Thursday 4 April 2013

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Stewart Cole is impressed by James Pollock's essays ("an erudite accounting of Canadian poetic identity in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries") and poems ("an agile command of prosody and rhetoric") but he pushes back against Pollock's notion of the “work of art per se”:
Let me make my position on this clear: there is no “work of art per se,” in the sense that “per se” means in itself and so implies that a work of art that can in any way be isolated from the social conditions of its creation and/or reception. Such a notion—also embodied in Pollock’s conception of poetry as “an autonomous technology for producing aesthetic pleasure”—is a bourgeois chimera.
Cole continues:
In other words, what qualifies for us as “delight, originality, and imagination,” or which aspects of “verbal sensitivity and dexterity” we are most attuned to as any given person in any given time is significantly shaped by the political, social, and otherwise material conditions that produce both us and the art we encounter. This is why the best argument in favour of formalist practice remains a social one: that such practice does justice to poetry’s social origins and orientation, linking us rhythmically and rhetorically to a shared past and giving shape to our aspirations for communal futures. This is also why the most compelling argument advanced by the ‘innovative’ school against such formalisms is also precisely social: that the old forms stand at odds with our modern social formations, that we must seek out new forms to reflect our societal disorientation. These two positions might best be thought of as the two ends of a continuum, somewhere along which—whether they know it or not—most poets today situate their practice.

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