23 jul. 2008

My idea of reading poetry is based loosely on the imagery of Calvino's Invisible Cities, certainly one of my favorite novels. Each poet is an imaginary city, which may or may not be associated with the real city associated with the poet. Pessoa's Lisbon, say, or Lorca's Granada, Montejo's Caracas. Even Ronald Johnson's Topeka.

The personal investment one feels in a poet has to do with the fact that poets shape one's subjectivity, carve it up into regions. Someone like me has suffered that particular déformation professionelle quite a bit. A particular person has only one subjectivity, but multiple in terms of its subregions. It's kind of difficult because one feels a certain responsibiity. Sometimes I feel like the protagonist of Ishiguro's The Unconsoled visiting a city where I have certain responsibilities--but what are they exactly?

The model of poetry criticism I see sometimes is more like that of a presumed expert in fabrics. Imagine this gentleman in his office. He is brought samples of fabrics from multiple regions of the world and asked to judge their quality. He writes up his reports: this one is a bit flimsy, isn't it? This one is one we've seen many times before--no novelty there! This other one is over-ornate. Even a very good judger of fabric samples is confined by the metaphor I've constructed for him. He's still an expert on fabrics and not a traveller to far-off cities.

So if someone sends me a book to review, or tells me to read this other poet I have little previous acquaintance with, I am in some sense being asked to find a place on the map, another city. i could give my fabric expert's advice too, but that is inherently limited. The problem is not that judgment is wrong per se, but that there is wider context that needs to be brought into play--the imaginary city, not the swath of fabric.

2 comentarios:

Jordan dijo...

Not sure I follow you here. The fabric expert metaphor is entertaining, but surely validation and assessment are part of the world traveler's criticism, too? Or rather, it's hard to trust a critic's macro view without constant agreeable reference to micro data.

Maybe by agreeable I mean verifiable (or not).

Jonathan dijo...

Well I mean that the fabric evaluator is only doing that while sitting still, more or less. The traveller might be doing some fabric testing of her own on different trips or sojourns in foreign lands, but that particular kind of micro judgement is only one part of what is done.