Poiesis means making. But what does this mean?
It means, for one thing, that poetics is not only proper to the province of literature. Where there is making, there we find poetics: theory of the formal practice of production. If, when the first volume of Das Kapital descends into “the hidden abode of production,” we descend also into the realm of poiesis, that is because making is not only a private enterprise of the author. What gets made, and how, depends upon configurations of social and technical forces, and this puts every practice of artistic making—film, sculpture, painting, architecture, performance, poetry, etc.—on the common, uneven ground of historical determination. Poetics can be, in one register, the thinking of this historical codetermination of the arts—as in Fredric Jameson’s ongoing project, The Poetics of Social Forms. The theory and practice of making, poiesis, traverses different art forms, drawing the methods and materials of discrepant productive practices into relation, articulating their common conceptual, formal, and ideological problems across boundaries between specific media, institutional contexts, and disciplinary protocols.
But as it applies to poetry, understanding poiesis as making also helps us to address poetic language within its own element. This element cannot be language per se, because language is made up, fabricated, continually produced: the process of its production is ongoing. Philology studies the history of language, the ongoing process of its production. But as Werner Hamacher points out in his Minima Philologica, the object of philology—language—is also the medium of its investigation, and this infinitely reflexive structure inscribes it within the perpetual making of what it observes. This is the domain of poiesis, and thus Hamacher declares “that philology is founded in poetry.” Poetry is that perpetual outside of any given language, which is the internal process of its production: the making of what language is into what it will be. As Celan puts it in the Meridian, “poetry holds its ground on its own margin,” and this margin is not only its own, not only the margin of poetry, but also the margin of language itself.
Poiesis, making, production, is thus bound up with boundary work, exposing the givenness of language to its outside not only through the continual reconstitution of what language is, but also through the exposure of language to what it is not: to other media of formal articulation and to historical determinations by which it is conditioned. Taking up such boundary work, our symposium will be dedicated to theory and practice of poiesis as the continual production of form, such that the latter is never anything proper to one language, one medium, one art form or another, but rather an invention of what these may be.
– Nathan Brown