Not every idea is a red herring, but it is also absurd to trade
assertions. Simply stating either claim is pointless.
You seem to imagine that you have some special and rare insight into
teaching that others lack. You might want to think a bit more about
that. No one who teaches with any care at all does anything so useless
as just "generating a negative learning response," whatever that jargon
But no one talked about "responses" anyway. We were talking about
meaning, and poems may mean many things, but they do not mean whatever
the reader is thinking about, disconnected from the words of the poem.
Whatever do poets waste their time for if all the world can affect what
a poem "means" except only the words they put on paper. A poem exists;
it is an arrangement of words; it can be interpreted in many ways; but
the interpretation is OF the poem: it is not just anything at all with
no reference to the words.
Your claim would mean that "April is the cruelest month" and "Fair fa'
your honest, sonsie face" and "this is thi / six a clock / news thi /
man said n" and "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" and "The
moon is a sow" and "I / is the total black, being spoken" can all mean
the same thing--even that all are about cows--if a reader (presumably
obsessed by cows--reads them that way.
But they are all different and none are about cows.
And please stop the totally baseless notion that others cannot teach;
you don't even know what others do. The most positive experience a
student can have may be, in fact, to discover just how a poem draws her
into words and demands the respect of discovering what is not already an
idea of feeling she has.
>>> [log in to unmask] 07/15/05 9:50 PM >>>
Every idea is a red herring.
If a student came to me with an apparently absurdly unjustifiable
rather than generating a negative learning response, I would investigate
occasioned that response by the student, and do my best to turn it into
a positive learning occcasion, or adjust my own view if the student's
out to have justification. In effect NO response to a poem is wrong.
Who was it who said something like
A poem must not mean but BE.
I agree that it is absurd to make students agree with one's own opinion,
but in fact that absurdity is perpetrated ALL the time by many in power
in academia. The fact that they tend not to be stood up to and
by their colleagues causes me to have very serious scepticism about
academia in general. Its value deserves serious questioning by society.
Nancy Gish wrote:
>This is an absurd red herring. The issue is not a simple dichotomy of
>all or nothing. The fact that a poem may mean many things and diverse
>things does not mean that it can mean anything. Otherwise there is no
>reason for it at all.
>In any reading there are several elements (I am drawing on other
>scholars; this is not my formulation): the text, the reader, the
>"author" (whoever made the marks on the page or the notes or the paint
>or whatever), and whatever the "author" meant to refer it to. To
>eliminate any of these is to distort reading. If a poem has nothing
>whatever to do with the words that comprise it, there is no reason to
>make those black marks on white pages.
>It is nothing so silly or naive as requiring students to agree with
>whatever the professor thinks: saying that is just a way of shifting
>the discussion away from any serious idea. It is about the nature of
>texts at all.
>>>>[log in to unmask] 07/15/05 4:52 AM >>>
>Nancy Gish wrote:
>>I don't know where it comes from, but my students seem to start out
>with this idea, that a poem (unlike anything else, apparently), is
>"about" whatever one thinks it is. I point out that if you think TWL
>about the joys of rural life in a pastoral landscape with cows and
>that nature will teach you about god, you are, in fact, just wrong.
>>The words on the page are also involved in what a poem is about; they
>are not just a point of departure for anything on one's mind
>Why not (except in an advanced English lit class, of course,
>where one is in a state of potential existential crisis if one
>disagrees with the "teacher" and expresses it)?
>Eliot, T.S. "The Music of Poetry." ON POETRY AND POETS.
> (originally Faber, 1947).
>... when I learn that a difficult sonnet was inspired by seeing a
>painting on the ceiling reflected on the polished top of a table,
>by seeing the light reflected from the foam on a glass of beer, I
>only say that this may be a correct embryology, but it is not the
>meaning. If we are moved by a poem, it has meant something, perhaps
>something important, to us; if we are not moved, then it is, as
>meaningless. We can be deeply stirred by hearing the recitation of a
>poem in a language of which we understand no word; but if we are then
>told that the poem is gibberish and has no meaning, we shall consider
>that we have been deluded -- this was no poem, it was merely an
>imitation of instrumental music. If, as we are aware, only a part of
>meaning can be conveyed by paraphrase, that is because the poet is
>occupied with frontiers of consciousness beyond which words fail,
>though meanings still exist. A poem may appear to mean very
>different things to different readers, and all of these meanings may
>different from what the author thought he meant. For instance, the
>author may have been writing some peculiar personal experience, which
>he saw quite unrelated to anything outside; yet for the reader
>poem may become the expression of a general situation, as well as
>of some private experience of his own. The reader's interpretation may
>differ from the author's and be equally valid -- it may even be better.
>There may be much more in a poem than the author was aware of. The
>different interpretations may all be partial formulations of one thing;
>the ambiguities may be due to the fact that the poem means more, not
>less, than ordinary speech can communicate. So, while poetry
>attempts to convey something beyond what can be conveyed in prose
>rhythms, it remains, all the same, one person talking to another; and
>this is just as true if you sing it, for singing is another way of
>talking. The immediacy of poetry to conversation is not a matter on
>which we can lay down exact laws. Every revolution in poetry is apt to
>be, and sometimes to announce itself to be, a return to common speech.
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