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Against Argument Culture


Tere just mentioned Dragon's recent essay "Against Argument Culture," so I thought I'd link to it:

quote:

There is a great deal wrong, nowadays, with literary criticism, poetry criticism, and the culture of workshopping critique. About that, if about nothing else, many are in agreement. But what I perceive as one of the main problems seems so endemic to the culture of criticism that it is an uphill struggle getting anyone to notice it. It's just as bad, or worse, in the political arena (which I will dip into later by way of example although I usually avoid discussing politics here) as it is in the literary arena.



http://artdurkee.blogspot.com/2008/09/against-argument-culture.html
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Re: Against Argument Culture


I, too, am weary of the argumentative culture as it has found its way into politics and poetry boards. Hadn't thought about "a side-effect of argument culture" being "its mirror-inversion: preaching to the choir." Tere has pointed out to me on several occasions when I've puzzled over a response to a post I've made that the poster wasn't actually talking to me but was speaking to "the audience."

I've also been thinking about the way online critiqe forums encourage people to approach poems with a critic first and foremost mindset. IOW, people often tie on their critic thinking caps so tightly that they are predisposed to finding fault, or conversely, finding favor before the poem is even read. I have come to realize that when I am reading a book of poetry I approach the poems differently than I do when I read poems in an online forum. I've fallen into the bad habit of starting to parse a poem online before doing a holistic reading (for lack of a better term) of it, before giving the poem a chance to stand alone in its own right without my critical bias and adgenda taking over.

The argumentative culture leads to a lot of defensiveness. The need to be right supercedes the desire to be open, to be honest and to learn. No one wants to admit they've been wrong or don't know something. There is a tendency for people to try to finesse an answer or to opt out of the conversation altogether instead of saying, "I don't know what the Bush Doctrine is." Maybe that's another side-effect of the argument culture--gotcha politics and gotcha critiques. In the end, it all becomes counterproductive to dialogue, compromise, growth, creativity and solutions. There are somethings as you, Simic and Tannen point out that aren't negotiable but to take that approach to every situation leads to animosity and the stalemate of the status quo.
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Re: Against Argument Culture


Kaitlynn says:

"I've fallen into the bad habit of starting to parse a poem online before doing a holistic reading (for lack of a better term) of it, before giving the poem a chance to stand alone in its own right without my critical bias and adgenda taking over."

I've become guilty of the same. And I hate it. I think mostly I hate the tendency because it robs me of a capacity for taking in the poem's, even the bad poem's, humanity. That amounts to a killer of poetry's instinct. You say a true thing.

Tere
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Re: Against Argument Culture


I agree...when critique becomes the focus, expected first reaction on a board, we often forget to listen for what the poem has to say. I read so many "perfect" poems online these days... perfectly metred with perfect line breaks, etc. but, sadly to me, they often say perfectly nothing.

Speaking of Art/Dragon, I sent him on his way yesterday... up the northern coast of California with a hearty brunch in his tummy and some photos from my favorite place...it was fun to see him again.

Pat

Last edited by Patricia Jones, Sep/16/2008, 12:35 am


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Re: Against Argument Culture


quote:

Patricia Jones wrote:

I agree...when critique becomes the focus, expected first reaction on a board, we often forget to listen for what the poem has to say. I read so many "perfect" poems online these days... perfectly metred with perfect line breaks, etc. but, sadly to me, they often say perfectly nothing.

Speaking of Art/Dragon, I sent him on his way yesterday... up the northern coast of California with a hearty brunch in his tummy and some photos from my favorite place...it was fun to see him again.

Pat



Now if Dragonman elects to grace these doortsteps with his presence, fire breath, tail and all, I'll be one happy gray beard.

Tere
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Re: Against Argument Culture


Happy up, boyo.

emoticon

Thanks for the discussion here on the topic. Needless to say, my blog post itself has predictably generated a bit of heated argument. Oy vey. Like I said, some people don't even seem to be conscious of what's going on, it's become so automatic to them.

On K's point about automatic critical mindset, though, I disagree slightly, in that I almost always look at a poem after reading through it from the "does this work?" viewpoint. It's just basic discrimination, i.e. basic sense. I think when the argumentative response is automatic is when the problems happen, but that's about attitude and approach, not critical thinking per se.

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Re: Against Argument Culture


Mark Vernon runs an excellent blog I check into regularly, and sometimes comment on.

He recently posted some thoughts that are directly relevant to this topic, and how to fix the problems:

Marmite and Diversity

I admit I'm a Vegemite man, rather than Marmite, but since they're basically the same thing . . .

