Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Philosophical Aesthetics and Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 63

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription Philosophical Aesthetics and
Simms's Poetry and the Practical

Carl Rapp


Poetry and the Practical is an important reflection on poetry, not
(as might be supposed) because it defends poetry as an alternative or as
a supplement to practical interests, but because its aim, in the first place,
is to refute the idea that poetic thinking and practical thinking are neces-
sarily antithetical at all. In fact, Simms takes direct aim at the usual view
that an essential incompatibility exists between "poetical" thinking, on
the one hand, and some other kind of thinking that more properly holds
sway in the ordinary matters of life. The result is that, in the course of his
three lectures, Simms succeeds in presenting a distinctively philosophi-
cal aesthetics, one that is powerfully suggestive of indeed consonant
with—the "advanced" philosophical positions of Kant and Schiller. Once
this is recognized, it becomes clear that Poetry and the Practical is not to
be taken lightly, as though it were merely a perfunctory exercise.
But what does it mean to say that Simms's ideas in Poetry and
the Practical are suggestive of, or consonant with, the ideas of Immanuel
Kant or the ideas of Friedrich Schiller? First of all, it means that they
are rooted in a comprehensive conception of human being or human
nature. "Poetical" thinking and "practical" thinking are not construed by
him as independent, autonomous activities. Rather they are understood
to be intelligible only in the context of man's total situation or condi-
tion, wherein they are necessarily coordinated or intimately connected.
Because of the way in which he emphasizes this important fact, Simms
actually shares common ground with the philosophers Kant and Schiller,
which in turn provides useful insights into Simms's own art.
The Kantian "Critical" philosophy, as extrapolated between
1781 and 1790, was an attempt to assess the basic types of human think-
ing in their most fundamental operations. In three successive books
(The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Practical Reason, and
The Critique of Judgment), Kant surveyed the structure and processes
of what he took to be the three main types of thinking. In his first book,
The Critique of Pure Reason, he examined both the logical and the psy-
chological conditions that make possible the perception of persons and
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