2.05.2004

Rock on, Bob!

It’s not just the comments that are out of whack but a blog I was sitting/sleeping on--to find the right format for--magically appeared even though I never sent it in.

Delany is difficult. As are John Clute and J.G. Ballard and Donald Barthelme and Samuel Beckett and half of modern and postmodern poetry. I don't think they lose sight of what they're saying but their concepts are complex--which requires a different approach and/or rereading--usually dense and careful. They, like most people, want people to understand them. It's just a different way of thinking--more intense. We have to strap our thinking caps on and be ready roll with the author in a kind of mud-wrestling match of the brains--complete with bruises.

As Terry Eagleton wrote (words I find worth rereading), “By having to grapple with language in a more strenuous, self-conscious way than usual, the world which that language contains is vividly renewed.... [Theory is] the labour of acquiring new ways of speaking of literature.... Those who complain of the difficulty of such theory would often, ironically enough, not expect to understand a textbook of biology or chemical engineering straight off. Why then should literary studies be any different? Perhaps because we expect literature itself to be an ‘ordinary’ kind of language instantly available to everyone; but this is itself a very particular ‘theory’ of literature.”

We should not interpret difficulty as some sort of intended slight to our intelligence. It isn't. It's just what the concepts require.

I find it useful to bring out a pencil and talk to the text as though we were in conversation--i.e. "Yes!" and "My man!" [Read/Listen to Billy Collins' "Marginalia."] Feel free to interrupt Delany with questions (he won't mind--he'll pick up right where you left off or back up to an earlier point if need be). This approach may enlighten the text. For example, I wrote "Are you sure?" when Delany was deconstructing "theme" while using theme to do so. Later, Delany admitted to this inconsistency (which may have been his point), but it helped me stay engaged and not get trapped in the wrong frame of logic.

It's like a difficult class. If you raise your hand and ask questions about the material, you're less likely to fall asleep and more likely to not only take an interest in the proceedings, but also understand it better.

The true strength of this blog is as an experiment. We should be grappling with the complexity together, willing to walk through the brambles and thorny bushes and mosquitoes and chiggers and gnats... to arrive at the mountain. Abandon all ego, ye who enter. Everyone--author, reader--should be willing to get scratched up and bruised in the effort to arrive somewhere we haven't been before. Never mind who else may have made the trip before. It's a journey, our journey. If we reframe ourselves as protagonists with the same aim, we'll find a narrative we will all eagerly read. Virgil awaits.

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