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Posts Tagged ‘craft’

Years ago, a friend of mine was trying to make a casual reference to his wife, who he loved dearly, and I knew from the church fellowship we were all attending at the time. The phrase he was trying to avoid was “the little woman”, but then it was immediately clear that saying “the big woman” wouldn’t do either, and so what he ended up with was the awkward and funny [even to her] “woman of moderate size”….

So here, in a somewhat similarly awkward vein, is someone trying to decide if poetry is a lively art, a hobby, a craft, or, by a particular definition, a “minor art”: a craft whose audience is mostly other practitioners of that art…..

Poetry in the twenty-first century is like pottery, woodworking, or the making of carrot carnations. Sophisticated verse was never a major art, and having lost even a small non-practitioner audience, it has lost its status as a minor art. At hobbyist conventions, celebrated practitioners of a craft address an audience made up of other practitioners of the craft, who will then go home and work at the art themselves. Poetry has more residual cultural prestige than carrot carnation making and other hobbies, but that is only because most of the poet-hobbyists are professors with MFAs, while there are no professors of table-setting.From Poesey to Carrot Carnations

I suppose he is talking about “pottery” in the sense of the craft practiced in studio art programs, and “woodworking” in some sense that is similarly rarified — but if you walk around fine craft shows, there seem to be quite a few non-practitioners who come to admire, gawp, collect, and natter. The audiences for these items still do include outsiders: There are people who love a beautifully-sculpted chair arm whether or not they’ve ever picked out a spokeshave from the Veritas or Lie Nielsen. There are degree programs in interior design. There are blogs featuring elaborate tablescapes and business models based around floral sculptures made of fruits and vegetables.

The population of people who talk about politics may be larger [that’s Mr. Lind’s main audience and source of income], and it may be that these days you can get more notariety [or more dates] if you perform in that arena rather than in poetry. But I don’t think the system of political pundits talking about/at/with each other is any less insular [and potentially prone to omphaloskepsis] than specialized communities of discourse in other segments of life or art.  I remember my piano teacher, who traveled around the world on the basis of her skills, telling me once that she had started reading business magazines [Forbes, Fortune, etc.] to see if the world of finance was any less ‘silly’ than the music world….and she came to the conclusion that it wasn’t. If the inhabitants of humanities departments get more mileage [tenure, grants, etc.] by making pronouncements about pop culture than about poetry, that’s not just a “sense of cultural responsibility” owed to one genre over another — it’s just a human desire to be wherever the action is….

Until, with typical human perversity, it becomes more interesting/authentic/hip to be running off in some other, probably opposite, direction. I believe that’s what the Smart Set aims for in its articles most of the time, anyway: a provocatvie contrarianism that reifies the status quo of some earlier time.

And yes, that was a rubbish previous sentence.  Time to get some sleep!

Music: “She’s Actual Size, but She Seems a Lot Bigger to Me”, They Might Be Giants

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First, a quick excerpt from one of the blogs in the sidebar, Larval Subjects:

However, having witnessed twenty years of critiques of ideology I’m led to wonder what critiques of ideology have ever done to really change anything. The conception of politics as ideology critique seems to largely result among bookish academics that believe it is books and discourses are the primary real and who are therefore persuaded that change takes place through books and discourses. Like the obsessional– who might this obsessional be? –who talks endlessly precisely to avoid saying what really should be said, this conception of the political endlessly dissects various narratives and cultural formations to create the illusion of acting without ever hitting the real. Indeed, there’s a very real sense in which those literary studies types so delighted by Zizek seem to be more motivated to find a justification for writing about their favorite movies and television shows rather than changing social organization in any significant way. [full post here]

I remember being told by one of my undergrad mentors that critical theory evolved out of the frustration of people who saw the energy of the ’68 era, taught it to their students with fervor, and then discovered they’d produced a generation of smug middle-managers.  Something was wrong; agency and social innovation wasn’t happening; the revolution had been pre-empted [and this was before the tech boom!].  Something new had to be sorted out, or at least, the reasons why “NEW” was so difficult needed to be sorted out. Okay, fine.

In graduate school, critical theory morphed into cultural studies, and it can be a fun game to play, but I sympathized more with the rusty Marxists who were doing actual archeology over in the remnants of the steel mills, sifting through records and interviewing whoever was left who remembered the mills in their prime.  I wanted a closer relationship between the talking about and the making of things.  Let’s talk about the steel, the RotoVap, the wings on a fruit fly.

Much more recently, I was on a search committee, and could hear colleagues speaking the critical/cultural theory language again, and it was like looking through a haze, or into a Turner painting.  I kept thinking: there might be a ship in that painting somewhere, or the echo of a ship, or an cluster of ideas that people have agreed in the past to fit the concept “ship”…..if there was a ship, there would be people working on it, setting sails, adjusting the rigging to best make use of the wind. And all the theorizing about ship-ness would’t matter one jot to the people just trying to get their work done and get home.

Second, go see an expert at work: Angry lets the light dawn upon a student: if you haven’t bothered with a class, don’t expect its prof to help you graduate!

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