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Re: Against Argument Culture


quote:

On K's point about automatic critical mindset, though, I disagree slightly, in that I almost always look at a poem after reading through it from the "does this work?" viewpoint. It's just basic discrimination, i.e. basic sense. I think when the argumentative response is automatic is when the problems happen, but that's about attitude and approach, not critical thinking per se.



Hi Dragon,

Good to see you. You are right that it isn't critical thinking per se that is the problem. It is the automatic, argumentative tendency that is. In one real life workshop I attended for many years, the SOP was to have the writer hand out a poem, read through it once out loud as members followed along and then a critical discussion of the poem would begin. I always found myself trying to reread the poem while the discussion was underway. I finally asked if it would be okay if we could change the procedure and have the writer read the poem, then have another member read the poem out loud before the discussion began. The group agreed to do this, and it helped immensely. During the first read through, I could do the holistic reading I mentioned. During the second reading, I could begin to concentrate on the "does it work" question. Even in a real life workshop, this way of operating doesn't guarantee a thoughtful response. This is especially true, I've noticed, when the work in question is more experimental. The tendency then can be for readers to try to force the poem back into a more familar framework.

There is no reason I couldn't have continued this procedure when doing online critiqes, but over time I found that I had abandoned my original good sense. I think the argument culture contributed to the subtle change in my attitude and approach. The argument culture tends to polarize discussions and tends to encourage people to take increasingly extreme stands and then back them up come hell or high water. A self-reflexive attitude gets lost, because everyone is so focused on negating opposing points of view. IOW, I think people tend to stop being critical of their own perspectives and instead man the baracades in an attempt to defend those perspectives.
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Re: Against Argument Culture



Patricia Jones writes:

I agree...when critique becomes the focus, expected first reaction on a board, we often forget to listen for what the poem has to say. I read so many "perfect" poems online these days... perfectly metred with perfect line breaks, etc. but, sadly to me, they often say perfectly nothing.



Now this is confusing. At the risk of being accused of being argumentative may I question this statement?

How can a poem's form be "perfect" if it's not appropriate to content? Form is not something that exists in the abstract. A jaunty meter with end-rhymes, a nursery-rhyme structure, would not suit elegeic content (never say never though, but in most cases it wouldn't.)

Form follows function; it's masterfully created when it reinforces content. Like a string of long mournful vowels imparting hollow emptiness to an elegy.

Patricia implies that meaningful content is the main offfering of a poem, forgetting that content and its body, i.e., the poem's form, cannot be surgically separated without killing the patient.

I heard a great story about Robert Frost. when someone asked him at a reading what a poem meant, he simply read the poem again!

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Diana

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Re: Against Argument Culture


First things first.

Dragonman, color me a happy pointy headed poet at seeing you here. We've been enteretaining each other's thoughts and poetry and such for so many years I honestly can't imagine a forum for conversation without you. Seriously, man. You always make a difference.

And, Diana, my favorite New York intellectual, this is one slow Cracker who is tickled to see you on the board. It occurs to me that we have been through so many board battles in the last year maybe Delectable Mnts can become a spot in cyberspace where the focus gets turned to things that matter to artists. You reckon?

I'll come back later and, with any luck, add something to the topic. After all, they say that even the blind squirrel finds the occassional acorn.

Tere
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Re: Against Argument Culture


Tere,

Yes I'm a typical NY intellectual, no doubt about that. But in fairness to myself I have to say that the listsrvs to which I belong are made up of professors and scholars from all over the world, including grad students at the Sorbonne, and we all expect to have undocumented statements about literature challenged.

Any pontificating gasbags on the listsrvs who expect their fuzzy generalizations and erroneous assertions to be received as pearls of wisdom are soon disabused of that assumption.

These are professional literary critics most of whom are trying out poetry crits on each other before they are published in a book or scholarly journal. We welcome having our errors exposed; it saves us embarrassment later. I'm not saying we don't get snarky and bitchy and defensive; we do. But sooner or later anyone sincerely interested in the validity of their own statements will admit their flaws and thank those who have pointed them out.

Now don't tell me to confine my hard-hitting crits in those listsrvs, because I'm already considering that. I don't have a blog because I want the helpful feedback of the discussion threads in the forums, but if forum poets want to be sissies I'll have to limit my comments to places where everyone expects total honesty and politeness is minimal. (Nowhere however are personal attacks permitted. That's what I don't get about forums; those members get mad when all of their opinions are not greeted with admiration, even when no personal attack is involved.)

Rus Bowden and I have diametrically opposed positions on the "Daddy" poem, but we are engaged in an intelligent, informed discussion on babilu which I find is helping me compose an article I'm writing on the subject for The Modern Review. He's not all upset because I disagree with him.

