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Anxious gatekeeping

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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Después de la muerte del autor

I propose that we read Lorca after the "death of the author," in the wake of the "postmodern crisis of the subject." You can take this either as a thought-experiment or as a proposal that we seriously read Lorca like this, from now on. It's almost better to see this as a thought-experiment, first. Only if it works then we can start seeing him like this seriously, not as a clever boutâde.

Objection 1: This reading is anachronistic, since this is a postmodern reading of a modernist author. Here I have to call in the heavy guns, all the modernists who call into question the unitary subject, like Borges and Pessoa. This will be very fun and amusing. I will show how all (most) modernist criticism is wrong.

Objection 2: Lorca criticism is heavily based on biographical constructions. So what? When it is biographical it is either trivial, or not based on good biography. Luckily for me another critic more than twenty years ago destroyed Gibson for all of us (Luis Fernández Cifuentes).

Advantages: the best criticism takes something somewhat obvious and runs with it. What should be obvious but is not until you point it out. It isn't based on cleverness, or stretching out in a pseudo-creative way. Creativity is seeing what's there in front of you, not in abstruse over-complication. My proposal works in this way. Why not treat Lorca as modernist poet, tout court? (This book needs to be in French!) Stated like this, the objections fade away.

The proof will be in the success of the ideas, their productivity in explaining Lorca.

(One danger is in eclipsing the book I have just finished writing. No matter. I think that book makes its own contribution.)

I have a whole list of writers who are my points of comparison. Carlos Piera wrote of the problematics of the subject and used a poem by Laura Riding. Another trick of the trade is to use other, smarter people to make your points for you. The idea that the lyric subject is never simple, even when it is found in its simplest form, as in anonymous poetry, is one I owe to Piera, who also points out that the postmodern death of the subject is already present in modernism. (Curiously, I misplaced this book for a few months and finally found it right on my shelf where it should have been all along. I couldn't even remember why I needed this book so badly.) My list, in any case, goes from Whitman and Borges to Celan & Beckett.

Eliotic ideas about impersonality & the dramatic in lyric poetry will be key. It is interesting how Lorca is never permitted to be the author of dramatic monologues, even though he is one of the century's greatest dramatists. We always assume Lorca is talking about himself, but what if he isn't, even when he seems to be.

We can locate this new way of thinking about subjectivity quite precisely, say, in Beckett writing about Proust. There doesn't need to be any vagueness here. Anyone who thinks postmodernism (poststructuralism) leads to a fuzzier way of thinking will have to contend with me. Isn't it precisely the opposite, to see things in their proper degree of complexity, no more, no less? Even the idea of the indeterminacy of meaning is simply the precise upshot of a factual situation: we don't, in fact, agree about what texts mean. There doesn't seem to be any way out of this situation other than admitting that we don't agree. The texts about which we don't agree are significant ones (in both sense of the word). They are culturally central, canonical, and they signify. Of course, we could not study the humanities at all, or we could study the humanities in a way that does justice to the complexity of the hermeneutical complications that arise.

***


There is a vulgar culture of "gotcha" politics afoot. The idea is to score points against someone for being racist or sexist, or of contravening some other taboo or not toeing the line. Somebody says something outrageous and we react to that, or are supposed to. Even when I, too, am among the outraged I think this is not the most productive politics. It usually follows the logic of scape-goating, in which one individual (usually not even the worst offender) stands in for a much larger problem.

***

But back to thinking about Lorca. Shouldn't our goal be to think? That is, the quality of our thought should be the measure. Once again, the problem is a very simple one of being up to the task, of performing the basics of literary criticism in a competent way. It sounds like it should be easy but it ends up not being so easy, for most people.




3 comments:

profacero said...

People are convinced TS Eliot is a certain thing and all modernists are TS Eliot, it would seem. I have long been convinced that the interesting postmodernism is actually the avant-garde. I think that old Calinescu book, Five Faces, supports this or can be used to do so. I am not sure Eliot's actual work on the subject in his poetry is as conservative as his views are. (I have to really get back to thinking about this.)

profacero said...

On outrage: yes.

Jonathan said...

It's kind of boring at this point to see Eliot as conservative or even the opposite of that. Just let him be what he is .