Can we learn something from poetry? Can poems convey to their readers insight, knowledge, orientation, understanding or even wisdom? The paper assumes that general answers to these questions are possible but often lacking in substance. Instead, it is worthwhile to consider (a) different types of cognitive achievements and (b) sub-genres of poetry to which specific cognitive achievements have been attributed in certain aesthetic traditions as well as in literary criticism.
For this purpose, the paper introduces a modern descriptive vocabulary for various types of cognitive significance and advocates an orientation to the concept of “knowledge” instead of more vague terms like “insight” or “understanding”. In a second step, the paper deals with three sub-genres of lyric poetry, whose cognitive value has repeatedly been claimed in aesthetic traditions as well as in literary studies: “didactic poetry”, “philosophical poetry” (Germ. „Gedankenlyrik“) and “poetry of moods”.
By means of concrete examples, the paper shows how each of the three sub-genres privileges a certain type of cognitive significance or a certain “mechanism” of knowledge communication. In a third step, the paper points out which basic features of poetry, such as fictionality, argumentativeness, and literariness, are essential and which are irrelevant to the different types of cognitive significance. Finally, the paper discusses (a) whether the three sub-genres of lyric poetry can be defined without reference to their cognitive functions and (b) whether it would be more appropriate to postulate corresponding practices of reading lyric poetry that are linked but not restricted to these sub-genres of lyric poetry and therefore can basically be applied to every poem.
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