Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wonderful, soggy weekend with my Vassar buds in the southern foothills of the Adirondacks. Photos may be forthcoming. Since coming back I've taken advantage of October Break to throw myself into dissertating with an intensity I haven't managed since I started teaching again. Rewrote the first, theoretical chapter and I must say I'm very pleased with it. The Pound chapter is almost completely rewritten as well. Now I must turn back to Zukofsky, but there's a lot of grading standing in my way, especially with the Eng Lit Trad midterm looming on Friday. I'm glad I've given myself the extra year: if I went on the market this fall and actually got a job, I could probably manage a finished dissertation by September 2006. But only at the cost of my health and sanity, Emily's health and sanity, and the well-being of my dog for good measure.

Over at Here Comes Everybody, that increasingly invaluable archive of poets' thinking about poetry, there's a newish interview with one Jules Boykoff, a poet I'm not familiar with but almost exactly my age and with a number of congruent interests. I like this little text of Rod Smith's he posted as a coda to the most recent sortie of the poetry-and-theory debate:
Let us pause a moment
to consider the relation
of theory to poetry.

Poets who do not have
an interest in theory tend
to be boring because
their works are uninformed.

Poets who have too much
interest in theory tend to be
boring because their works
are not alive.

This is what is known as
a dichotomy.
Commonsensical, maybe, but that's what seems to be lacking in many of these debates: a sense of what poetry and theory have in common as modes of cognition/imagination. Poetry's "aliveness" is arguably more fundamental to it than the "information" (I'd like to stress the form hidden in that word) Smith associates here with theory. But of course every poem proceeds from a theory of some sort: the question is whether the poet has arrived at that theory through inquiry and self-questioning or if it has been received wholesale or piecemeal from authorities who may or may not have a coherent relationship to each other. Denying theory's necessity or denying that you have one is still a theory, but theory-as-strategy, designed to foreclose argument and set yourself up as an authority more or less through brute force. "Theory" is not equivalent with any particular brand of theory, like French theory or German critical theory or Wittgensteinian language games: but using such languages might make your own theorizing more coherent or at least intelligible to others. An alternative is to write in the mode of "poetics," here meaning particularly those peculiar texts that are both about poetry and use at least some of poetry's formal means: Juliana Spahr's "Spiderwasp" and Charles Bernstein's "Artifice of Absorption" come first to my mind. I like this sort of thing, and I also like poets who think within philosophical frameworks I find valuable and valid, such as materialism—though most poets worth their salt negotiate competing or contradictory value systems in fascinating and necessary ways. Many choose to do this solely through their poetry and shun poetics and theorizing alike, and that's fine except that it leaves too much power in the hands of critics who tend toward mystification (the first sort of boredom Smith describes) or dessication (the second sort of boredom). I like to see the poets doing it for themselves.

1 comment:

Mark Scroggins said...

The extra year - a wise choice, even if the diss were a bit further advanced.

Popular Posts