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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What comes first, pleasure or understanding (a ramble)

Charles Rosen say understanding comes first. So if you can understand a piece of music, then you can like it. I think that's right.  

I listened to a lecture by Kenneth Koch from Naropa; got there from the Allen Ginsberg project where I was looking at Ginsberg and his views of Blake, Bob Dylan, and Aristide Bruant. Koch says if your students don't understand a poem, then ask them what they like. From the pleasure they derive from it they can arrive at more understanding. I think that is also right.  

[Koch also says that writers don't read as much as scholars because when they start reading, they get inspired and start writing their own poems. That happened to me today reading the brilliant poet Eileen Myles.]

I think you can understand through dislike too, if you don't cling to your dislike too much. If you have too much invested in disliking something, then that will interfere with what you can learn from that dislike. Or, conversely, if you have so much invested in liking a poet's work that you will a visceral reaction to someone else not liking it, then you won't be able to learn from their dislike. 

I'm struggling because I dislike something about Morente, who is one of the main flamenco interpreters of Lorca. If I could put my finger on the source of my irritation, then I could have insight into what he is doing. 

Understanding music is feeling that the way it proceeds is "logical" or makes "sense." I am not that interested in interpretation as telling somebody, in other words, what the words of the poem mean. I mean, I learned how to do it, of course, because I am a professional academic literary critic, but I am not that interested in interpretation. I do interpret when I read, but I am uninterested in defending my exact account of it, or in telling someone else they are wrong. That probably explains my impatience with a lot of Lorca criticism that is trying to decode his work.  Let it alone!  

A lot of interpretations do go wrong, though, in the sense that the cleverer the interpretation, the more likely it is to be wrong. Even if we see interpretation as decoding a secret message the poet encoded there (a view that Koch and I both agree is wrong), then it is unlikely that the real meaning is only revealed to one person, the super-clever literary critic living 200-years later. 

Koch also says that he has his students write bad poems, that end up being good ones. Just like mine. 

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