What, me worry? a comment on criticism
I'd like to comment on what Eve wrote (below quoted). Also, thank you Kala for adding to the conversation on aesthetic arrest -- you bring up the topic of self-critique also -- I recall that Denise Levertov
advised (perhaps in The Poet in the World
, 1973) for the poet the development of a "second reader" an internal as-if reader, as if autonomous and independent of the "1st author" -- who "reads" your work objectively, so to speak, as a critical move. (I think of this as a life-work -- it's a familiar concept in the arts, no doubt.)
Re-reading Grenier's Scorpion Prize essay
, I keenly feel the hole left by the Roadrunner Haiku Journal
hiatus. Scott and Paul succeeded in soliciting notable literary figures outside of haiku to select and judge Roadrunner issues, brilliant! One witnesses the genre, reflected through their own biases, as well. Quite educational. Grenier's humor is refreshing, in part because his playful pose at ignorance sparkles with gleaming insights, like Disney elves.
Something Eve discusses is the omission of Grenier and others in the "latest edition of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology
" (2nd ed., 2013). I have the 1st ed. on my shelves, and was surprised to read this. The following is a "Riposte" essay, addressing the matter. It's wide-ranging:
Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, by Paul Hoover, ed.
Review by Michael Robbins (July 2013): http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/246092
This essay ably demonstrates not only excellent criticism, but also some of the reasons why criticism is vital in arts culture. Within are longstanding issues in contemporary criticism: canonicity, institutions (& -alities), academia, in-groups, posturing, poetry versus ideology. The critical voice and the scope of criticism determines, over an era (in 15-20 year chunks, lately), how we will learn as students, how textbooks will be created, whom will be included, whom and what left out. "Value" is ascribed, achievements are are lauded, and as seen in Robbins, critics along with poets are taken to task for their foibles, misfeasance, lack of talent or "taste." I believe this would include Paul Miller's first definition of "criticism," of the two he quoted earlier -- so let's not be too shy:
1) indicate the faults of (someone or something) in a disapproving way
2) form and express a sophisticated judgment of (a literary or artistic work)
Several posters in FN have commented that critics are problematic, doubtful in value, or even unnecessary. Nothing could be further from the truth, as a blanket statement. Consider the situational role and importance (anthologized, widely discussed, socially networked) of Helen Vendler's notable 2004 Jefferson Lecture at the National Endowment for the Arts, "The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar
." A paragraph in her lecture reads:
If the arts are so satisfactory an embodiment of human experience, why do we need studies commenting on them? Why not merely take our young people to museums, to concerts, to libraries? There is certainly no substitute for hearing Mozart, reading Dickinson, or looking at the boxes of Joseph Cornell. Why should we support a brokering of the arts; why not rely on their direct impact? The simplest answer is that reminders of art's presence are constantly necessary. As art goes in and out of fashion, some scholar is always necessarily reviving Melville, or editing Monteverdi, or recommending Jane Austen. Critics and scholars are evangelists, plucking the public by the sleeve, saying "Look at this," or "Listen to this," or "See how this works." It may seem hard to believe, but there was a time when almost no one valued Gothic art, or, to come closer to our own time, Moby-Dick and Billy Budd.
