Thursday, October 25, 2012

Not a slob

Writer Seth Stevenson pleads his case that he is not a slob even though he chooses to wear his clothes in their "natural state", wrinkled. I look at my chewed nails and mismatched socks and think that the author's tone is a bit fevered, that is to say desperate for an idea against an encroaching deadline, that makes this incidental rant sound strained in it's musings, but it does me a bit of good, something like a brief pyschic swim in the stream of conscious . It's the next best thing to being alseep, and certainly better than being knocked out. I imagine, in the sweetly cushioned luxury of italicized print:

 I am not and have never been a shambling , unpressed mess; I have, in fact, been merely ahead of my time, a setter of a trend that took decades to take root and is only now emerging from the far margins of the culture and now entering the culture. Puckered pant legs, unevenly buttoned shirts, half tucked, and open fly, a tie that has the skinny end longer than the fat end. My visage is the cover or every cover of GQ yet to be published.

Goofy daydream is over, of course. I remain a mess at times, hurried and unmindful of both appearance and tone of voice, although I have made significant progress in being well put together than not, more often. It is about progress. And clothes do look better pressed, crisp and clearly indicating a preference to among other human beings than in a man cave, in my underwear, twitching on internet commentary streams. The civilization we are longer sure is civilized is full of threats , vulgarities and gross stupidity that result in wars and soul-killing greed; we are nervous when we meet someone who hasn't tucked in their shirt no combed their hair. Being unshaven is grounds enough for a few of us to apply for a gun permit. Look sharp, though, assures us that the person confronting us is staying within the accepted limits of mutual consent. 

More likely, we suspect, the said well groomed person is merely remaining within of what their smooth shirts and sharply creased pants allow; sudden movement and postures of violence ruin the stagecraft of how one assembles themselves before hitting the streets from their  abode. Whatever the case, we prefer order and peace and quiet, both on the streets and on our back. But Stevenson's view on the matter did provide the premise for a brief, lovely daydream.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Criticism is an art, but it is not Art

Criticism, really, is never as hard to write as poetry, fiction or drama for the simple reason that the heavy lifting has been done for the critics by the creative authors under scrutiny. I concede that good criticism, interesting criticism, intriguing rants can entail a good amount of head scratching, research and critical thinking, but critics and other varieties of opinion-givers are building on what is already in place,the creative work. And what was there to begin with, though influenced, of course, by tradition, formalized training, influences of previous generations of bards, novelists and playwrights, are nonetheless created from scratch by the individual writer; in any sense it is more difficult to put together an imaginative work  of writing from nearly nothing at all .

 Criticism, even if artful, thoughtful, full of intriguing digressions, asides , sidebars and made magnificent by brilliant conclusions, is ,at base level, remarks, brief or extended, on the creative work that  was in the public sphere prior to the commentary.

 Criticism is not equal  to the art itself--unlike Art (taken as a general concern), criticism cannot exist by itself,in itself, for its own sake.  I do think criticism can be artful,memorable, important, can actually be an expressive medium on its own terms, but it remains secondary to the actual work. Like the artists,though, I would give the critic the right to respond to a work of art, something that has been created and entered into the marketplace , in nearly any manner he or she chooses and would encourage the critic to be as subjective as they can be.

Criticism is not an "objective" form, and insisting that it is  only perpetuates a mythology. The critic , the most interesting critic, I think, is someone who comes to a field knowing something about the form, has a good working knowledge of the broader field surrounding the issue-- aesthetics, theory, history of form and what  then current ideas might have helped shaped ideas of what constitutes art--and is able to present their preferences and  biases and contradictions and exceptions in a manner that is conversational, intense, thoroughly in love in with ideas as to how poems could/should/can effectively express experience and convey perception.

The only thing the critic needs to do is to present his or her case , yay or nay, in the best, clearest voice they can muster, with no sacrifice in personality. Personality , in the hands of a good writer, is style and style is the majority reason why I read  certain writers, whether poets or essayists, and pass up  others.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Your tv stole your library card

There are increasing  legions of pundits who are marketing the idea that television makes us smarter. The fact that this is presented as a topic for serious discussion straight faced, with not a trace of irony, is more likely evidence that TV has succeeded in making us measurably dumber. Not stupider, mind you, just dumber, which is tendency to accept mediocrity across the board in the kind of false-consciousness that embraces the equality of all cultural matters and mediums .God has a cruel wit if what we have are  real people with fake lives watching TV shows full of fake people acting out real ones. Social anxiety disorder is a real condition, though we dispensed with the trend of making every discomfort a disease and just referred to sufferers as either existentially perplexed, or more simply, "neurotic". 
Any good post-war coffee cooler philosophe knows the cure to the constant fretting and despair: GET A LIFE, or at least create one. In the current age, we  can start with turning off the TV and getting a library card, for nothing makes you smarter as well has reading books , one page at a time, at pace where you're allowed, or rather compelled to develop sound thinking.

