Aesthetics: An Exchange Between a Poet and a Dramatist

During an interdisciplinary symposium on beauty, sponsored by the Center for Science in Society at Bryn Mawr College, Mark Lord, theater director at the College, spoke of his ambivalent feelings about the concept of beauty and its relation to his own dramatic work. In so doing, Mark talked about wanting to write a poem "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again", contrasted this with his memories of the powerlessness of things held up as standards of beauty when he was young, and characterized himself as a "belated nostalgic Modernist".

Karl Kirchwey, director of the creative writing program at the College, took up the challenge of Mark's poetic ambitions and, more generally, of Mark's ambivalence as to the nature and significance of beauty. Karl's reponse took the form of a poem. That poem is provided here; several years later, Mark staged a response. We provide as well some links which readers can use both to make sense of the exchange and to explore further on their own the esthetic issues raised. Comments on this exchange are welcome in an on-line forum.

On Sitting Down to Read
"On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again"
Once Again

(to a belated nostalgic Modernist)

Can we please not drag in Negative Capability
            this time? I, too, hate Hummel figurines
            and Lawrence Welk, but not all figured scenes
or complete narratives are kitsch. Beauty,
a transcendent virtue, does not thereby
            push other virtues out and, as to means,
            the clumsily inelegant is not what sustains
beauty or best honors human multiplicity.
Though we have learned to mistrust perfection,
            we must not lose it in the old collage
of borrowed forms. We must pursue it in
             our simultaneous broken worlds, nostalgia
                         the only real enemy, when we are brought where
                         the old man wakes to find his one true daughter.

Karl Kirchwey

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