11.02.2005

Habitation

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

--THESEUS from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, ACT V, SCENE I. Athens. An Apartment in the Palace of THESEUS.


Been thinking--as I am wont to do, off and on--about Goldbarth and Hartwell's speeches at Poetry magazine reading in Chicago a few years back, about the connection between poetry and SF. They didn't really offer any conclusions, as I recall. I had attempted to type them in, but Blogger at the time didn't save your eight-hour sessions if you didn't.

As I critique an SF story, it strikes me that it's quite similar to a poem: Both require a suspension of criticism until you've fully entered their establishments. The average literary story requires the author to provide the place ASAP; and if the place is generalized and familiar, one can sketch the habitation fairly swiftly with the odd bits that stick out (or maybe the habitation doesn't stick out so much as the people who inhabit the habitation and thereby create more of the habitation than its otherwise humdrum contents).

Poetry and SF, on the other hand, expect the reader to already be in this other world. They expect the reader to catch up, to inhabit more fully as they go along. I use the above Shakespeare quote not in the usual way of setting, but in the poetry/SF way of the mind of the place. For poetry, that mind is generally the poet's. For SF, the mind is the world's society(-ties). Readers come expecting the abnormal. They want to think how very different others think.

Poetry has a more direct connect, I believe. We have Emily Dickinson's dashes and capitalizations--the way words and phrases are more important to set off than with conventional punctuation--all set to hymnal rhythms though Dickinson was a devout atheist, an appellation I intend unironically.

SF is more diffuse but also more broad. We inhabit whole societies, perceive their harmonies/disharmonies in ways that fewer literary writers attempt (generally, those attempts come from the more gonzo or experimental, i.e. Milan Kundera, but Updike did try to capture various ages of late 20th-century American society through one character in his Rabbit novels although it is more often than not one slice of that character's class). In SF, even if you don't agree with a society's assumptions (which may be more apparent in SF)--i.e. Heinlein's Starship Troopers where only those who risk their lives, soldiers, can vote--the open-minded can still read, fascinated by how such a society might function.

The difference becomes apparent in critiques. One has to suspend judgement until fully immersed or at one with the mind at work: Am I following this strange society or the mind of the poet? Is the mind/society fully fleshed? Is it constantly revealing itself?

There are probably other similarities I'm forgetting, but I must be off. Continue to extrapolate (or quibble in comments) on your own.