Poesy is to practicality in Literature as inspiration is to instruction in Language, and as wisdom is to explanation in Communication.
We need instruction and inspiration in language. This is my somewhat bold attempt to update the ancient definition of the purposes of rhetoric: utile et dulce, didactic/useful/educational, or pleasant/appealing/entertaining. Entertainment seems to me limiting because it does not take into account some of the homo sapiens‘ unique characteristics. We want and offer instruction constantly; in many instances quite unnecessarily but this is a core tendency. I won’t call it a core competence. But there is a need to be taken out of ourselves, to be inspired and language or the use of it seems to be at its best when beyond entertainment, it inspires us.
The same is true of literature: defined as a body of works in a language and culture. The formal definitions often insert the term “written” in this statement but we know that a large body of oral works preceded the practice of writing. So my proposition suggests that any body of work in a language, aka literature, needs both practicality and poesy. The adjectives often applied to this term clearly go by this principle; we read scientific literature to learn about science. So what about “literary” literature?
We’ve always been warned against circular definitions but this is truly a unique instance where we say that literature that is good in itself is “literary.” Aristotle called the study of this Poetics. I am using a term which feels more appropriate, Poesy, for literature that is valuable for its own sake. Yes of course there are echoes of the art for art’s sake movement in this but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with thinking this way.
The whole thing comes to a singular focus: communication. I communicate to get ideas from my brain to another’s brain. Two ends of this spectrum are explanation and wisdom. Let’s remember that a spectrum does not necessarily imply a single plane of thought. There might be many other opposing points in the spectrum so granting that multiplicity, my focus is on the fact that a human being gets involved in communication to explain a thought within a single mind and share understanding. This second part is what I call wisdom when that goal is fully achieved.