“What one cannot compute, one must poetize.” So concludes this remarkable sequence of propositions on the centrality of poetry for what we call cognition. Developed through brief, lucid, and eloquent logical elaborations that are punctuated by incisive readings of a range of poems—Western and non-Western, low culture and high—Poetry and Mind offers to theorists and practitioners of literature, together with logicians and cognitive scientists, a more sophisticated account of the extraordinary regimes of human mental experience.
Poetry grants us the ability to move “beyond the limits of thought” and to explore the beyond of cognition. It teaches us to think differently. An elliptic response to Wittgenstein’s point of arrival in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, this book is first and foremost an interdisciplinary study of poetry, drawing on literary, philosophical, and scientific traditions. The work conducted on minds and brains over the last decades in psychology, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience cannot be ignored if, as humanists, we are interested in the way we think. Dubreuil thus calls for a constant dialogue with the positive examination of cognition to better situate the normal regimes of thought, as well as to underline the other mental possibilities that literature opens up.
Poetry and Mind shows that poetry—a widespread and perhaps universal phenomenon among humans—arises through syntactic structures, cognitive binding, and mental regulations, but that, in going through them, it also exceeds them. The best poems, then, are not only thought experiments but actual thinking experiments for the unthinkable. They expand the usual semantics of natural languages, and singularly deploy the rhetorical armature of speech. Made of iterations and linguistic reorganizations, they exceed their own algorithms and, often, they become reflexive, strange, and cognitively dissonant. They provide detachable, movable, and livable significations to our selves.
The literary scope of this book is more than “global”: it is uniquely broad and comparative, encompassing dozens of different traditions, oral or written, from all continents, from Ancient times to the contemporary era, with some thirty specific readings of texts, ranging from Sophocles to Gertrude Stein, from Wang Wei to Aimé Césaire, and from cuneiform tablet to rap music. Together, Dubreuil’s readings and elaborations offer a major reappraisal of the relations between creation, language and our embodied brains.