Often I think some members think anyone who challenges their pronouncments is an enemy and troublemaker. It's the same tactic mods and admins use when someone challenges them -- call the challenger a troublemaker and dismiss them. Admins can ban those who question their opinions, but some touchy members simply leave forums in a huff when their posts are regarded as something less than "The Stones of Venice."

You Tere are one of the few people I know in the forums who can argue a point without hostility, which is what I sincerely think I am doing.

One of the people who has been most helpful to my critical writing is a T.S. Eliot scholar who is a crusty, straight-shooting lady who never met an undocumented statement she liked or let go by without a challenge. Newbies on the listsrv either learn to value her comments or they leave in a huff.

I'm always trying to tone myself down in the forums, but it may be hopeless. I am passionate about literature and can't let false statements about it go by. Should I?

An argument is a respectable form of intellectual debate, isn't it? Of course snarkiness creeps in when it shoudn't, but still.

Diana

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Re: Against Argument Culture


(note to the forum. In the spirit of disclosure Diana's immediately preceding post is a reply to a letter of mine involving what I'll continue to call the art of conversation. What follows is my response.)

Thanks, Diana, for a detailed reply. Of course, I already knew this about your approach to discussion. And your points are well made, well reasoned. Of course, also, you have to proceed the way you see fit. Having said as much, two thoughts I'll put out. The first involves an old saying. You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Second thought. Time and time again I've seen boards ruined by a few dominant type personalities who almost magnetize conversation and debate to themselves. What happens is that more quiet people get turned off by what becomes contentious, they hang back, they do not engage. This doesn't mean their opinions are invalid, their reasoning less, or their arguments specious. It simply means they do not find enjoyment in contention, strife, and barbed remarks. Two consequences ensue. The dominant type loses their attention, and so however well made the point may be it becomes a pyrrhic victory. (sometimes tone is everything.) The second consequence is that, in my opinion, something gets lost in the exchange when more quiet people turn away. Often I find them to be the more thought-ful people who, when they do speak up, bring something insightful and reflective to the topic. All of which is to say that sometimes the art of conversation involves engagement, involves pulling in people into the discussion.
 
This is how I see the other side of the issue. Having pasted the above to the screen another thought occurs to me.

I am convinced that the truth of anything, with the partial exception of the sciences, is never quantifiable, never found in one point or another, never wholly contained in one position or another. I am equally as convinced that the truth of a situation is invariably found in the interstice, in the space between two competing positions. To debate for the sake of debate, to proceed point by point as if truth is made like an erector set, misses as much. Maybe it is just a matter of my slant on experience. But, again, truth is invariably found in the interstice, in that gray and layered area of almost infinite shading of meaning. In my view the art of conversation is what can tease out, tease through meaning's shaded area.

This is something that years of conversation with Dragonman has brought me to.

Tere
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Re: Against Argument Culture


I agree with Tere's points here in detail; particularly with the point that in all things literary truth is an extremely relative commodity.

Relative in the physics sense, even, and not only the literary sense, in which Einstein postulated and proved that different observers literally see things differently from their different positions. In relativistic physics, truth is not an issue, because both observers see truly. What matters is the relativistic interpretation achieved by looking at a phenomenon from multiple viewpoints. Frankly, the multiple-viewpoint paradigm is also more interesting to me in lit crit than any given single worldview; truth is indeed in the interstices and interfaces. One might even postulate that truth follows the fractal interface between more pure domains, in which lots of aspects of both domains interfinger.

Especially when one takes into account Mark Vernon's point about worldviews (experiential data sets, if you will) meeting with empathy even when in disagreement—and I like Vernon's formulation in part because it exactly matches the paradigm of psychology and spiritual seeking in which I have a great deal of experience—then one must note that relativism is not a dirty word but a fact of life. Especially in the arts.

Even biography is subject to revision as new data sets emerge, and narratives are rewritten. History is a literary form, as in ethnography: both are literary, not scientific writing genres, and are miscategorized when considered scientific in any way beyond observational recording. (The scientific method in fact was never about truth at all, but about hypothesis and proof/disproof. I trained as a scientist.) Literature is non-scientific, and blessedly so. It's never about who's right and who's wrong; it's about levels and even TYPES of truth. memoir and biography are notoriously unreliable; the scientific approach to lit crit is pseudo-science.

Frankly the mindset of the professors, speaking as a former grad student, is exactly as Tannen describes: default argumentation. They may be wise, they may be well-read and well-informed, and their positions may be well thought out and well-presented. But I learned when I was a grad student that most of it is hooey; well-done hooey, but hooey. As in most things in the arts, it's well-argued opinion, and hours of debate and reams of citation cannot ossify opinion into truth.

