17 may. 2008

(70)

Benjamin Hollander. The Book of Who Are Was. 1997. 109 pp.

This book has all the credentials. Sun & Moon imprimatur; references to Celan and Wittgenstein, Jabès and Michael Palmer. I ought to just say it's great and move on. However, I have never been convinced by this book. There's something missing in the writing itself. Perhaps there's an over-reliance on the poetic sources?

***

I'm increasingly drawn to writing I feel has "perfect pitch." It might be a very conservative aesthetic, in a way, but I want my poetry (the poetry I read) to have that quality of being perfectly in tune. I have to be convinced that this was the only way to write that particular poem. I could see it as an acknowledgement of my own limitations as a reader. The abolutism of my own taste can only be justified in terms of a neurology of my own, with the ever-present possibility of being wrong. Not wrong about my own response, but about the relevance of that response to anyone else.

The mystery of taste is not why we don't like the same things, but why we ever correspond at all. If taste is subjective, then there's no reason two people would ever agree. So there has to be something in the object itself. It's not just that we like Mozart because we're told it's supposed to be great: the response is genuine.

11 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

Thanks for this point: "If taste is subjective, then there's no reason two people would ever agree." I posted a passage from an old essay of mine that that made me think of.

dirtywrite dijo...

We can be fairly certain that there is no possibility of a poem that can be written in only one way. Once that becomes obvious, much beauty reveals itself.

Jordan dijo...

You might enjoy Mary Mothersill's writings on aesthetics; she was all for beauty as a quality that inheres or does not inhere in objects. (I think she got it from Isenberg via Kant.)

Jonathan dijo...

There is a feeling of inevitability, the feeling that the poem had to be the way it turned out. It may be an illusion, but it's just about the most important aesthetic illusion that exists. Since most poery does not present that feeling of inevitablity, we all have the experience of that already.

dirtywrite dijo...

What I attempted to invoke is a different paradigm of creative perception (beautifully described in John Cage's book Silence, if you are curious.) It could be worth exploring if you feel that sometimes too much revolves around your taste.

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, I see where you're coming from. Thanks for that clarification. I see myself very much in the tradition of Cage in some respects. Eventually chance will enter in the process, in the sense that 9000 books will eventually encompass almost every kind of thing conceivable--but still be oddly restrictive. Funnily enough, I don't oppose that sense of inevitability to a Cagean aleatory aesthetic, but to work that seems too willed.

I could see my taste as a kind of heuristic constraint, in a way. Without that I'd have to read 90,000 books instead of 9,000! I'll probably end up with only 8100 books I really like.

Think of someone like Cage. There had to be a lot he wasn't interested in. He was after a certain sort of thing, and used very well-defined methods and procedures to get after that. It really wasn't an "anything goes" kind of aesthetic.

Matt dijo...

I think I do like Mozart because I'm told he's supposed to be great.

Jonathan dijo...

Then you don't really *like* it.

John dijo...

Poems have to be the way they are; otherwise they would be different. We see this when poets revise works after publication. The rewritten work can be a very different work.

I saw something recently -- I think it was a review of Helen Vendler's new book on Yeats -- where the possibility of rewriting or rescanning a poem of Yeats's into tetrameter was discussed. I only glanced at it because I thought -- these people don't understand poetry. Meter is fundamental to the reader's experience of the poem. Change the meter, change the experience. Not necessarily the paraphrase-able meaning, but the experience. The experience of a poem far exceeds its paraphrase-able meaning. If Helen Vendler doesn't understand that, her students deserve their money back.

A hip hop song of some years ago used the opening phrase from Mozart's late symphony in G minor (#40?) as its main riff -- it was great.

Jonathan dijo...

She has the audacity to rewrite Yeats's poem HERSELF in a another meter!! What the &*&%%.#! Even if she were a poet herself this would be beyond the pale.

Vendler is not really a formalist critic. She's more of a thematic reader, so the book on Yeats surprised me. I haven't read it. I have an anger problem already so I'm not going to try to read something like that.


I think Vendler was trying (clumsily) to make your point, that the poem would be different in a different meter. The reviewer (in the New York Times book revew) was pointing out that if Yeats had written it in another meter, he would have chosen other words, etc...

Tom Beckett dijo...

Benjamin's "aura" comes to mind.

Part of what I want from a poem is a sense that there is something at stake--that the poet is,say, willing to risk incoherence in pursuit of learning something she didn't previously know.

The art object is the residue of a process. I am particularly fond of those works that unveil their machinery as they go.