them. And I would venture to say that my role within the pantheon of Integral folks mine is that of a more Romantic type than the Rationalistic type.

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