Thursday, August 28, 2008

Close reading, distraction and Parland

I thought I would give some example of poetry that is shallow, that does not want to create a deep, contemplative space for reading.

* I was fairly ambivalent in the "close reading' post about the use of "New Criticism." To some extent I think Max and Kasey are right in that NC has become a kind of "bogeyman" (I love that word) for a whole bunch of stuff, some of which they are not to blame. To a large extent, what I mean by "close reading" has more in fact to do with a nameless type of reading that is influenced by the New Critics, but which also harkens back to a kind of pre-NC humanist interpretive model. And the model is not so much a "close" but a "deep" reading. And that's why I mentioned Benjamin's famous article.

* The poem creates a contemplative experience which will save us from the shallowness of mass culture.

* Mark Halliday's article about Clover-Totality shows makes the argument that that contemplative space is privileged as "real." A father's death described in a deep, contemplative way is "real," but the lettrist jacket is not. The clothes don't make the man. The jacket distracts us (no wonder, it's a lettrist jacket full of letters).

* I think that's an inevitable result of a reading style that does not make sense when applied to shallow poetry, whether Clover or say O'Hara, and why all reviewers seem to want to rescue O'Hara's "gems" from the excess and shallowness of the other poems of the complete poems.

* Again: like "lazy," "shallow" isn't negative to me; it shoves us into the city.

* Henry Parland on this issue:

what do you know about legs?
you who think about skirts
when you pass the windows of the department store.
What do you know
about the legs
of the twentieth century?

* I like this poem because it begins by setting us up for a poem that espouses the real and authentic (as opposed to the fakeness of the department store windows). But instead of "what do you know about the real, pulsing body" we get the severed, reified "legs of the twentieth century," an advertising slogan; we get the severed legs of the mannequin, the readymade.

* Also: Charles North's argument that cinema made the entire world art, giving rise to the logic of the readymade. The legs of the twentieth century are already readymades.

* Parland again:

I thought:
it was a human being,
but it was her clothes,
and I didn't know
that that's the same thing
and that clothes can be very beautiful.

* Like Van Hoddis confession (see post below), Parland's poetry (and some of Clover's Totality book for that matter) feature speakers who are "horny and yawning" - as if constantly in that distracted, charged up state of early cinema:

The Big Morningafter:
when stars burp
and all the archangels drink mineral water
we will gather at the cafe'
to the melodies of women's legs.

* An interesting thing about the kind of "deep reading" is that it seems more capable of dealing with too much than not enough. Keats or Donne (who were both considered in past times clumsy and overdone) can be made right, but not Parland who doesn't give enough.


Blogger K. Silem Mohammad said...

But but but Johannes, don't you see that you're disproving your own claim? Your commentaries on Parland are patently ways of demonstrating a "deeper" level to the seemingly "shallow" surface of his poems. You're showing that his supposed "not enough" is in actuality plenty. You are being a close reader. Yes, you.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Max said...

The other thing I would mention is that a "close" or "deep" reading of a text need not imply that the text is being "made right." Johannes, you seem to be troubled by the idea that "close" or "deep" reading perhaps isn't well-suited to all types of writing (whether this is the case or not is another question altogether ... I don't have a conviction either way), as though this somehow inherently is a comment on the "impenetrable" or "resistant" text as lesser art, or not worthy, or something to that effect. I don't think that this is an implicit part of a generalized "close" or "deep" reading method. For some practitioners, yes, of course they would make such a comment about a poem, for example, that resists their chosen method of interpretation. But I don't think that it's an inherent quality of the practice itself.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Also, I live in Korea now, so most of my posts will probably happen late at night or early in the morning US time.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I contain multitudes.

6:36 PM  

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