Friday, May 23, 2008

Against Rigidity

My Reading Declaration in Brief
Chapter Two: Against Rigidity

"Thus Dostoevsky portrayed not the life of an idea in an isolated consciousness, and not the interrelationship of ideas, but the interaction of consciousnesses in the sphere of ideas (but not of ideas only)."
Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics

I find as a reader I ought to avoid universal, absolute pronouncements about literature. The great diversity of writers means that I will always find a writer who will shatter any totalizing statement. Say there are no ideas in literature? Then you will miss much of Dostoevsky: even Bakhtin, who focused on Dostoevsky's aesthetic, recognized the importance of ideas in his novels and examined how Dostoevsky's aesthetic portrayed those ideas. Say one shouldn't look for symbolism in literature? Then avoid Hawthorne, who practically begs his reader to find symbolism in his short stories. Do you have a precise definition of what great poetry should be? No doubt there is a great poet in history who not only defies your definition but probably writes poetry that is precisely the opposite of your definition, but that is no less great.

I have preferences. I try hard to recognize these as my own preferences, and to not universalize my notions into any totalizing theory. I know that whatever my notions and preferences, there are writers who will defy them, and still be great. And that is also why what I offer here is not a prescription for others, but my own Declaration of Reading.

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