Featured Post

part of the preface

When students only have read a few poems, in exclusively academic contexts, they often approach poetry with what the li...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Context

I read an article in Spanish by a poet / philosopher that spoke at length about anything seen in a museum being "decontextualized."  While true, and convincingly stated and argued, this seemed a tiresome argument because it made me realize that all reading (other than of texts produced yesterday in one's own culture) is decontextualized. That is simply the condition of reading, and the condition that makes literature possible in the first place.

We can pretend to privilege the original context, but it is our own context that really matters.

6 comments:

Thomas said...

I will always insist that a work of art must extricate itself from its context, its history. Contextualizing a work of art is actually a way of undoing its accomplishment. It is legitimate as an attempt to explain its success or even reverse engineer its genius. As Harold Bloom puts it, its sad, or, if you will, tiresome, when it merely expresses resentment.

Phaedrus said...

An illuminating back-and-forth, guys.

Leslie said...

I have adult colleagues expressing horror at museum collections as colonialist. I find myself reacting poorly: yes the mummies were stolen, the artifacts. But unless you are involved in a serious effort to repatriate, conserve, etc., you do not get to demonstrate moral superiority and corrección política by freaking out, at this late date in your life, at those still unravished brides of quietness (so to speak) that are here and that I am sometimes fortunate enough to comtemplate.

Leslie said...

*contemplate

Thomas said...

I used to think of museums as "art prisons". "These paintings," I would grumble, "should be in people's homes, improving the lived aesthetic of the people!" But then you realize that a pretty good reproduction is usually available of almost any painting. Original work by less expensive artists is also available. Now I recognize that a museum is a collection of very rare objects that need careful preservation.

The Buddhas of Bamiyan are a good example of why it's not always a straightforward matter to leave rare cultural achievements in the care of their local "contexts". Sometimes a historical process (like colonialism) steals art and puts it in a museum; sometimes a historical process (like fundamentalism) destroys art as sacrilege.

There are works of literature that would probably not exist today if they had not been smuggled out of their original, censorious context and preserved.

Leslie said...

Yes.