Sunday, January 23, 2011

Creative wreading & critical judgment

When reading poetry is not directed to the goal of deciphering a fixed, graspable meaning but rather encourages performing and responding to overlapping meanings, then difficulty ceases to be an obstacle and is transformed into an opening.

-- Charles Bernstein, "Creative Wreading & Aesthetic Judgment"


I had this attractive pedagogy in my mind this morning when I briefly set aside Attack of the Difficult Poems, Bernstein's new collection of essays and inventions, to check out the latest National Book Critics Circle awards nominations in poetry, viz-

Anne Carson. Nox.

Kathleen Graber. The Eternal City.

Terrance Hayes. Lighthead.

Kay Ryan. The Best of It.

C.D. Wright. One with Others: [a little book of her days].

Worthy poets, worthy books, though the list seems familiar. Does one prize lead to another? Well, that's ok; one reader leads to another. The figure of a circle of book critics interests me, though; Bernstein's model for creative "wreading" led me to wonder how critics, as well as students and other readers, could introduce a few tangents or new openings into the familiar process of judging awards.

I'm off on a tangent, myself.

In which I also stumble upon (TM) a recent Scientific American article, "Why You're Probably Less Popular Than Your Friends," sub-heading: "Where averages and individual perspectives diverge."

Here's an excerpt:

Are your friends more popular than you are? There doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason to suppose this is true, but it probably is. We are all more likely to become friends with someone who has a lot of friends than we are to befriend someone with few friends. It’s not that we avoid those with few friends; rather it’s more probable that we will be among a popular person’s friends simply because he or she has a larger number of them.

This simple realization is relevant not only to real-life friends but also to social media. In Twitter, for example, it gives rise to what might be called the follower paradox: most people have fewer followers than their followers do. Before you resolve to become more scintillating, remember that most people are in similar, sparsely populated boats.

Nice image: mute lonely figures on their becalmed boats...

"Thus, we can conclude that despite being more crowded together than average, most of us are less popular than average."

That's a little discouraging. Oh, well; I'm going to get some coffee and try to figure out how all this works if ones substitutes "friends" with "poets," or "readers."

Wish me luck...

P.S. Has anyone ever noticed how similar Bernstein's thinking is to H.L. Mencken's, in "Criticism of Criticism of Criticism?"

P.P.S. Speaking of tangents: "It is not enough to stand at a tangent to other peoples’ conventions; we should also be the most unforgiving critics of our own." -- Tony Judt

Update: See Joseph Hutchison's "Kvetchy" response here.

1 comment:

Henry Gould said...

People are not going to be so intimidated by the challenge of figuring out fixed meanings but are going to enjoy the performance of variable overlapping meanings & soak them up & be open to poetry & & ....

we have another ingratiating pedagogical "how-to" manual for solving manufactured problems ("difficult is a meaning")... designed for all them ephebes not sure about how to think or feel about what they read. We've all been there... we are there....

But the pedagogue is always insinuating himself into & replacing the poet herself or himself... who is communicating something playful & sine qua non precisely because it has an affective & emotional & problematical-intellectual resonance who the poet CHOOSES NOT TO RESOLVE OTHERWISE THAN INT HE POEM... BECAUSE IT IS A DISTINCT WORK OF ART...