I agree with Tere that when things get magnetized or polarized, people stop listening and even leave the discussion.

it's not that I hate vinegar and love honey. One gets weary of a steady, relentless diet of either. Again, as I have millions of time before, I speak to balance. One needs both vinegar and honey in the appropriate amounts at the appropriate time. A critic who is all honey OR all vinegar gets not only predictable but, well, boring in their predictability.

But Tere is right, honey attracts more flies.


Last edited by Dragon59, Sep/22/2008, 2:08 am


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Re: Against Argument Culture


An additional thought.

Every one of us, without exception, has been guilty of this sort of argumentative stance that we’re talking about. Me. You. All of us.

Just because we have done it before doesn’t mean we’re destined to do it again. I do believe in personal evolution. However, having done it before also doesn’t mean we’re supposed to let ourselves off the hook if we do it again. A smidgeon of self-awareness and self-knowledge is required. It also helps to be conscious of one’s own triggers. Knowing what sets you off is important; then how you respond becomes a choice rather than a reactionary impulse.

How do you know when you’re slipping into being argumentative for no good reason? Here’s a few clues, or perhaps one can call them barometric observations:

Are your emotions engaged? Do you care too much about converting others to your point of view? Are you therefore caring too much about the outcome of the discussion? Is any fraction of your self-esteem on the line?

Remember, passion is not the issue, emotionality. One can be very passionate about the topics one cares about, and still be able to be impersonal in discussing them. As a wise man once said, “Passion about science is laudable, but passion IN science is to be avoided.”

Are you watching your language? Could you perhaps phrase things a little more nicely without losing your passion? Are you letting name-calling creep in, all unawares? Is the language with which you discourse creating drama—in other words, are your word-choices creating the very emotional climate that you do not want to create? (This is about self-monitoring, not self-censorship. I do not believe in censorship of any kind; and I am also a staunch advocate of self-awareness. One way to make one’s discourse more honeyed is to discourse as an adult, rather than a child, and self-awareness is a big part of that.)

Diana, with zero intention to pick on you, and I am going to quote on of your paragraphs above back to you:

Now don't tell me to confine my hard-hitting crits in those listservs, because I'm already considering that. I don't have a blog because I want the helpful feedback of the discussion threads in the forums, but if forum poets want to be sissies I'll have to limit my comments to places where everyone expects total honesty and politeness is minimal. (Nowhere however are personal attacks permitted. That's what I don't get about forums; those members get mad when all of their opinions are not greeted with admiration, even when no personal attack is involved.)

The problem here is that you state that no personal attack is involved, yet two sentences before you called a bunch of forum poets sissies. Speaking as someone who gets called a sissy all the time, because he’s gay, even though I am not very femme at all in behavior, speech, or demeanor, "Sissy" will always be a loaded term for me, even when I use it myself. This is not intended as advice to avoid the term, but it IS intended as advice to use it with intention, not off-handedly.

In other words, this sent a very mixed message. It projected aggressiveness that maybe you intended, and maybe you did not. But it’s exactly what I’m talking about in terms of the language you use getting unintended results. You cannot call people sissies in one sentence then immediately claim that personal attacks were not involved. This is precisely the cognitive dissonance that raises peoples’ hackles.

Again, I am not picking on Diana. This was merely the closest example to hand of the dynamic I am talking about. I could have quoted anyone in this context, because, again, we have all done this before. And this too is where self-awareness makes a huge difference. If you know you’ve done something before that you’d rather not do again, being aware of a personal tendency goes a long way towards having the conscious ability to choose to do it, or not, AS a choice. You can be assured that argument is NOT my default state. I usually just don’t give a fig is if anyone agrees with me or not. I speak my truth, the truth of my experience, and anyone is welcome to agree or disagree, as they see fit. And again, the TONE of the discussion is very much what is under discussion here, in this entire thread and topic.



Last edited by Dragon59, Sep/22/2008, 9:55 am


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Re: Against Argument Culture


Dragon,

Let me start my reply by saying that you have been and are for me an important presence: spiritual, intellectual, artistic. Your participation on a forum always improves the tone of discussions.

I'm going to take issue with one of your statements above, though, because as always the devil is in the details.

My comment about sissies was stated in the future conditional: "if forum members (will) want to be sissies then..."

That means no one at all was being accused of being a sissy. I referred only to hypothetical sissies who might come along.

