Notes from Charles Berstein´s Attack of the Difficult Poems

On Education

p. 12 ¨When it is most fully achieving its potential, university classes are not goal-oriented or preprofessional but self-defining and exploratory.  Attempts to regulate the university according to market values only pervert what is best and least accountable about these cultural spaces.¨

p.17 “Emphasis on conventional testing is antipathetic to an aesthetically charge encounter with art.  Test students on their ability to memorize names or dates or on their skill at identifying passages taken out of context encourages them to focus on mastering information rather than on reading literary works: the two goals are in opposition.”

p. 21 ¨Moreover, I can´t help but feel that the unwillingness to teach difficult or challenging or unconventional work is based less on good intentions than on condescension: the false belief that students are not smart enough to understand anything other than the most artless art.  (Just between you and me, it turns out that lost of students get enthusiastic about much of the poetry that most high school and college English teachers have long since redlined, but are bored to tears by the poetry of uplift foisted upon them.)”

On World Literature

p. 71 “As Roland Greene argues, the need to reform the disciplinary boundaries of literary study and move toward what he calls ‘New World Studies’  is urgent.  See especially his essay ‘New World Studies and the Limits of National Literatures.’  Green writes:

For a new world studies the contact zone is not only the literal places of cultural encounters, but the concatenated spaces where worlds – that is, intellectual or spiritual systems represented by versions through which they can be understood or evaluated – move into critical relation with each other; the coming into play of the term and the concept of ‘world’ is vital to the enterprise.'”

On Language

p. 101 “This rise of mass literacy, late in the history of writing, has had the effect of putting the printed and bound book front and center, as the cathected object is the best picture we have of alphabetic conscious.  From the perspective of 1999, the printed book is the picture we have of alphabetic textuality.  As we enter into a postliterate period, we can begin to see the book as the solid middle ground between the stage (performed poetry) and the screen (digital poetry).”

p. 114 “For teachers, one obvious implication of the archive of recorded poetry becoming more available is that listening to the poem read by the poet might become a commonplace feature in any course, since such recordings would be able to be assigned in much of the same manners as the visual or alphabetic  text of the poem.  The sound file would become, ipso facto, a text for study, much like the visual document.  The acoustic experience of listening to the poem would being to compete with the visual experience of reading the poem.”

(This makes wonder what would Jose Garcia Villa’s comma poems be without their visual component.  I haven’t been able to find any audio recordings of him.)

p. 155 “The social trauma inscribed by accent and assimilation is resolved, in American poetry, only at the cost of repression, a repression that manifests itself in both a celebration of identity and a despair at identity’s loss.  This remains a fundamental condition for American poetry, one which finds its signature moment in Langston Hughes’s identification and distance from the singer of “The Weary Blues.”   Code switching, from vernacular to standard, from slang to formal, is a part of American life as common as having clothes from the Gap and Brooks Brothers in the same close.  But poetry takes nothing for granted when it sacrifices the ease of the given on the hooks of the difficult.”

In the words of Stan Lee, ´nuff said.

(Note Chaz and Buse “getting over.”)

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