Friday, January 14, 2011

What I've been reading lately

I've come to an impasse in my discussion on Paul Fry's theory of "the ostensive moment." Not because I've encountered dead ends or run out of ways to look at it, but because I've stumbled across too many pertinent lines of thought and am being drawn into theoretical areas where my own knowledge is severely lacking. In other words, I'm overwhelmed by all the things I want to write about.

For instance, in my last post on this subject, I briefly related Fry's ostension to Zbigniew Herbert's preference for a poetry of "semantic transparency." Subsequently, I wanted to contrast those thoughts with Roman Jakobson's ideas on the poetic function of communicative language as detailed in his essay "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics" (pdf).

In Jakobson's line of reasoning, the poetic function serves as dominant within an act of communication when the intentional focus (and play) of language turns toward the structural attributes of the message itself  - a sort of self-referentiality from which the message derives both form and force of meaning. To deepen my understanding of that concept, I've also been studying excerpts from Jakobson's "Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry", an essay that clarifies the realities of an aesthetic logic that builds from the interrelation of grammatical patterns at the structural core of a poem. What interests me here is the way in which these patterns frequently work in an almost unconscious manner - we perceive and take pleasure in their effect even if we aren't fully cognizant of their structural origins.

Since beginning this project, I've also wanted to explore "the ostensive moment" through the lens of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of language - a topic that I am still unable to articulate clearly. Toward the end of improving my understanding, I've been reading an excellent summary of Mereau-Ponty's philosophy by Lawrence Hass entitled, aptly enough, Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy. Following this line of thought, I'm interested in the manner by which a poetic utterance can be sublimated through a poet's efforts to solve aesthetic problems encountered in the creation of a poem - or, more simply, what it is within the practice of language that makes a particularly effective poem "speak beyond its words."

In the meantime, of course, I still haven't obtained an actual copy of Paul Fry's book, A Defense of Poetry: Reflections on the Occasions of WritingThus far, I've relied on isolated quotes obtained from a partial reading on Google Books, as well as a number of different book reviews. Though I found some affordable used copies online, I think I'll probably wait a bit because, well, I've got a lot of other stuff I'm reading right now. And I'm a very slow reader.

Beyond that, I'm in a neighborhood book club and need to read The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (by James Lovelock) as soon as possible. And I've been doing a semi-regular reading of conservative philosophers and thinkers that I normally find obnoxious, e.g. Ayn Rand, Leo Strauss, and various writers at The National Review. Why? Because I want to know what fuels the current reactionary trends in American politics. And I want to know how to argue effectively against it.

Not that anybody will be listening, of course, but that's beside the point.

[I say "I" an awful lot in this post. I'm sure Ayn Rand would approve.]

Beyond all this, I want to begin writing some poetry reviews. Currently, I'm looking at the latest issues of Gutter Eloquence, Right Hand Pointing, and  DIAGRAM, as well as Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004–2006 by Adrienne Rich. One of the major reasons I started this blog was that it would force me to learn how to write effective and intelligent prose. And, because I'm most involved in poetry, I want to apply that skill (when it eventually emerges) toward reviewing contemporary poetry. Toward that end, I've been reading an awful lot of reviews by Marjorie Perloff - which is intimidating as hell.

But seriously - if you don't set your sights high, what's the point?

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