Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's Hard to Resist the Title Field

For a long time I've blogged mostly without titling my posts—it seemed to me that titles went against the informal spirit of blogging. (In that same spirit I'm extremely reluctant to revise a post once it's been posted.) The presence of the title field is something I've generally ignored except when I'm posting something that feels more like an essay than a blog post. But most bloggers do title everything, just as e-mail caused everyone to start thinking in terms of re: lines, introducing a formal element of the business memorandum into what has actually become, in my experience, an informal and intimate descendant of the personal letter. Now I'm feeling a new pressure from the medium to title my posts because I see that Google provides the title of a post when you search for one, which gives the entry the title's attached to just a little more weight and significance. I can't decide if this is part of what makes blogging a new medium, or if it's actually a pendulum-swing back toward print modes like the newspaper column or feuilleton.

Anyway, I've returned from a week of family visits with the in-laws (in Palm Beach—a very surreal place, like Vegas with the volume turned down) and surprising my sister and grandmother for their respective birthdays in Chicago. Now I'm back it's time to stop kidding around and get that dissertation finished. I am at the halfway point in my Ronald Johnson chapter, talking about him as a concrete poet: ARK will be next, perhaps via a detour through The Book of the Green Man as an example of a somewhat more conventional mode of pastoral that Johnson had to travel through on his way to the constructivism of ARK. I'm also beginning to look ahead to the book the dissertation will eventually become. The long poem seminar I'm auditing has shown me that there are at least two more canonical modernists whose work is fundamental to my conception of pastoral as a constructivist mode. Stein's Stanzas in Meditation is one of the purest examples I've found of abstract language used to approach the condition of a reciprocal accommodation to nature; I would also bring her Geographical History of America into my discussion because the dialectic she sets up between "human mind" and "human nature" also speaks to this question. And for today's seminar I'm hurrying through WCW's Paterson for the second time, and finding it stranger, more delightful, and more intensely self-critical than I'd remembered. Really it would be strange for me to write a book about modernist pastoral without discussing Williams; yet I've held off because I somehow needed to travel through more ostensibly difficult texts ("A", The Cantos) to arrive at my theory of pastoral. Those texts seemed to present more starkly the opposition between nature and history that constructivist pastoral dialecticizes. But now that I've passed through those texts I'm prepared to approach others whose renditions of that dichotomy seem either more crude (Williams) or oversubtle (Stein). Finally, having just taken Rachel Zucker's advice and downloaded James Schuyler's "Hymn to Life" from PENNSound, I am more than ever persuaded that I should write about the New York School as pastoralists, focusing particularly on Schuyler and O'Hara. It's exciting and a bit relieving to think of this project's life beyond the dissertation: exciting because I see I'm nowhere near done with this topic after five years of working on it, and relieving because I see how I can let the dissertation be a good dissertation (that is, a done dissertation) and reserve my perfectionist tendencies for life after the degree.

To conclude miscellaneously: if you're in the Ithaca area you might want to check out a new reading/talk series that the Cornell English department is starting called Interplay. It's meant to start interdisciplinary conversations: tomorrow night at 6:30 PM I'll be reading some of my poetry, then Professor Matthew Belmonte, who's an autism researcher, will give a paper, and then we'll see what common ground can be found. My first thought is that autism, as far as my limited understanding of it goes, requires the rational deciphering of social contexts and cues from those afflicted with it, a deciphering that non-autistic people perform intuitively and without much effort. Some poets, you might say, assumes a deliberately "autistic" attitude toward language and discourse, problematizing what ordinary language users take for granted. Of course I'm on dangerous ground with these speculations: it's just a few steps from here to the romanticization of illness as an opportunity for performance (Rain Man, anyone?). I look forward to a fuller conversation on the subject.

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