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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Return to Analysis

I read a review that Marjorie Perloff did of a recent study of Empson, and then I got to thinking that poetic analysis is not so bad after all.  All that great richness of verbal wit, paradox and ambiguity: that is all really great stuff, perhaps.

Really being able to read analytically makes you a kind of master of all kinds of intelligence and critical  thinking. The problem with analysis is that it is done badly, by pointing out the obvious or by trying to make points that are clever but actually incorrect. Instead of close reading, I would suggest deep reading, based on a deeper engagement.

I was in class and telling my students to tell me what the word despojo meant. They would give me the English translation. Then I had to say, when I ask you what a word means, I want you to explain it in Spanish, not give me another word in another language. Secondly, don't give me an equivalent, but explain what it is doing in the text.  Thirdly, look at all the dictionary definitions, not just the first that you find:  

1. m. Acción y efecto de despojar o despojarse.
2. m. Presa o botín del vencedor.
3. m. Vientreasaduracabeza y manos de las reses muertasU. m. en pl. con el mismo significado que en sing.
4. m. Alonesmollejapataspescuezo y cabeza de las aves muertasU. m. en pl. con el mismo significado que en sing.
5. m. Aquello que se ha perdido por el tiempopor la muerte u otros accidentesLa vida es despojo de la muerte. La hermosura es despojo del tiempo.
6. m. Col. Extracción de los minerales de una vena o filón.
7. m. desus. espolio1.
8. m. pl. Sobras o residuosDespojos de la mesade la comida.
9. m. pl. Minerales demasiado pobres para ser molidosque se venden a los lavaderos o propietarios de polveroslos cuales aprovechan el poco metal quecontienen.
10. m. pl. Materiales que se pueden aprovechar de un edificio que se derriba.
11. m. pl. restos mortales.

In the case of the poem we were reading, 2 is the primary meaning, but 5 is also relevant, perhaps 8 and even 7 or 10.  So if you were thinking the spoils of war (despojos), you might also realize that the word spoil is there (something rotten).  If you have the word courtesy, you would be thinking of its origins in the behavior or courtiers.  Even if you throw away some of the definitions as irrelevant, you have to make that decision.

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