I make no connection between the word "sissy" and the word "gay." My gay friends are among the toughest people I know. They have retained their joi de vivre despite lifetimes of attacks on their self-esteem.

I might take umbrage with your linking "sissies" with "effeminate" but I won't because I'm aware that you are referring to others, not yourself, who equate the two. What a slander, since women have to be incredibly strong to deal with their lack of opportunity and equal status with men.

As a gay man sensitive to explicit and implicit disrespect you surely realize that women in the arts and professions, myself among them, have the same "radar" for subtle put-downs as gay persons do, and also, because of past experience, may sense an insult when none is intended. (This happened recently on babilu when I felt insulted because you rejected a book I recommended. What I read was "silly female who believes everything she reads" just as you in this thread read "sissy" as "gay sissy.")

I propose that we all try to be sensitive to how our words may be misread by victims of discrimination.

As for my posting style, I try to choose my words carefully, but I suppose I should state explicitly what I don't mean so as not to be misunderstood.

A forum is like a one-room schoolhouse, where all levels are together at once. I do not do well in that setting. I'm not a teacher and have no desire to be one.

I have patience with newbies who ask directly for information. I'll work with them until they are satisfied.

What I have little or no patience with are know-alls who don't know what they're talking about. Now here again I'm speaking hypothetically, of the hypothetical gasbag who thinks he or she can dismiss a great poet or a school of poetry with a few sentences.

A gasbag always invites deflation. I try to resist sometimes, but not always.

And of course I can be a gasbag too. I need someone to come along with a pin and let the air out sometimes. I don't mind so long as I'm allowed to do the same when someone else bloviates, and so long as the deflation is accomplished by pointing out factual errors.

Let's try to do this with good cheer. Tere and I, as he notes, have been sharply disagreeing on most poetic subjects for a long time now, but it's done with mutual respect, meaning we don't demean each other's intellects. We carry on in the spirit of friends having different opinions. I think that's a great accomplishment.

Hoping for the best,

Diana

.



Last edited by dmanister, Sep/22/2008, 10:43 am
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Once upon a time, I was a law student. I was taught that every legal argument required reference to relevant legal authority (statute and/or case law.) To present an argument without such reference was the equivalent of clomping into court clad in clown shoes and nothing else. A lawyer's worst nightmare. Second only to that was the nightmare of citing an authority which had been over-ruled; so wretchedly humiliating a circumstance as to trigger deep meditation on the prospect of suicide.

When I read the phrase, "undocumented statements', and, "...lady who never met an undocumented statement she liked or let go without a challenge", I am reminded of the law school standard. I take it an undocumented statement is the literary equivalent of a legal argument unsupported by
legal authority. If that is the case, I'm afraid it reduces the majority of us to clomping around the court-house in clown shoes. At the very least, it reduces us to the status of Eliza Dolittle in the estimation of Professor Higgins.

Thing is, Literature is not so esoteric a subject as Science, Math or Law. It is or should be accessible to scientists, lawyers, mathematicians, truck-drivers with high-school diplomas--anyone who can read really. Now that there's an undocumented statement. Have at it.

Chris
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Chris,

Well that's the crux of the matter.

Literature is as much a profession requiring training, knowledge, ability as law or any of the sciences.

What has happened in "official verse culture" is the degradation of literature to part of the entertainment industry. That's the best way to monetize publications, i.e., get more sales.

A lawyer or physician would not presume to seriously criticize work in quantum physics, why should they be qualified literary critics?

Popular literature is like pop music or movies now, everyone is a critic.

I'm not saying literature is or should be as obscure as quantum physics; I'm simply saying that it is a serious discipline which many dedicated people have made their lives' work.

You seem to think every writer aims to write best-selling books. Not so. The writers I most admire do not. The literary avant-garde in every age knew their work would not be accepted. Think of the public reaction to Impressionist painting, or Van Gogh, or the Surrealist artists. Lawyers and doctors had no idea what those art forms were about.

Some writers today also create art that few people get. They may be the writers who future generations hold up as the best of their time, as we do with James Joyce, Beckett and T.S. Eliot.

Art that everybody likes and understands is invariably conventional, stale and trivial.

Diana

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The other day when I was posting some thoughts on unproductive arguments I thought to include a reference to the "fourfold truth," a concept I learned from John Welwood in his book Journey of the Heart. He is speaking about intimate relationships, but I think the concept has applications for relationships in general.

quote:

Another way to cultivate larger vision and overcome oppositional mind is by recognizing how truth and distortion are always operating on both sides of any relationship conflict. This is because we all embody a mixture of wisdom and karmic entanglements, sanity and neurosis. Therefore we rarely speak with a single tongue of unalloyed clarity and truth. On the one hand, our unconditioned being--our "wisdom mind" or "wisdom heart"--naturally wants to connect with things as they are. In this sensitivity and responsiveness to reality lie our basic sanity and goodness. Yet at the same time, our conditioned personality finds security through maintianing and defending its habitual versions of reality. Our need to convince ourselves that the way we see things is the "Truth" may be so strong that we are often willing to harm a relationship just to prove that we are "right."

