Don Share’s a bright guy and a fine poet. And I have a lingering cold that’s made me kvetchy—tired and irritable; not too tired to kvetch, but too tired to go on at length. SO: Share posts this snippet today from Charles Bernstein’s new book of essays, Attack of the Difficult Poems (forthcoming from U of Chicago Press; 288 pages; $95 cloth, $26 paperback [I shit you not]):
When reading poetry is not directed to the goal of deciphering a fixed, graspable meaning but rather encourages performing and responding to overlapping meanings, then difficulty ceases to be an obstacle and is transformed into an opening.
— Charles Bernstein, “Creative Wreading & Aesthetic Judgment”
I’m betting this is a misquote of some kind (the grammar is bad for a fellow clever enough to concoct the word “wreading”), but the meaning is clear. Share calls it “attractive pedagogy,” but as it stands (i.e., out of context and so, essentially, defenseless) I’d have to call it borderline idiotic.
Bernstein’s subtext is that poetry can not only convey multiple meanings (I hear Homer Simpson barking “D’oh!”), but that the more overlapping meanings it can generate, the more it is transformed from obstacle to opening. In other words, more ambiguity equals more openness which equals more aesthetic value.
This conception handily absolves the “wreader” of all responsibility for understanding the poem, and simultaneously—”How conveeenyent” the Church Lady would say—absolves the pedagogue as well. Furthermore, it absolves the poet of any responsibility for communicating anything. But then the poem, in Bernstein’s universe, does not exist to communicate, but to pour as many frequencies as possible into a single channel. In the universe outside the University, though—you know, the world you and I inhabit as opposed to the world Bernstein (Donald T. Regan Professor of English* at the U of Penn) inhabits—the result is simply so much static.
There. Believe it or not, I feel a bit better. Now it’s time for my dose of tongue-numbing cough syrup. I’m hoping for luminous dreams….
* Bernstein’s professorship is named in honor of the former Merrill Lynch guru who became Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and a prime architect of “Reaganomics.” Here’s hoping that Bernstein, the anti-capitalist, enjoys the irony as much as I do.