Sunday 8 July 2012

Michael Lista vs Jan Zwicky: Reax II

Emily M. Keeler:
The snarling and gnarling and high-flying literary references. The deft punches and blocks, the brutal elegance of this dance of impassioned jabs and jeers. For me, at least, this is one of the joys of great criticism, even at its most negative. At its best you get to watch fine minds sharpening themselves on the world. What could be more thrilling?
I am left wondering what is wrong with Jan Zwicky’s idea that when reviewing we listen. What is wrong with her suggestion that “we give over our attention fully to the other, that we stop worrying about who’s noticing us, that we let the ego go”? We make better lovers when we listen. Isn’t the most mind-blowing sex had when we aren’t worried about what we look like naked or what others will think hearing our pleasure from the open fire-escape window? What I have heard from listening to Zwicky’s essay is not to keep my mouth shut, but to endeavour to find genuine delight in the texture and impulse of the words before me.
I know all language is rhetoric and that I have deployed a variety of stratagems in my own commentary. I also realize that it is my temperament to prefer informative and analytic reviews to scorched earth polemics. I will still admire Michael Lista when he writes a positive review. When he writes one such as the one of Bruce Taylor, he is generous, intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, and unabashedly joyous. And we need more of that in our poetry reviews.
To be fair, it seems to me that at the core of Mr. Lista's original piece there was a good question: why is Zwicky suggesting silence to women at a time, and in a space, set up to encourage women to speak? This point comes up, but it seems to me that ultimately it's used as a shield to bring up, once again, an old argument taken up by a coterie of poets over the years; an argument I find a diversion and unhelpful, the argument for the negative review. Why? Because who on earth doesn't want to see truth in reviewing? Who on earth doesn't want the best for our literature? Who on earth wants a review culture of gloss and back patting? Of lies? Who wants nice and empty? Being nice serves no one.
Would kill for a conciliatory cat-petting photo session between Michael Lista & Jan Zwicky.
There is a prejudice, in this culture, and especially in the institution of the university, that understanding *requires* criticism; and so we like to teach something that we call "critical thinking." And I hasten to affirm the usefulness of such thinking! It can be indispensable, for instance, in redirecting attention to thoughtless reflexes of oppression. But it becomes destructive when it is mixed with the assumption that it is a universal instrument —when it becomes an addiction. Many things can be more fairly, more clearly understood, as Rilke says, by love.
The Zwicky piece is at least an open defence of the anodyne which has always been Canlit's unexpressed wish and curse.

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