Friday, July 28, 2006

Mad enough to think

I love people who make me mad enough to think through an issue for myself. That seems to me the function of the essayist -- to kick-start your own processes of meditation. Gabriel Gudding's essay on the evolution of contemporary poetry is a splendid example of the kind of writing that gets you mad enough to engage (or at least it did me). Mad as in a rage of interest and self-debate. As in "what is he talking about -- does he know what he's talking about? -- wow! what he's talking about" kind of thought-train. I'm still steaming along on it.

Your thoughts?


  1. hmm -- I started my early-morning day reading Ron Silliman's take on this essay; now I find myself near midnight commenting on your remarks on same. I went to the essay itself and have, so far, read through four of its six sections without finding anything to fume about (Ron found one thing that bugged him, and I infer you found some others). The detailed scholarship, and the interestingly historicizing approach evident in the writing, -- and, too, the rich particularity of the little intellectual history the writer sketches, -- all this seems perfectly amiable and (for one who, these days, rarely reads much academic writing -- and more rarely still, any so sharp and lucid) rather refreshing.

    Perhaps the fumatory points hide in sections five or six. Time will tell.


  2. Rachel,

    I've had occasion to chitchat about the Gudding essay with a writer-confrere (Ian Keenan, via his blog-comment box); my latest (and most verbose) dive into thinking this through a bit, might perhaps interest you (I've a notion you may concur in some elements of the thought); so if I may presume to quote myself (or cross-post from box to box), here's the basic gist that came to mind, when pondering.



    There are at least 3 levels of thing arguably involved in the topic of his essay (I opine -- though alas I've still not yet gotten back and read the final sections):
    1) such principles as writers thought / think they operate based on (viz., (i) I'm a vessel of the communal / cosmic; (ii) I'm my own individual self finding out who I am);
    2) what principles may be demonstrably present in their actual work itself (not merely the theorizing of a few interesting folks who may or may not be representative, and anyway are surely not the only shows in 19th & 20th century towns);
    3) what principles may be said to "actually exist" regardless of what writers either think or say (or even demonstrate themselves to think) they're doing --

    i.e., the essayist hardly approaches these ideas as if they had much relationship to "reality"; they seem to be arbitrary postures of writers -- and then he wrangles out an intellectual history showing a slide from Position A to Position B.

    In my view, the possible basic fallacy of the argument resides here: Position A and Postion B are in fact not mutually exclusive. Arguably, the more a writer gets in touch with himself, the more he gets in touch with the cosmos -- and possibly (in many cases it can be so), the more, too, he gets in touch with the community or communities with which he/she is connected.

    If this is so (or if it can potentially be so, and if it may be discovered as so and operate as so for writers in question), then the dichotomy is merely a slight shifting of emphasis in a few folks' thinking -- on a basic continuum wherein in fact the deepening of either end of the spectrum (self-knowledge / expression and other-knowledge / expression) actually (in end, or in effect) involves and requires a deepening of the other end as well.

    All of that can be clearly found in Whitman (and in most mystic poets worth their salt), I'd hazard.