Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Human Dissatisfied

Adam Plunkett takes issue with what he calls Stephen Burt's "blurbing good cheer":
The gnawing condescension at the heart of Burt’s essays and reviews is the premise that criticism is far less important than praise because not enough people read poetry, as though poetry were too delicate for yelling. “I have written reviews I regarded as negative,” Burt writes, but “such pieces do their work upon their first appearances, losing, often enough, what value they have after the waves that they track have hit the shore.” Burt has to know that the history of taste has worked otherwise, with negativity galvanizing preferences and poets from T. E. Hulme on Romanticism to Langston Hughes on “The Negro-Art Hokum” and Adrienne Rich on female poets’ entrapment in patriarchy, from high modernism to the Harlem Renaissance and second-wave feminist poetry. Taste has to exclude as well as include; and when it includes, it must be with reservations as well as unconditional love. It would go a long way toward Burt’s “helping you enjoy” new poetry if he were to help you to articulate why you do not enjoy some of it, rather than leaving you with the uncomfortable sense that there is something wrong with you if you do not. This kind of attitude suits pedantry more than pleasure, and better to be a human dissatisfied than a prig satisfied.

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