Sunday, January 07, 2007

clog dancing

Marjorie Perloff puts her finger on something that one knows, but perhaps it needs to be said from time-to-time. Writing in the TLS Dec 1 2006, on p. 11, she is discussing Terry Eagleton’s How to read a Poem, and begins by quoting Eagleton:

-- ' “Like thatching or clog dancing … literary criticism seems to be something of a dying art”. The villain, he [Eagleton] believes, is not, as is often supposed, theory: some of our best readers of poetry – for example, William Empson and Roman Jakobson [and one could add Perloff] – were, after all, theorists. No “what threatens to scupper verbal sensitivity is the depthless, commodified, instantly legible world of advanced capitalism, with its unscrupulous ways with signs, computerized communication and glossy packaging of experience”. In my view, a more powerful enemy of literary criticism has been the new Cultural Studies, with its insistence that poetry must do “cultural work” – must, for example, expose racism or imperialism – if it is to be taken at all seriously.’ --

I would question the notion of ‘sensitivity’ and would take part of what Eagleton says in a Virilio direction, rather than the rather pat way he puts it (but, sure, it’s a quote taken out of context). And I would put a slightly different slant on Cultural Studies than Perloff – that it’s not the exposing we’re really worried about but, yes, the expectation that criticism and, indeed, poetry, is expected to do cultural work, which at its blandest, means that curricula are built around themes such as 'imperialism'. In other words, poetry is primarily considered under other rubrics, not for what poetry does (which I know begs a huge number of questions).

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