Poïesis (Ancient Greek: ποίησις) is etymologically derived from the ancient term ποιέω, which means "to make". This word, the root of our modern "poetry", was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world. Neither technical production nor creation in the romantic sense, poïetic work reconciles thought with matter and time, and person with the world. It is also used as a suffix, as in the biological term hematopoiesis, the formation of blood cells.
In the Symposium (a Socratic dialogue written by Plato), Diotima describes how mortals strive for immortality in relation to poieses. In all begetting and bringing forth upon the beautiful there is a kind of making/creating or poiesis. In this genesis there is a movement beyond the temporal cycle of birth and decay. "Such a movement can occur in three kinds of poiesis: (1) Natural poiesis through sexual procreation, (2) poiesis in the city through the attainment of heroic fame, and, finally, (3) poiesis in the soul through the cultivation of virtue and knowledge."
Martin Heidegger refers to it as a 'bringing-forth', using this term in its widest sense. He explained poiesis as the blooming of the blossom, the coming-out of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins to melt. The last two analogies underline Heidegger's example of a threshold occasion: a moment of ecstasis when something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another.
In literary studies, at least two fields draw on the etymology of poiesis: ecopoetics and zoopoetics. As "eco" derives from the root "oikos" meaning "house, home, or hearth," then ecopoetics explores how language can help cultivate (or make) a sense of dwelling on the earth. Zoopoetics explores how animals (zoo) shape the making of a text.
In their 2011 academic book, All Things Shining, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly conclude that embracing a "meta-poietic" mindset is the best, if not the only, method to authenticate meaning in our secular times: "Meta-poiesis, as one might call it, steers between the twin dangers of the secular age: it resists nihilism by reappropriating the sacred phenomenon of physis, but cultivates the skill to resist physis in its abhorrent, fanatical form. Living well in our secular, nihilistic age, therefore, requires the higher-order skill of recognizing when to rise up as one with the ecstatic crowd and when to turn heel and walk rapidly away."
Furthermore, Dreyfus and Dorrance Kelly urge each person to become a sort of "craftsman" whose responsibility it is to refine their faculty for poiesis in order to achieve existential meaning in their lives and to reconcile their bodies with whatever transcendence there is to be had in life itself: "The task of the craftsman is not to generate the meaning, but rather to cultivate in himself the skill for discerning the meanings that are already there."
- Robert Cavalier, "The Nature of Eros," http://caae.phil.cmu.edu/Cavalier/80250/Plato/Symposium/Sym2.html
- Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, "All Things Shining", 2011, Simon & Schuster, page 212.
- Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, "All Things Shining", 2011, Simon & Schuster, page 209.
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