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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

An ethics of prose

The particular ways that writing fails entail ethical issues. If the entire impulse is unethical, then the writing will be bad, as a way of trying to cover up that lack of integrity.  For example, an official apology that isn't really apologetic, but simply is covering the rhetorical bases.  An over-wrought obfuscatory style designed to make the writer into a paragon of virtue.  

The same is true of cultural appropriation.  Here is a poem purporting to be a translation of St. John of the Cross.  It is not. It is the crappy appropriation of the name by Daniel Landinsky, and American infamous for channeling poetry by Hafiz and publishing it as though it were by Hafiz.  In the kindle edition I have, the lines are centered on the page in a way typical of schlocky poetry.   


 I did not
have to ask my heart what it wanted,
because of all the desires I have ever known just one did I cling to
for it was the essence of
all desire: to hold beauty in
my soul’s

Various. Love Poems from God (Compass) (pp. 313-314). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Apparently, Hafiz writes in the exact same style as the Catholic saint:


did the rose 
ever open its heart 
and give to this world all of its beauty? 
It felt the encouragement of light against its being,

Various. Love Poems from God (Compass) (p. 161). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 


One regret that I am determined not to have
when I am lying upon my
death bed is that we did not kiss

Various. Love Poems from God (Compass) (p. 172). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I kid you not.  I think we have an ethical obligation to hate this, and the aesthetic failing is what might tip us off to the ethical failure, the fact that he is attributing his own lousy poems to famous mystics of the past.  

I could accuse the Barcelona blues bands of not having "the right to sing the blues," because they have paid their dues, so to speak.  Or, in musical terms, I could just find the music not flavorful enough, lacking in musical substance.  

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