The Ethos of Poetry: The Liberating Potentials of Poetic Language in a Philosophical and Psychopathological Perspective.

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Cathrine Bjørnholt Michaelsen


University of Copenhagen


DKK 1,170,400




Reintegration Fellowships


The overall ambition of my project is to survey whether and how a poetic employment of language may offer a liberating potential for individuals experiencing psychopathological disturbances. Focusing on disturbances that fall within the schizophrenic spectrum or that are induced by trauma, the project aims at facilitating a new and more qualified understanding of poetic language as an 'ethos.' This 'poetic ethos' should not be understood as a code of conduct or a set of moral beliefs, but rather as a resourceful way of existing in the world and of (re)making sense of an existence that may otherwise have come to seem nonsensical. Thus, the aim of the project is to explore and qualify poetic language as a possible resource of alleviation in the treatment of psychopathological disorders.


Individuals experiencing psychopathological disturbances often recount of being exposed to an incomprehensible 'foreignness' or 'strangeness' in the face of which 'conventional' discourses, such as the clinical or the conceptual, break down and thus fail to meet their need for expression. Not being able to find a manner of expressing, and thereby also of reflecting on and sharing, one's experiences can worsen a situation that may already be experienced as estranging in that it increases the sense of isolation and hopelessness. It is therefore vital to heighten the awareness of the importance of language for human existence in general, and to widen the span of linguistic possibilities in order better to accommodate experiences that challenge our 'usual' perceptions of language and reality.


To reach its aim, the project will pursue a two-fold strategy: First, by executing in-depth analyses of various poetic works, first-person perspective texts, and anonymised clinical vignettes, the project will map out the structure and mechanism of their poetic employments of language. Second, working across the disciplines of philosophical aesthetics, literary criticism, and psychoanalysis, the project aims at developing an "ethico-aesthetic paradigm," which emphasises the inextricability of ethics and aesthetics in succinctly approaching and understanding psychopathological phenomena without undermining their idiomatic singularity.

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