Not long after reading this blog-pastiche of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as performed by the Marx Brothers (give up all hope ye who enter the comment stream), I ran across the following passage in Barbara Reynolds’s wonderful book Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man. Reynolds notes that Dante, in the Convivio, identifies a “sickness of the mind” that she characterizes as “a boastfulness that leads people to believe that they know everything and to affirm as certain things that are not.” She quotes Aquinas:
[T]here are many who by their natural dispositions are so presumptuous as to believe that they can gauge everything by their intellect, believing everything true that seems to them true, and false everything that does not.
According to Reynolds’s interpretation, “Such people never attain to learning, believing they are already sufficiently instructed; they never ask questions, they never listen, they never desire to be questioned, and if they are, they reply before the question is concluded and their answer is wrong.”
In this case, neither the blog author nor the majority of commentators bother to offer up a shred of evidence for their positions. No wonder poets and poetry aren’t taken seriously! We don’t take our own commitments seriously, feeling (apparently) that it’s enough for us to claim we have them. No one, for or against the MFA industry, feels it necessary to support their views by quoting examples of bad or brilliant writing. But of course the dispute isn’t about what makes good poetry. Is it?