Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chris Banks Switches From Attack to "Content"

I missed this Banksian doodle from last week, but it's no less enertaining than his previous entries.


He links to one of my earlier posts, wherein I chide the author of yellow bitchiness (is it a snark if it's a rearrangement of her preferred persona? After all, she revels in the oh-so-clever throw-it-back-in-yer-face "ironical" self-promotion of her own negativity) for her utter lack of substance in her post on her equally vapid (oops, except for one drive-by snark) contribution in the bookninja post on Packer-Danner, as well as chiding Trailing Clouds Of Glory Banks defending the poets-huddled-in-comment-stream-hovels. This is all so mature, isn't it, "high seriousness" Banks? Please continue; I notice, with increasing pleasure, the gathering tribal solidarity forming, as well. Can you always be accused of aesthetic tribalism, especially now that the writing seminar doors have been closed for the day? (I won't tell Hoaglund, I promise.)

No response at all to that post except for the linked highlight "personal prejudice".

That's it. A two-word response instead of a rebuttal.

Following that, though, as I say in the header, we have a surprising switcheroo! Banks has finally realized that embarrassing ad hominems only work in the schoolyard, and has now re-entered the "debate" with an astounding array of substantive material! Oh, wait .... he's using some other fellow's intellectual dick -- er, actually, Arnold through Burroughs, so I guess it's thrice-removed -- to make his "case". The content?

"Matthew Arnold set up three criteria for criticism: 1. What is the writer trying to do? 2. How well does he succeed in doing it? (...) 3. Does the work exhibit "high seriousness"? That is, does it touch on basic issues of good and evil, life and death and the human condition."(Banks, or rather, Arnold, as channel-wikipediaed through Banks)

That's it.

Thank you so much. I'd never seen this reviewer's creed before!

Just a subtle hint: I'm not a freshman creative writing seminar student, hanging on your every word so's to make the hoped-for tribal connection a year before my premature poemlets arrive on your writing desk for dissemination. Do you really want to talk about Arnold, and his incredibly complex and contradictory contributions to the literature of reviewing? Is Arnold your boy? Because you set down these three criteria as if ..... oh, I don't know, they were (to use Paul Vermeersch's word) fundamental or something. I'm just trying to follow the bouncing ball, but all I get is eye strain.

As to the Arnoldian precepts you trumpet, I've already dealt with the first two. Please pay attention. If you wish to discuss what I've already said, it helps the "debate" to become a true, give-and-take engagement with one another's material, and from becoming redundant. I'm sure you'd agree, entertainment and clarity and compression beat rounding the roller-derby floor for the hundredth time. (And what does Lemon Hound have to say about the blatant sexism contained in rule #2?!)

Reviewing, reading, writing poetry, life observation are all more simple and more complex than you and Paul Vermeersch seem to have it. And more elegant. (Don't you find it interesting, if not amusing, to read so many of Arnold's denunciatory calls on abstraction, while much of his own prose rolls on like a document missing six senses?). A person, in any of the above four roles, is simultaneously subjective and objective. Neither is ever eliminated, and never can be.

I remember a second-year English course I took on the Romantic poets. The prof handed out two poems, one by Shelley and one by Byron. The former was a demonstration of a subjective mood, the latter of objective assessment. We were given a fair amount of time to read them (all this is in-class, remember). He then asked for a show of hands on how many preferred Shelley's entry. Myself and two or three others put up our hands. Byron got the remaining 20 + votes. The prof then noted that this wasn't a surprise; Shelley's subjective slant was out of style. (Shelley's reputation has vacillated wildly these 200 years.) And if we're informed at all about literary history, we'll see that the objective/subjective see-saw has swung up-and down continually. Wyatt to Sidney to Greville to Milton to the Romantics to the Victorians to the Moderns to the Postmoderns and to the Kitchen Sink. Of course, there are many anomalies, many movements I've purposely missed, many ambivalences, many syntheses. As Chris Banks would appreciate, a Zen Master was asked for the basis on which he gave advice when in satsang: "when a pupil is too extreme one way, I say 'go left, go left!'; when (s)he is too extreme the other way, I say 'go right, go right!' ". Again, elegant (in theory, at least), while being both simple and difficult.

I'd just add that Shelley and Byron, of course, were good friends. And that I love the poetry of both. Most good poets are objective and subjective, available for alternate approaches or closed to certain ones, or to all other takes, and, thusly so, either simultaneously (with multiple meanings in ordered or singled-out diction in the same poem, e.g.) or in different poems. Ah, fundamentalism. And the Arnoldian wrenching of meaning onto a higher plane, making a prosaic two levels instead of the reversed and altered Blakean three-pronged higher third.

Rule #3? Well, Arnold struck Chaucer off the list because of this "failing". Of course, he was wrong in both assessment (so much for "understanding the author's intention") and snobbish belief. Again, a fundamental failure of imagination, a failure to balance opposites in joyous contradistinction.

Damn it, just what is that poet thinking about on line 32? Or to correctly credit Arnold in one of his astute critical notes, paraphrasing: as the complexities build, so too does (or can) the overestimation.

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