. . .

[N]o matter how crazy my partner and I become in our fights with each other, there is usally some kernel of truth in what each of is is trying to express. Yet when I set myself in oppositon to her, trying to prove myself right and her wrong, I can see only my own truth and her distortions. She does the same with me. Yet we are both expressing some turth. The problem is what we do not also see our own distortions. As a result, we hold things against each other, and our opposition hardens.

. . .

One way a couple can work with such a deadlock is through recognizing fourfold truth: that each of their sides has both a genuine and a distorted component.

. . .

To clear up the distortions that accumulate and clog the flow of love in a relationship, we ay want to create this kind of friendly listening space with our partner whenever we become locked in serious opposition. . . .This works best if we begin by mutally affriming our willingness to listen to ech other and acknowledge our distortions, our intention not to make each other wrong or freeze into defensive reactions.



(p 124-6)

Sep/22/2008, 3:33 pm Link to this post Send Email to Kaitlynn   Send PM to Kaitlynn
 
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Re: Against Argument Culture


Okay, so we are not aiming to love each other here, but I do think we are aiming for a friendly conversational space, one in which all parties are open to communication, to speaking and to listening.

quote:

but if forum poets want to be sissies I'll have to limit my comments to places where everyone expects total honesty and politeness is minimal.



Diana,

The problem I have with this statement is that you seem to be equating total honesty and minimal politeness with a postive strength, but in fact, these characteristics can also be the hallmarks of a bully. Total honesty and minimal politeness are not necessarily evidence that one is right or has the "Truth" on one's side. By the same token, judicious honesty and a judicious level of politeness are not ispo facto signs of weakness.

Chris,

Points taken. Literature is a liberal art, not a liberal science.

quote:

You seem to think every writer aims to write best-selling books. Not so. The writers I most admire do not. The literary avant-garde in every age knew their work would not be accepted. Think of the public reaction to Impressionist painting, or Van Gogh, or the Surrealist artists. Lawyers and doctors had no idea what those art forms were about.



Diana,

Van Gogh might have realized his work would not be accepted by the masses, but do you have evidence that he didn't want his work to be appreciated by lawyers, doctors and lots of other everyday people?

quote:

Some writers today also create art that few people get. They may be the writers who future generations hold up as the best of their time, as we do with James Joyce, Beckett and T.S. Eliot.



True.

quote:

Art that everybody likes and understands is invariably conventional, stale and trivial.



I doubt there is any art that everybody likes and understands. If previously misunderstood works of art come to be valued and understood by future generations, does that mean the works then become conventional, stale and trivial?


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quote:

(Nowhere however are personal attacks permitted. That's what I don't get about forums; those members get mad when all of their opinions are not greeted with admiration, even when no personal attack is involved.)



Diana,

This is an important distinction to make. You can respect a person's right to have and express an opinion without agreeing with that opinion. It may be that some people are too senstive when their opinions are disagreed with, even if the person doing the disagreeing is not personally attacking them. The difference between these two approaches is something I struggle with on almost a daily basis, both online and in real life. Sometimes I am startled to discover someone feels I am personally attacking them when I genuinely didn't think I was. Other times I realize that they are right and a level of snarkiness, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, has crept into my tone. And then sometimes I think, "Alright, a litte vinegar was called for." Other times I realize I was just being bitchy for reasons that had nothing to do with the other person and were ultimately uncalled for and counterproductive.
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Diana, some thoughts,

I don't think anyone here aspires to be a "qualified literary critic." I know I don't.

You seem to be saying that only those who have the requisite "training, knowledge and ability" are entitled to express thoughts/opinions, engage in discourse re: literature.

I don't agree. I learn a lot from the other folks who share their ideas here. I appreciate their interest and comments when I post my own writing and learn even more from their writing.

I value this experience and frankly, I'm tired of seeing it, them and myself devalued.
Of course you'll say that disagreeing with someone is not the same as devaluing them. But you've given yourself away. You obviously believe literature should be left to the experts.

Now I'm not going off in a huff. I'll be back. I do feel challenged to articulate my point of view more clearly and that in itself, makes this worth the price of admission.

