August 12th, 2010

Erstwhile Concept Art

Misread Harold Bloom

I follow this guy named Mark Sample on Twitter (@samplereality). He posted some really useful funny ideas during last year's Nanowrimo, and since then I've learned he teaches something called "digital humanities." I have no idea what that means, but as a human in the digital realm, I'm assuming I'm on its cutting edge.

Today, Mr. Sample mentioned Cannonball Run. Then he got mad and told his invisible detractors (invisible to me, anyway, since Twitter doesn't show replies unless you follow both the speaker and the recipient) to stop quoting Harold Bloom. Who's Harold Bloom? Thought you'd know. I rolled on over to wikip and had a look at his work. He writes mostly on theories of poetic influence, it says.

The basic idea is that poets go through a cycle where they want to describe the world, but then they discover that their predecessors have already done that, so they go into a sort of denial state where they decide that the old poets were doing it wrong. Having satisfied themselves with this intentional misreading, they go on their merry egotistical way, stating the obvious about truth and beauty in the "correct" fashion.

So if I misread Harold Bloom, am I creating self-influence to direct my own unique literary criticism? Or am I just an asshole?

See, the problem here -- and this ain't comin' from any useful academic direction, this is straight off the top of my head -- is I don't think you can subvert success into failure in this manner. A good writer is analytical; I read, I digest and comprehend, and I incorporate the new information into my own technique and style. I can say with a straight face what I like or dislike, which shapes how I choose to reach the successes and avoid the pitfalls that I've perceived. But I don't delude myself into thinking it's all wrong, or harbour thoughts along the lines of "I could totally do better than that." Unless it's true.

Of course, it's possible that prose and poetry could be held to separate standards of influence, but then we're stuck trying to group everything one way or the other. And then where does literary criticism itself fall? Or any brand of non-fiction that nonetheless incorporates decisions of style and bias? Where do we place mixed-media with written components complemented by imagery (the comic book) or sound (the lyrics to your favourite song)? I can't rightly claim that a band is doing it wrong if they're rockin' out, or that Captain America shouldn't go KTUHNK into some nazi's chin with his shield. I have never seen my writing as a means to correct the mistakes of those who came before me; rather, I've always considered myself to be standing on their shoulders, reaching up to the next plateau. I don't resent them for giving me a place to work from; I do resent Bloom for suggesting that resentment is the only thing that drives artistic advancement.

Then there's some other stuff about Shakespeare and a whole page on the school of resentment, which frankly reads like an old man explaining why his crummy water-damaged paperbacks will cost you three bucks a pop, while the guy two yard sales over recognizes that his copy of Coriolanus with all the corners gone dog-eared is worth exactly two bits. Suggesting that the entire context and socio-political factors surrounding any work should be ignored in favour of unfettered analysis of the work itself is the height of presumption. "Art does not exist in a vacuum" and all that. I'm hip to his dislike for people finding meaning that isn't actually there, but using an external source for ascribing meaning isn't the same thing at all. And as for resentment? Yeah, I'd be resentful too if you stood up and said, "this is our Canon and you shall Follow it." I would break that canon down with my bare hands, regardless of its content or fairness. That isn't resentment; that's all-out rebellion. For the good of the land, etc.

Rrgh. I am so done with postmodernism. Can we get on to the next art wave, please? Can I be pre-whatever-it'll-be? If we can decide what we're on the brink of, a reformation or a rebellion or whatever, then I want to be pre-reform, pre-rebel, the vanguard on the next thing. I think I've sufficiently rejected enough critical attitude to be that for today, at least.