Commentaries - June 2010
"Reading is usually taught in school so as to walk hand in hand with assimilation. And it is at its most oppressive when taught through principles of absolute meaning. Beginning reading exercises tend to emphasize meaning as unambiguous and singular; the word 'duck' in the primer means the bird, not the verb. Further, as a learned and regulated act, reading socializes readers not only into the process of translating symbol into word with a one-to-one directness, but also into specific social relationships. Dick and Jane, to use the most cliched example of a primer, teach how to live the normalized lives of the nuclear family as much as they teach how to read. Further, much of what is read does not fully engage the resistant possibilities within reading, and as a result it tends to perpetuate reading's conventions."--Juliana Spahr, Everybody's Autonomy (2001), pp. 11-12
Is There a Difference between the Literary History of Modern Poetry and That of Nineteenth-Century Poetry? I Say Yes
In 2003 a forum was held to discuss the Cambridge Literary History of the U.S. One discussion featured disagreements about how to handle the history of American poetry and of literary-historical method as applicable--or perhaps not--to poetry and poetics. I was asked to comment on the debate, and my short essay was published in a special section of an issue of American Literary History. Here is a link to that essay.
A few years ago John Serio was asked to edit the Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens and expressed the hope that I'd summarize what I'd learned over the years about Stevens' response to the radical-left poetics of the 1930s, so I wrote a short paper (10 pages in print) and it appeared in that very good volume. Today I uploaded a PDF copy to my "Selected Works" site: here's the essay.
John Reed, from a blog entry titled 'UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION, AND UPDIKE’S “HAUNTED QUALITY,'" dated March 30, 2009:
John Updike refers to his undergraduate education as having a “haunted quality.” The subject recently came up in a class of mine at New School, and then with an editor friend of mine, Jacob. The haunted quality of undergraduate education, to me, has to do with so much of the focus being outdated—an emphasis on public domain works and creative movements long gone. Jacob’s theory was that the education was more valuable once forgotten. That it infuses your material more naturally, easily, when you don't consciously recollect it. Appealing to me, since I have completely forgotten everything.