Adam Kirsch talks ‘Dead Poets Soci­ety’ and Artis­tic Expression for the Jewish Book Council!

“The first crit­i­cal essay I ever wrote was about the movie Dead Poets Soci­ety, which came out when I was four­teen. I wasn’t yet writ­ing poet­ry myself, and I didn’t have any the­o­ries about why it should be read or taught. I just felt that the way the movie rep­re­sent­ed lit­er­a­ture need­ed to be refut­ed, like a lie or libel.

I don’t remem­ber exact­ly what I wrote about the movie for my high school’s opin­ion mag­a­zine, but today I would put it like this: While claim­ing to exalt poet­ry, Dead Poets Soci­ety actu­al­ly mocks it by den­i­grat­ing its key val­ue — artic­u­la­tion. The whole pur­pose of lan­guage is to artic­u­late expe­ri­ence, to turn pri­vate, hid­den thoughts and feel­ings into pub­lic sym­bols that can be shared and reflect­ed on. When an expe­ri­ence is espe­cial­ly com­pli­cat­ed and elu­sive, lan­guage has to be wrenched out of its usu­al pat­terns to cap­ture it, and the result is poetry.”