Chris
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Speaking of taking the opportunity to express one's point of view more articulately, I 'd like to amend something I said earlier:

quote:

By the same token, judicious honesty and a judicious level of politeness are not ispo facto signs of weakness.



I'd like to change that to "judicious honesty and a judicious civility."

If only experts are allowed to comment on literature, who will decide who the experts are and how will that determination be made? Must one have a postgraduate degree? Will there be a test? Who will administer it? Somewhere, damned if I can find the post, Tere talked about hoping that the board will be a place where poetry aficionados can come to discuss poetry and other topics of interests to them. Hopefully, all poetry experts are aficionados, but I do not think all aficionados need to be trained experts.

Edit: Okay, I found Tere's quote and the link:

quote:

I do love the Salon notion. It is not a place, not a symposium, not even a synod for experts in one discipline or another. It is just a gathering of dilettantes (amateurs), aficionados (lovers), free spirits and other dabblers who, in my estimation, rightly take dabbling seriously.



http://www.runboard.com/bdelectablemnts.f5.t14

No board can be all things to all people. Symposiums and synods are fine, but that is not what this site aspires to be. I'm sure Tere wholeheartedly welcomes experts, but, as he has outlined it, nonexperts are also welcome.

Last edited by Kaitlynn, Sep/22/2008, 8:40 pm
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Re: Against Argument Culture


Chris writes:

quote:

I don't think anyone here aspires to be a "qualified literary critic."



Chris, I have published and continue to publish lit crit. Whether I'm qualified is a matter of opinion.

Kaitlynn and Chris,

You're speaking of art appreciation, are you not?

I have no problem with a lawyer or doctor appreciating literature. Let them appreciate to their heart's content!

I know from reading Van Gogh's letters that he never entertained the fantasy of a lawyer understanding what he was doing in art, since very few artists or critics had a clue. He was in a silent dialogue with the artists he loved.

When a critic published an extremely favorable review of his paintings, Van Gogh was not happy. He asked his brother to tell the critic to stop writing about him. (Theo was an art dealer in Paris and knew everybody in the art world.)

Can't you imagine an artist being engaged in work for its own sake, trying to reach a goal, like Madame Curie with radium?

Approaching poetry from the point of view of the professional artist is different from seeing poetry as a consumer.

You demean the profession by making it seem as if anyone can do it as well as a poet whose entire working life is devoted to poetic goals.

Anyone can write poems, it's true. But there is a curve from amateur to full-time writer to those at the top of the curve who enlarge the meaning of poetry for all who follow them. Why are poets whose goal is to innovate so reviled?

Why is it a heresy to suggest that someone who writes every day, thinks and discusses poetry daily, reads and writes about poetry and poets, might possibly write better poetry than someone who does it as a hobby?

Would you want your physician to practice medicine as a hobby? Why is poetry not respected as a profession as much as medicine?

There is a reverse discrimination in insisting that all poetry be conventional, that is, that it employ only familiar poetic conventions and not develop its own never-before-seen conventions, and that everyone should write in favor of conventional poetry. Chacun à son goût - each to his own taste.

I don't insist that all poetry be unconventional. True, I find it boring and stale, but if that's what a poet wants to write, it's fine with me. Just don't insist that I have no right to find it boring or write about the fact that I find it boring.

I don't go looking for poems to call boring. What's the problem? If I'm given a book to review and I find it imitative and lacking in originality, it's my obligation as a reviewer to write that, of course along with appropriate reasons and documentation.

I have a point of view, which not everyone shares: I prefer revolutionary poetry. By its very definition, only a minority of poets comprise the revolutionary avant-garde. (I am of course not using "revolutionary" in the political sense, but in the sense of the overthrow of "official verse culture.") This country was founded on revolution.

Am I not entitled to that preference? I'm not forcing anyone to agree with me or saying every poet should be in the avant-garde. I am completely able to read and appreciate the great poetry of the past, both distant and recent, and to critique the poetry of the present in its own terms.

If a contemporary poet is writing Modernist poetry, those are the terms of his or her poetics. I wouldn't expect, urge a Modernist poet to write Postmodern poetry, whatever that might be, nor would I condemn a good Modernist poem for not being Postmodern. (Although I might urge a close friend to try something else!)

I do make a distinction between amateur poets and serious, ambitious poets whose poetry is their main dedication. I naturally respect the professional more than the amateur. That's what seems to tick some people off.


Diana

Last edited by dmanister, Sep/23/2008, 10:46 am
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Diana,

My first impression is that there is no way I can disagree with you without being pronounced a schlock merchant, in so many words. You, on the other hand, are justified in all you do and say by your dedication to exalted ideals, incomprehensible to the likes of me.

