(Notice how I'll ignore the outcome of the elections the other day. I will admit a certain smug satisfaction bending into horror at the thought of Republicans in power, but that's just leftover transference, the residue of belief in the myth of even a TWO party system, so: horror as banality or... misplaced dread slash depression--where'd it go? Ah, here it is... )
Since I'm gearing up to write review-essays on Eleni Stecopolous's Armies of Compassion and CA Conrad's The Book of Frank, I've been re-thinking the review-essay. In a wandering sort of way, anyhow. In my short thought bubble re negative criticism down below (which is to say back then--Remember when directionality of online reading [up/down vs. left/right or right/left] was a question a lot were interested in writing about? Scroll DOWN once in the 2009 archives fora brief discussion re hypertext), I didn't realize (this is how CURRENT I am with regard to contemporary debates about poetry going on online) that Kent Johnson's short note I was referring to (at former Harriet Blog) was occasioned by a larger essay ("Some Darker Bouquets") by Jason Guriel, outlining why he feels negative criticism so-called should be part of the now-literary-landscape, which itself occasioned a larger roundtable of responses at MAYDAY. Which is all to admit that what I was responding to was the dragon's tail, not the whole beast. So, for further reading check out the links here. For my original post check out the links here.
Ultimately, tho I'm not hot on Johnson's call to axion (note how, say five years ago, and maybe now, Johnson's satiric provocations lead to much of the contemporary criticism being written, er, published, and was by and large not itself negative criticism but meta-conversation/debate?), couched within this series of overdetermined anxieties born of careerism (nb: editorial comment),under all of this whether negative conversation is that vital question: what are the potential and actual functions of contemporary criticism? Since I've always taken my short and longer writings to be essays on works I am drawn to, this question still applies. Where "criticism" often means "essaying" on one's contemporaries. Not surprisingly I'm drawn to, as noted before, Donovan's "desiring criticism," a criticism that is generated from desire to synthesize with a particular work or aesthetic event--to take it on its own terms and also on one's own, to in effect create a tertiary object that speaks to the larger aesthetic landscape, and yet still, potentially to conditions that made the work possible and that the work conversely helps (if minutely) alter. To close read in a desiring mode, then, I take not to be some recapitulation of what Johnson and others are critiquing, but a different mindset altogether, one not so dissimilar from Kristin Prevallet's short response at MAYDAY. The critical object, the close reading, will take all manner of forms, but all nonetheless approach works with an interest in not only trying to "understand" their internal logics and ways of making meaning, but jump from the work and turn outward variously, often recursively or dialectically.
For me the most enriching pieces are close readings that have an enlarged field of discussion, where both the poetry and the critical objects become immeshed dialectically--where the tertiary object is for neither author but for other potential readers. Not unlike the way Rodrigo Toscano envisions the ideal blurb in his MAYDAY piece. Poetry can do this too (and so can other non-discursive modes). My work is often a close reading of another's. Both Toscano and Prevallet I write thru in a section of Occultations, for instance (it was Tom Orange who reminded me when getting blurbs to, if the blurb must exist, find contemporaries, i.e., potential or actual collaborators, with whom you have affinities, not a list of folks scratched out based on what "big" name could legitimize your work).
Both of these desiring practices are not new, of course. They are a central part of the ethos of the Objectivists, with the epistolary practices of Williams, the close readings (and the epistolary) of Zukofsky, and the incomparable intertextuality of Oppen, especially in his OBN. Just examples, mind you. One I'll draw you to, not to compare myself here, but one piece I co-wrote that I hopes creates a tertiary synthesis, that involves both close reading and (and as central to) an expansion of ideas, moving from the works into other works, into the world, you can read here. From Furniture Press's (Chris C.'s) The Dialogue's End journal, a piece Emily Carr and I wrote this past July. In their archives is another of these "inter-re-views," by Marthe Reed and Chris McCreary. This format, and Chris C's at that, come from a similar interest in figuring out ways to close read, to avoid the merely laudatory PR piece in favor of a writing for "readers...[interested] in larger conversations," as Kristin Prevallet aptly writes. I think these pieces, and especially the pieces in the offline ON Journal, reflect several of potentially nearly infinite number of possibilities an essaying that is neither negative nor positive (overall) can take. Just because one is not interested in the negative review, this doesn't mean one wants to or does write the positive review analog. It's that the terms of the debate are different, in fact the debates are different simpliciter. Radically different outlooks on what the critical piece/essay is. What the, i.e., review is or can be.
Regardless of the questions I was after in my short earlier post, those regarding why write the critical object-response in the first place, Johnson again helps spur some conversation while avoiding (not that he hasn't written any) the negative, the eviscerating, the [...]. FYI: Thom Donovan has at least two excellent pieces on these questions over at his blog, WHOF, in addition to the offline work mentioned.