A more recent example of the critic's role in preserving cultural memory (and relevant to haiku studies) might be Marjorie Perloff's short article, "Take Five"
(April 2013), published on "the centennial of 1913, that annus mirabilis
for avant-garde poetry." I'm also reminded of Hugh Kenner
. From his obit (2003) written by close friend William F. Buckley:
"[Kenner] was among the finest writers of critical prose in America. He was one of the few commentators whose books and articles cause delight and stand as literary achievements in their own right..."(National Review, 4 April 2008
; print pub., December 2003)
From The New York Times: "Hugh Kenner, the critic, author and professor of literature regarded as America's foremost commentator on literary modernism . . . [was best known] for his pioneering guide to English-language literary modernism and for his books "Dublin's Joyce" (1956), "The Pound Era" (1971) and "Joyce's Voices" (1978) ... In these works and others he employed the techniques proposed by the writers themselves to define new standards by which to judge their work. . . . Over time his prose style grew increasingly graceful, witty and accessible, prompting C. K. Stead, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, to call him "the most readable of living critics." (25 November 2003
From The Guardian: "[Kenner] produced some of the most perceptive accounts of literary modernism ... Kenner adapted his critical style to suit the particular author under scrutiny, following Dr Johnson's observation that literary criticism must be regarded as part of literature or be abandoned altogether. His work avoids academic jargon, and draws on a massive range of influences, seeing connections and parallels in unlikely places. In a Los Angeles Times review, Richard Eder said of Kenner's proactive approach that "he jumps in, armed and thrashing. He crashes [literature], like a partygoer... You could not say whether his talking or listening is done with greater intensity." (28 November 2003
Sound exciting? It is! Great criticism is an art, is "regarded as part of literature." Good criticism (like good philosophy, good love, the best learning or craft practice) can transform a life. Open you up, enlighten, inspire, ignite a passion for passionate understanding. Good critics (speaking here of rasa
, as Kala states it) are not irrevocably to be placed a class separate from poets (Bashō himself made his fame as a critic, with Kai Ōi
[The Seashell Game], "a judging of the Left and the Right," at the age of 29, if it matters). Though (as with any art form) there seem few in a given era who demonstrate a sustained level of excellence. Fewer yet who vibe with you (as with poets, eh?) -- the patient difficulty is in finding them.
Vendler mentions Melville's Billy Budd
; the manuscript was discovered in the 1920s by Raymond Weaver, a professor at Columbia, of whom Allen Ginsberg, his student in the 1940s, said "was the only professor who had integrity" (American Scream
, Jonah Raskin, p.xiii). In the 1980s-90s, Ginsberg, in multiple roles as world-traveling poet, scholar-professor, and critic, taught Melville -- which is to say, taught in the lineage of Weaver (cf
. Expansive Poetics 11 -- Herman Melville
and Mind, Mouth and Page 1 -- Williams
). Poet/professor/critics are numerous; in North America, two recent luminaries would be Anne Carson
(b. 1950; professor at McGill, Princeton; MacArthur Fellow, etc.) and A.R. Ammons
(b. 1926-2001; a Cornell professor for 34 years).
Unless one has that experience of aesthetic arrest in reading a critic, has that experience of dwelling, contemplating, thinking new thoughts, deepening -- does the critic remain relatively superficial, a statuesque icon on an elitist stage? Some snobby book or movie reviewer let's say -- condescending or smarmy. Yet if one does delve into the near-canonical likes of Barthes, Benjamin, Kenner, Paz, Perloff, Vendler (some of the names mentioned in this thread), might something wondrous await in the form of illumination, fire, real heart? As Kenner puts it:
"'The life of the mind in any age coheres thanks to shared assumptions both explicit and tacit, between which lines of casualty may not be profitably traceable. . . .The life of the mind in any age -- there are common themes, and they have different languages." (interview by Harvey Blume, Bookwire, March 2001
Common themes -- different languages. Let's stretch a bit. To be or not become, more well-informed. It's irrelevant to me whether "learned" exists as a final goal or backstop -- what matters is the learner, and the learning. And if we are to live in a post-apocalyptic world, possibly (according to current entertainment media) populated with vampires and zombies -- said to be impossible but they may find a way -- that I might huddle in some tallow-lit hut, and talk about The Kenner and his marvelous ways, perhaps read from this page 259 scrap of his; you know, the pages that are left.
thank you very much for introducing me to the concept of rasa/rasika.
and I also really appreciate that quote from Pound that Richard has offered:
When I find people ridiculing the new arts, or making fun of the clumsy odd terms that we use in trying to talk of them amongst ourselves; when they laugh at our talking about the “ice-block quality” in Picasso, I think it is only because they do not know what thought is like, and they are familiar only with argument and gibe and opinion. That is to say, they can only enjoy what they have been brought up to consider enjoyable, or what some essayist has talked about in mellifluous phrases. They think only "the shells of thought" . . . (Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, 1916 [my emphasis]).
All of this makes me think that perhaps, it is time for Judge Grenier to make an entrance:
It fascinated me that Grenier was removed from the latest
edition of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology,
presumably to make room for some new additions, or...
We celebrated here in Los Angeles by doing a reading of all the poets
that were removed from this latest edition--47 in all-- including
Charles Bukowski, Amy Gerstler, David Antin, Diane Wakoski,
and Jerome Rothenberg.