Poets are Intelligence Assets

As I understand it, the idea in Benjamin Hoffman’s “Poets are intelligence assets” is that there’s all this ambient information about specific cultural moments which is packed into a text unintentionally. My impression is past theorists have called this, loosely, “ideology,” though the word carries deep-politic connotations. “Worldview” may be a better term, but I’m not as familiar with the theory as I should be.

I’m interested this idea because ties in to two pieces I’m working on. One is on fashion and its role in art and pop music (update: link), the core idea being that pop songs (in the sense of “popular music” eg rock, soul, rap, etc) are high bandwidth informationally because even if they’re four chords and looping truisms, they carry a bunch of information about the “fashion” of sounds, instruments, aesthetics at a given moment. A song by The War On Drugs carries a ton of information about what slide guitars, synthesizers, Americana, and Bruce Springsteen all meant at a specific point in time, and especially to a specific subculture or location (New York, indie music scenes, Brooklyn, etc). What’s anathema, what’s in, all is part of a cultural history that is reflected in the relative fashionability of a work (not to mention assessments thereof).

The other, related project is the idea of a “corpus as a concept,” (update: link) that part of the primary information carried in poetry is worldview. Not just the content described, but form and tone of the description, the web of associations and connotations implicit in the how a subject is approached. There’s a famous “way of seeing” which is captured, to some extent incidentally, in all art but especially per-square-inch in poetry. And one piece of evidence to this effect is that when you read literary critics and theorists and academics, they’ll refer to something as being in a “Poe” or “Whitmanian” sensibility, or they’ll use “Blake” vs. “Wordsworth” as a point of contrasting ethos and outlooks. Incidentally, the other field which gets referenced this way, and to this extent, is philosophy: the Rousseauian, the Hobbesian.