Volume 64, Issue 3, Summer 2020
Special Topic: Vulnerability
Russell J. Duvernoy
Commentary on Jean Wahl
Reckoning with “Poetry as Spiritual Exercise” in Times of Duress
This commentary considers Wahl’s 1942 “Poetry as Spiritual Exercise” in the context of his interests in radical empiricism and process metaphysics. In doing so, it raises appreciation for the complexity of his thought, identifies specific notes of influence on Gilles Deleuze, and responds to worries that Wahl’s notion of spiritual exercise is predominantly a form of withdrawal, quietism, or retreat from the horrors of World War Two. For Wahl, rather than passive contemplation of a determinate artifact, poetry is a mode of experience that, to speak with Whitehead and James, is a making. This experience of poetry develops affordances of thought that strengthen existential capacity for remaining open to uncertainty, fragility, and vulnerability.