Abraham Kuyper Center

Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei

Summer Seminar 2017, August 21-23
‘What the Humanities Contribute to the University’

Poetry and Truth

Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei
University of Birmingham & University of Fordham


At the heart of philosophical discussions of poetry is its relation to truth, on which philosophers have been divided from Plato to the present.   While even its harshest critics tend to admit that poetry can convey some truth, the question remains whether truthfulness is intrinsic to successful poetry, and whether there is a mode of truthfulness that is distinctly poetic.  Phenomenological hermeneutics proposes that poetry enacts a form of revealing, a disclosure of the world, a capacity enabled by poetry’s productive defamiliarization of language, while at least one critical theoretical approach validates poetry only as an ‘illusory’ form of art.  These more recent views of poetry will be considered against the backdrop of the historical debate, and in light of a tension between poetry’s mimetic or reproductive relation to reality and its productive generation of images and ideas.  Poetry may both reveal and create, reflect the actual and engage the possible, while generating alternatives to the real that, by their very divergence, have implications for reality, by relativizing a given manifestation or interpretation of it.  It will be considered whether poetry’s most compelling revealings may be less of the world itself, than of the ways in which we experience and come to know it.

Brief bio

Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei is Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Birmingham, UK and (on leave) Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University.  She studied at Oxford (DPhil, Modern Languages; MSt, European Literature); Columbia University (MFA, Poetry); and Villanova University (PhD, MA, Philosophy). Her books include Exotic Spaces in German Modernism; The Ecstatic Quotidian: Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature; Heidegger, Hölderlin, and the Subject of Poetic Language; and a book of poetry, After the Palace Burns, which won The Paris Review Prize. She is currently writing a book on the relevance of imagination.