I dunno; maybe I'll find the energy/motivation to take issue with you point by point. On the other hand, it's beginning to feel like a slide down the slippery slope into the argument culture...sort of full circle back to where this thread started. So maybe I'll take a pass.

Cheers,

Chris
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Diana,

I respect both amateur and professional poets when they earn my respect. I would only go to a licensed doctor, but I have been known to question them, do my own research, get second and third opinions. There is no such thing as a licensed poet, but if there was such a thing, I would treat them the same way I treat a licensed doctor. In his book Love, Medicine and Miracles, Larry Dossey writes about the strange fact that often it is the more noncompliant patients, i.e the ones who question, investigate, get second opinions and trust their own instincts, who get well and not the more docile, passive, "just tell me what to do, and I'll do it" patients.

Of course you are entitled to your own opinions, but that is something we all need to keep in mind: we are speaking about opinions, not hard and fast rules or final judgments. I, too, thought to go through your post point by point, but suffice it to say that I never thought, felt or believed most of the things you have attributed to me (and to Chris). Your battle is with someone else. I welcome your perspective and insights and hope that you will come to feel the same way about mine.

Last edited by Kaitlynn, Sep/23/2008, 9:54 pm
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There isn't any way to disagree without being put down or found wanting, is there?

Which is exactly what I'm talking about. Which is exactly why I wrote the essay I did.

And I couldn't disagree more that anyone can write a poem.

On one level, of course, the purely technical level, it's true that anyone can put words to paper (or microphone) in poetic forms, using poetic language, etc. But that's not necessarily poetry—even superficially. It's the same thing as saying everyone who puts paint to canvas is a painter. On one level it's true; but it's obvious that the vast majority of such painters produce nothing like art.

There's a whole lot more going on than the purely technical. (Which is also the root of my objection to poetry or art that is purely technical with nothing else going on.)

I would say, anyone can write a BAD poem, a terrible poem, a pseudo-poem, even a journal-poem or therapy-poem. Anyone can write words in the same way that anyone can speak words; but there's a qualitative difference (some LangPo theories aside) between ordinary conversation and poetry.

In fact, I advocate the use of poetry as therapy, and journal-writing as therapy. But I'm very very clear that most things written in journals, or as therapy, are not now, will not be, and never have been poems. Poem-like substances, perhaps. And that's no bad thing, but that's not what we're talking about, is it?

One definition of poetry I've heard before (it may have been in reference to Shakespeare, it was long ago and I don't recall) is that "poetry is exalted speech." I think that's pretty inclusive as to style, content, and many other technical matters; the key word is "exalted," because poetry is more than just words. Terreson and I have both written about soma, embodiment, the poem evoking in the reader (and writer) a genuine, felt experience. For me, a poem is something more than regular language; heightened; exalted; whatever words we use, there's something more going on than the purely technical.

Last edited by Dragon59, Sep/24/2008, 12:34 am


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Who the hell ever said ANYONE can write a poem?
Who the hell ever said anything that has been attributed to me in this thread except the person who is doing the attribution?

Chris
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quote:

ChrisD1 wrote:

Who the hell ever said ANYONE can write a poem?
Who the hell ever said anything that has been attributed to me in this thread except the person who is doing the attribution?

Chris



Now this is what I am talking about. All these forty years later and I still don't know if the poem in hand is a poem in hand.

And you bet. Attributions meant to triangulate a person tend to miss the person by virtue of the assumptions employed.

Tere
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I've just reread this exchange that occurred back in September. The distance of almost two months later brings a salient into perspective. To whit, that what is being reached for is a paradigm shift in how poetry boards chase down the roebuck in the thicket. This makes sense to me. I also notice that what is getting demanded is more, not less, of each other when it comes to a certain interstice between two sides. I guess what I mean is that the polarizing discussion is not so attractive, at least for some, and that there is a desire for something else, something more. I just don't know what to call that something else, even as I think I know what it is.

Just thinking out loud.

Tere
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Re: Against Argument Culture


You're right, for me, in that the polarizing (style of) discussion is a real big turn-off, for me. More so now than ever before. But that's my stuff, and I don't expect other people to agree with it.

I don't mind it when discussion get heated, but I have little use for sotto voce implications that seem to go, "how can you possibly think that?!?!? If you smart, you'd agree with me." Sometimes that's a matter of style. I run into a lot from East Coast types, frankly, much less so from Midwest types. I;m talking in big generalizations here, I know, and yet there's some truth to it.

Style of discourse can alienate, for no good reason.

I think that's part of the paradigm shift, but I'm not able to label it at this time, either.

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