Tuesday, October 05, 2004

On my critique of workshops:

I hope my concerns about workshops and writers are clear. Josh and Laura seem to gather my point; my classmates may not.

May this serve to concretize the entry without reference to RC:

We should be able to answer the question, "What purpose does this piece of writing serve?" when addressing our own work in any setting. First, I feel that if I were to ask such a question, most authors would feel insulted. And I believe this reaction is a bad sign: that many young authors are more engaged with fashion--form as window dressing--than they are engaged with the social consequences as a result of writing's activity.

Second, the meaning of the text itself as a poem or story, etc., and the intent of its structures are only usefully discussed after the question of purpose is explored. Otherwise, a critique is simply con-textual babble. If I start with the second, I can simply say whatever I want about a text and the author can do with my saying whatever she wants. Nothing vital in such work; nothing useful.

Therefore, I am dismayed each time I listen to a writer talk about his or her writing who cannot talk about what has been written except by addressing a conceptual structure. B/C? Well, such structures are ephemeral and haunt a text in a way that purposefully perplexes a common reading. If reading has an objective, I believe it involves building community. If writing presents readers with readerly moments, then author's are engaged in creating moments from which readers with writers share the vital interpretation of life out of which community is formed. In other words, writers don't do things for us, they do things with us.

Therefore, and finally for now, I feel that any other writing, though it may be engaging for the author, is not useful, necessary, and worth the effort because it merely addresses the author's desire to see himself as he expects. [Of course, writing without a purpose is purposeful. If such a task is possible, we could discuss the purposelessness of that purposeless text.]

I'll get to form tonight; but concentration on form is not a thinking about the matter but a thinking about the language of the matter. Hence, two steps removed from its object. We must keep this in mind; and this is why our discussion is so important and engaging (for its participants, and for Wittgenstein...) If Heidegger is correct that "thinking recedes from its matter," then we must approach thinking about writing itself, not merely approach the writing itself.

There is so much concern for the performance in politics that seeps into the cracks of writerly craft. How can I address an audience in a way that will best sell my point? This is obviously a typical question that many authors actively attempt to answer. But then there is writing that is simply a response to the representation of culture as a series of formal objects. We are tempted to populate our texts with representations instead of moments. I argue this is wrong-minded; I think we write to cultivate X, Y, or Z, not simply to point IT out.

As Hamlet discovered, knowing is not about watching and retelling what was seen but watching the watching and describing the state of things. What is it you see in there? that is the question.


Laura Carter said...

Wouldn't Creeley be fun to have in class? ;)


I'm getting ready to address, after the 2nd debate this week!, the issue of aesthetics/poetics & "rapport" (something I'm noticing shifts as "poetics" shift) & wondering what Wittgenstein would think about the whole thing. I mean, ethics & aesthetics, right? Not so far apart? Why do I find myself frustrated with perfectly wonderful people who happen to be poets? Who happen to be my friends in what I hold the truest sense of the word.... I don't get upset by my wonderful grandma thinking poetry ended with Poe....

Lots of good thoughts have come up here. Thanks for breathing with them.

Sincerely. L.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks for hosting this discussion, Gary. I think you're dead on about the emphasis on "moments" rather than "representations", though I think much of the art lies in arranging such representations as impose themselves on experience willy-nilly in such a way as to produce moments.

You bring Hamlet in, which is very arch. I wonder if you don't risk stepping too far back from the active moment in Hamlet, however. From watching and telling, to watching the watching and describing. . .a bit like the step back from approaching the writing, to approaching the thinking about the writing. There is an appealling passivity in Heidegger (a call to openness, we might more charitably, say), which, I think, must be resisted.

In the case of Hamlet: "Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take up arms against a sea of troubles." And there are two very different readings, or articulations, or simply punctuations of that difference. The choice may be between "suffering the slings and arrows etc." and "taking up arms" (to end the troubles), the question being "What's nobler in the mind?". That's the standard reading. Or the question is simply, "What's nobler?" And the choices now are "to suffer in the mind" or "to take up arms" and to bring trouble to its end (the moment to its crisis.) That's the reading I prefer.