Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Books, books, books, dying on the vine

P1080630, originally uploaded by tara holland.

Or so it would seem. Much ado about criticism once again. As if that is the answer. Well, it's a problem that's for certain. I appreciate Steven Beatty's thoughts on the matter (more I might add, than this meandering and airless little bit of prose.)  I wager though, that a lack of ability to simply assess a given work outside of the buzz, outside of what one's mentors or school of criticism would say of it is probably a larger problem than any of those addressed in the ongoing public discussion.

Simply describing and engaging in the work...Evaluating seems to get conflated with a conservative and prescriptive approach to criticism. One that puffs up and praises extravagantly what it sees as "the answer to all Can Lit's problems" and denounces what it sees as "representative" of all Can Lit's problems. It's all quite dull isn't it? The oppositional thinking? Does it take us anywhere new? No matter how eloquent, it seems to me it does not.

Give us a simple description. Open the work. Let time and the reader assess.

** Update: there's another conversation going on following quite a good post on the question of criticism...but as much as I appreciate the need to develop and encourage discussions around Canadian poetry, these conversations, it seems to me, illustrate the problem with Canadian criticism...parochial circular old ideas. Sorry, but any new air in the conversation? Any new ideas? Spin, spin one's wheels here...same names, same points over and over again. Sorry guys, but seriously. This one denouncing Starnino, this one defending Starnino? That's the center? In what universe? Is there nothing else going on, or are we just not actually reading? 

This one deserves, that one doesn't deserve...seriously? Is that interesting?

Surely there are a few murmurings outside this binary?

Surely there are a few women in the mix?

What women do you think are integral to discussions of literature in this country, or any country, and why?

**Is it time to implement a kind of formula (see Bechdel test below) where one doesn't take seriously any conversation about literature that doesn't at least hinge on one female writer or thinker? One writer or thinker outside of one's immediate comfortable circle? And that the female reference not be simply a woman who has written favorably about the person pontificating? And the female referenced is not one who is identified solely with the literature of men, in other words, that the woman referenced has her own ideas not only mirroring a male mentor. That the woman's work itself or her thinking be included and not simply named as a token, or one who would easily support said pontificate's pov?

Would this help build a thinking, viable, dynamic, and inspiring conversation about literature? Would it expand a little outside the little backwater these conversations seem destined to become?

Do you think that criticism builds literature? Do you think that criticism needs to come in and demand a certain direction for "a literature" to develop into? Isn't the critic's job to make sense of what is there, not what one wishes were there?

Who do you think, writing now, in this country or any other country, is writing from a place that seriously takes account of what a given literary moment actually is?

Or, what question should we be thinking about?

What are the larger questions we can reach to rather than sink down to? 

Who should we be reading? Where is the new mainstream? Where are our own streams? Who owns the stream? Divert the stream. Take over the stream. And so on...

Sorry for the wee rant. I do, do, do appreciate the need for these questions and conversations. It's just that I would love to hear something new. 


Michael Bryson said...

Re: Do you think that criticism builds literature? Do you think that criticism needs to come in and demand a certain direction for "a literature" to develop into? Isn't the critics job to make sense of what is there, not what one wishes were there?

First question. Generally, no. Good criticism doesn't build good literature; it is more the other way around. Without good literature, can you have good criticism? How can you read something closely that can't be read closely?

Second question. Huh? This presumes literature moves in a linear direction - and criticism does also. Doesn't it? Aren't we beyond that?

Third question. A bit of both. This is an unnecessary binary. What is the use of criticism that tells us what is in weak writing. Back to question #1. How can you read something closely that won't sustain a close reading?

Lemon Hound said...

Interesting. I tend to agree that it's the other way around, or perhaps in conversation?

I hope we're beyond that. We've had the criticism as a blunt object thing for a while now, as long as the unnecessary binary.

I tried to resist responding to this latest round of posts...but clearly I couldn't. Happy to have your thoughts here, Michael.

As for close reading--I think anything can sustain a close reading, don't you? A milk carton, a puff of dust, a phone book...

mrsokana said...

My head flew open, a rocket left the top of it and created a significant craytur in my kitchen sink on reading that last batch on critical culture. (Walrus et al)

I wrote the following rant http://mrsokana.wordpress.com/2010/07/07/2051/ and my fury hath not yet reached its bounds, but was interrupted by a most feverish of children.

Enough is enough. I am taking up arms. Inky ones. I've had quite enough of these bollocking boy scouts taking up all the space.