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Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

More APD

My disagreement with APD was both profound and trivial. I disagreed with him about major issues and minor details, about Spanish poetry and poetry itself, and about how to write about it, what constituted good scholarship. (The two of us agreed with each other that I was very smart, but that was about all.) My motives in disagreeing with him were both principled and grounded in some petty resentment.

I think he was a little resentful about smart people in the field who were not within his circle, like Silver and Soufas. These people were smarter than he was and he knew it. He had a sizable ego, and wanted things to revolve around himself, to some extent. He had disciples, something that I would never want to have even if I could.

His writing is utterly banal, and many of his assertions are absolutely contentless in that they could apply to any and all poetry. His style was clear but not elegant. To the extent that he puts forward an assertion with any arguable content, his view is usually mistaken. He thought that modernist poetics was about putting forward assertions that could be paraphrased. In a translation of a famous line by Mallarmé: "To name the object" he adds another word that destroys Mallarmé's point: "Merely to name the object..." That makes no sense at all. If naming the object suppresses three quarters of the pleasure, how does it make sense to say "merely" to name it? With this conception of modernism, he had no understanding of postmodernism, because he saw everything there as new even when it was a continuation of the most basic modernist principles.

He came up with the New Critics, yet somehow missed the lesson on the heresy of paraphrase. He interpreted the great Spanish poets in terms of Anglo-American New Criticism, making them dull and reinforcing the most conservative part of their legacy: the stylistics of Dámaso Alonso. He tried to take Perloff's idea of "indeterminacy" but didn't quite get it.

He thought just using theory was sufficient. It didn't matter whether you used it well or not, or understood it. His students would cite the same damned essay by Hillis Miller in every article they published. He thought it was better to be interesting than to be right, but he was "interesting" in a very dull way.

He is given credit with creating the field as we know it. It is true that the other leading critics of his generation didn't have his impact. He had a bigger personality, more students, was a nicer guy. But then I find the field itself doesn't have that much prestige. Some people I know who specialize in narrative only read my work and ignore that of anyone else. I get told I'm not like those other specialists in poetry. Thankfully there are others coming along who are not influenced any more by APD.

Nobody has every told me I am wrong about him, only that I shouldn't say it. Perhaps I still shouldn't.


profacero said...

Well, this is where my cognitive dissonance comes in. One was supposed to admire the work of this person but I would stare at it and stare, and see nothing in it. I thought there was something I was missing, and that I must be less bright than the others because I found work like this thin.

Jonathan said...

Are you talking of the same person I am, then? Or of a case in your own experience that was similar?

profacero said...

The same person as you.

My own experience is with a family member who is mega hurt if disagreed with. I chose wrecking my career over disagreeing in print, basically ... had lots of reasons not to finish my Vallejo book but a big one was to avoid the discussion of why I wasn't going to give credence to the Larrea theories.

Jonathan said...

That "emperor's new clothes" cognitive dissonance hit me hard. When I first found his books in the library as I was preparing my dissertation I realized he was a big guy in the field, but it was obvious to me that it wasn't good at all. Even as a Graduate Student beginning a dissertation. Then when I met him and he was so nice to me, I said, ok, fine. I will be his friend and I don't have to agree that he is great. But then reading review after review praising this book I thought I was insane. How could so many people think this is great when it is so obviously not? But then applying to replace him at KU sounded so natural a thing. If he is a distinguished professor here then it shouldn't be hard for me. But then it turned out being smarter and publishing better work in huge quantities was not enough. He was successful because he was mediocre.

profacero said...

"He was successful because he was mediocre."

This is one of the harder issues in the whole system to figure out. And then there are successful people who aren't mediocre, so I thinks it must be allowed not to be! But there are costs sometimes.

Thomas said...

I know you have issues with his work, but I really recommend you look at Steve Fuller's Thomas S. Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times. It hammers Kuhn for precisely the sort of thing you are talking about here in the case of APD--including the ritualized invocation of the great figure and its importance for the formation of the field. As I've said before, his argument in many ways even resembles your AL argument, though with a less favorable overall judgment of its subject.

I think it's great that you're talking about these things because they are very, very important in the formation of a scholarly identity, indeed, a whole scholarly culture.

profacero said...

Yes, "great" because introduced certain poets and so on. But: could you publish in Gredos and so on in those days and not be boring?

In French and English one could be spiffy and be admired or at least not voted off the island, but to work on Spain you had to be stodgy and pedantic even about interesting authors, or so it seemed to me back then.

Jonathan said...

What about Gullón's Una poética para Antonio Machado Gredos, 1970. That's still a pretty hip book even today.

But that's part of the point. People responsible for making my field boring are not to be forgiven. Someone told me at Wisconsin they studied poetry with Biruté and had to read APD's book, and then decided they hated contemporary Spanish poetry.

profacero said...

...not to be forgiven, yes, although they also took a lot of hits for being in said field at all, from what I can gather, as opposed to English, French, or German when not Classics.

It is all very hard to tell. Soufas has a point, too, when he talks about influence of Fascism on 20th century literary studies.