Besides doing extensive revisions on my book about Coleridge and Lamb in the past couple of weeks I have also been trying to read as much as possible. I recently reread McGann's Romantic Ideology and was frustrated once again with his strange, sometimes paradoxical and overly theoretical response to Romanticism. I was also reading a group of essays entitled Literary Theories in Praxis (ed. by Shirley Staton). The essays in this book are very interesting, but perhaps even more interesting are the short introductory remarks to each essay. But what has struck me through all this reading is not the truth of any particular literary theory but the inadequacy of all the theoretical attempts in their effort to grasp or really come to terms with literature. For example, Lipking's effort to "make sense" out of a poem like Yeat's Sailing to Byzantine does nothing for me but render the whole idea of poetical analysis 'non-sense.' Besides years of academic use of this poem rendering it rather dead (a fact that Lipking admits), Lipking's effort to make sense of this poem reminds me of the mass hysteria that drives such analysis into constructing habitual boundaries of acceptable meaning which students are then, through the process of anticipatory socialization, compelling into concluding 'for themselves.' As unpopular with 'intellectuals' as it might be, it seems to me that poetry cannot be analysed but only played with. This is not to say that poetry is a game but rather that it is a ground of aesthetic play that affords us space to make our own meaning. In our constant drive to reconcile the mind with the heart, and the individual with the universal, literature and art in general allows us a place in which we can play through this struggle, pulling in one direction and then in the other in this most human of endeavors. I speak up, therefore, for the play of poetry and the painful irrelevance of much analysis that so regularly looks toward fixed and correct meanings.
Stay tuned for some more observation on this issue as I try to post some blogs about my recent readings of Colerige.
2 weeks ago