Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Theoretical-type stuff about poetry that interests me

In that David Antin 'talk' piece/poem I was reading recently, where he says that the definition of an artist is someone who does the best he can, there was another bit that I found interesting. Antin says, "i choose it [the label 'poet', as opposed to some other type of artist] in spite of the fact that i tend to feel a little uncomfortable with it because if im going to be a poet i want to be a poet who explores mind as the medium of his poetry not mind as a static thing but the act of thinking and the closest i can come to the act of thinking is the act of talking and thinking at the same time".

This is interesting, the idea of 'mind' as the medium of poetry, which seems to indicate here the flow of thinking, the movement of thought, which sets up the inevitable question, I suppose, of whether the mind can be static, or whether he means 'mind' as static as a neurologist might see it or something. I think neurologists see the mind as kind of static, or perhaps they don't differentiate between 'mind' and 'brain'--they see the world in terms of minds that are damaged or undamaged, processes that are normal or abnormal. I don't know that they see fluidity between these differentiating states. But of course, to me, as to Antin, obviously, the mind is fluid, developing, shifting--it is never truly stopped or still. Except perhaps for Terry Schiavo. But brain injury doesn't necessarily still the brain or make it static in all cases, in fact, in most cases. The brain picks itself up and moves on.

Movement, the opposite of stasis, seems to be what Antin is getting after, I think. Capturing that movement, those patterns of energy, of kinesis, seems important.

Which brings to mind then Stanley Fish and one of my other favorite lit. theoretical quotations. In his book Self-Consuming Artifacts, in which he basically (for short) breeds reader response theory with Derridean deconstruction, a book whose primary essays I can never get through because the appendix "Literature in the Reader" is so much more interesting, in this book he talks about literature as a kinetic art.

His actual analyses of various 17th century texts are not that interesting because he is too focused on how the text deconstructs itself, how the 'meaning' of the text shifts as we read one word after another. So that's kind of boring because it just keeps the extractable meaning ball in play. He kind of veers back and forth between how any text frustrates its own meaning (interesting once, but not repeatedly) and keeping a running tally on what the meaning is, one word after another, and how the meaning shifts. I've never been convinced that the Ren. texts he's looking at really do that. For Donne and Milton and Marvell, meaning is actually quite important. Their works, particularly Donne's, have an incredibly interesting energy that is, in fact, unrelated to meaning, which propels the text and that can be 'read' in its own right, but these guys want meaning.

But Fish's appendix is really quite interesting because he talks about kinesis and literature as a sort of being, as an engaged sort of reading in which the reader must be willing to flow with and against the text, swim in deep waters, for example, without wanting to heave himself up on a raft of extractable meaning. This is much more applicable to modern, postmodern, and contemporary writing than it is to 17th century writing. OK, he might have a point with Donne, but even there, Donne wants to make sense, or balance logical sense with tonal nonsense.

So in Fish's appendix, he says this: "The great merit . . . of kinetic art is that it forces you to be aware of 'it' as a changing object--and therefore no 'object' at all--and also to be aware of yourself as correspondingly changing. Kinetic art does not lend itself to a static interpretation because it refuses to stay still and doesn't let you stay still either. In its operation it makes inescapable the actualizing role of the observer. Literature is a kinetic art, but the physical form it assumes prevents us from seeing its essential nature, even though we so experience it. The availability of a book to the hand, its presence on a shelf, its listing in a library catalogue--all of these encourage us to think of it as a stationary object. Somehow when we put a book down, we forget that while we were reading, it was moving (pages turning, lines receding into the past) and forget too that we were moving with it."

This is really fascinating. I've been spiritually bound to this quotation since graduate school--probably 1990, 1991-ish. Before I really started to write again. But reading it again makes me think about how it underlies, underlines what I've been trying recently to do: write kinetic art, something that has energy and motion, that doesn't statically revolve around a single, extractable meaning or group of related meanings, something that you can enter and exit in a different emotional, spiritual place each time. I don't know that I succeed. Literature as motion, as energy, as exploration of mind, as act of thinking, as the action of the mind. No green thoughts in green shades.

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