TV has replaced the ability to abstract with the mere capacity to summarize, which is the difference between synthesizing information and formulating a solution to a problem under inspection, and the other merely a form of inventory taking, hardly more than putting everything in specimen jars, labeling them, and categorizing them in a method that renders the information inert, useless, and mere clutter. We're coming to approach ideas like statistic laden sports fans who have amassed data very quickly but have nothing they can do with it. TV, as fine and brilliant as some of the drama has become, does not provide for a structure through which critical thinking is possible, as would the reading of books. With the latter cannot argue with the screen, cannot add to a conversation under way. It remains entertainment best assessed with other disciplines hopefully read from books that were thoroughly interrogated by personalities that are aware that images are fleeting and forgotten, but words are forever and therefore powerful.

It's misleading to argue that TV overall is better and more brilliant than it was in the past and that as a consequence viewers have become smarter as they interact with the subtler and more complex programming. To my mind, the ratio of quality programming to the rot is about the same, ten percent to eighty percent (in descending order); those shows that one isn't embarrassed to admit to watching,but the promise of cable television never materialized as you might have hoped. With some exceptions, we have five hundred channels with nothing to watch, to paraphrase Springsteen, and what we have, really, are millions of viewers who are knowledgeable about scores of things of little consequence at all.

Being able to link the difficulties with the current Michael Jackson trial with the daily debacle of the O.J. Simpson murder case in the minutest detail is not the same as garnering information that would help you devise better ways to educate, employ and protect a community. Television only makes you smarter about television, and I chance it to say that what people remember about Hardball are Chris Matthew's volume and how well or badly his haircut might have been, and not the details of his questions to his political guests.

The situation hasn't made us any smarter in ways that make interaction more successful; most of the discussion that one places so much stress on occurs in the murk of the internet, alone, in private,  where one is freed of really learning anything about from the edification and enchantment of face to face conversation. The phenomenon to the consumption of pornography, which is definitely not a group activity.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Accidents will happen

Peter Campion is a poet who's written some things that have given me the proverbial pause to refresh myself--that is , strum my chin, emit an elongated hmmmmmmmmmmm, transport myself to some melancholia place of the mind to align his imagery with the patchy glimpses of a huddled past that constitutes my memory of things. Sometimes it works rather well, his sudden associative leaps from one situation to another one wholly other than what he started with. It doesn't work here, not at all, in this gasping, breathlessly articulate poem. A poet, like anyone else, needs to find a coping mechanism in order to sort through the drama of a near tragedy--the goal being that the recent trauma be accepted as something that has happened, past tense, and that one can go forward with their designs and desires knowing more , philosophically, morally, psychologically, about why the daily grind is less the grind and more a privilege.

Campion has perhaps performed that to his satisfaction with this poem and , I imagine, a sequence of poems contemplating the harsh facts of the fragility of his life and that of his family, and to that end I hope he has recovered a sense of balance in his negotiations of the everyday and the journey into future uncertainty. I wish, though , he had written a better poem--I find "El Dorado" to be dreadful and pretentious. It's one thing to begin this piece with a description of the aftermath of an accident, a description that is too finessed, the images primed for a movie opening, an artfully arranged post-accident beautifully filmed on an empty Iowa highway. It's difficult to leave the creative writing lessons where they belong, in the shoe box in the garage along with all those other blue booked samples from a younger enthusiasm for over participative verbs and adjectives. Campion does not put is the shock, place us in the psychology of a world shattered suddenly and only coming together in shards, hard bits and pieces. The hardest thing , at times, is for the poet to leave the sound of his voice back at the kitchen coffee, next to the Ipad and the coffee maker. This is not about the situation , the accident, it is about, instead, Campion's comma-driven articulation of the list he made of things he noticed while having a near fatal experience. This suggests that this a poet who imagines cultivating miserable experiences so he would have something to write about. Please note that that I don't think Peter Campion looks for trouble in order to secure subject matter; rather, it's that his particular style of articulation just bleeds this poem of any real power.

As does his penchant for random and willful dashes of book learning. The middle sequence of" El Dorado", is an unconvincing parallel development, but I would ask this quite beyond this senseless and zany insertion of native custom in a poem otherwise situated at the side of Midwestern highway is why the poet felt compelled to dust off his lecture notes and to squint at his marginalia? It is a rather nice trick Eliot and Pound could pull off , make this leaps and strange alignments of reference points and images and so achieve an expanded mood ; for all the talking these poets did in the course of their formal publication, they were writing from within their dread, their terror, and through the instincts of good editing and good ears (over all) could make much of they juxtaposed against resonate vividly, richly. Campion's effort is feeble, unexpected, gratuitous. It is one of those things writers do that do not work but which leave readers plenty of waddle room to debate the effect of the poet's cultural imperialism. What does that , though, is reveal more about the readers than it explains what the poet was thinking or what he actually accomplished.