Writers vs. critics

22 March 2009 at 8:55 AM | Posted in News | 3 Comments

“Why does the literature of so multilingual a world give so imperfect a portrait of that world’s linguistic complexity?” asks Lawrence Rosenwald in “American Anglophone Literature and Multilingual America” (in Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, edited by Werner Sollors, 1998, p. 327). The question applies not only to the United States (with its glaring denial that not all Americans write or even speak English), but to the rest of the world, which has become mostly multilingual or at least bilingual. In the area of literature, writers around the world have increasingly become multilingual, not only with macaronic texts, but with many mainly monolingual texts with other-language passages. It is in the area of literary criticism that intellectuals have lagged behind; literary critics still read poems as though they were written by linguistically-challenged poets. Why is this so? We can perhaps glean an answer from postcolonial theory: it is intellectuals that have always tried to maintain the status quo (we call that hegemony or ideology) by marginalizing or suppressing minority languages, texts, things, ideas, and persons. Another way of putting it is this: artists always try to go against the grain, critics always try to keep the artists in check. As a playwright and critic, I am as schizophrenic or hyphenated as can be: as a playwright, I hate it when a critic says I do not follow the Aristotelian structure or that my plays lack plot, conflict, character, etc., but as a critic, I love putting down playwrights that do not worry about Aristotelian structure and that ignore plot, conflict, character, etc. There is a moral lesson there somewhere, but I haven’t learned it yet.

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  1. Has multilingual literature, blended poetry, (e.g., those written by Cassar and Monte) succeeded in “codifying” a valid literary theory that would allow an evaluation built around a nurturing literary criticism?

    While still in an “experimental” stage, multilingual literature must “earn” a currency that would make its reading and/or study worth precious lifetime on. Until it does, no relevant literary criticism could be built around it. No critic would take it seriously.

    A “pastiche” of poetic lines however subsumed they are in archetypal material, (like those of Monte) might simply be ignored as a horseplay of linguistic (not necessarily literary) equipment. In the previous comment where I illustrated
    “blended” poetry (in that I composed an interlacing of lyrics that derive their energies from extant and familiar literature that have since become part of the mythology and archetypal landscape of the blended cultures), I would dread calling the created “verse” poetry. That is why it is crucial to answer the question: When does something that “appears” poetic become poetry? A literary theorist worth his calling fosters “frontier” expression. The literary critic stands on guard against dilettantism. The charlatan must still sneak through the critic’s sentry.

    Even in the artistic world, we cannot yet afford anarchy. Tolerate “creative” brinkmanship, maybe. Advant-garde-ism? Why not?

    It might even be unfair to suspect “that intellectuals have always tried to maintain the staus quo”. Quite the contrary, as in the case of T.S. Eliot where he hewed his poetry close to the “new” phenomenology and epistemological constructs of authors like F. H. Bradley (See “The Wasteland.”). Hence, the “symbolist” flavour (a la Baudelaire)seen in Eliot’s earlier poems.

    Mao Tse Tung wrote literature that effectively changed the entire Chinese orthography as well as the writing system (that streamed it toward the “modern” left-to-right as opposed to calligraphic right-to-left-top-to-bottom system, and created “people’s literature” that served the intellectual’s and people’s revolutionary aspirations. Look at China now. Does its literature still belong to the Mandarinate?

    This, too, is a situation where the critic must first be an artist, or even vice versa. It would guarantee the best — if not the most workable — condition of both worlds. Instead of suffering from an artistic “estoppel”, the writer still has his “reasonable” creative framework, and the critic still subscribes to a valid valuative norm in order to move on and do their art.

    A critic who is first a creative artist cannot and must not practise artistic despotism. If anything, the best literary critics ought to be the best writers, and the best writers are usually their best critics anyway.

    No adversarial relation here. One cannot give what one does not have. As a poet and critic myself, when I do write my criticism, I do not function well “looking from the outside” because I am more comfortable burning flotsam and jetsam inside a house whose “wreckage” I am obligated to clean up. I know what I need to clean up. Either way.– ALBERT B. CASUGA

  2. Has multilingual literature, blended poetry, (e.g., those written by Cassar and Monte) succeeded in “codifying” a valid literary theory that would allow an evaluation built around a nurturing literary criticism?

    While still in an “experimental” stage, multilingual literature must “earn” a currency that would make its reading and/or study worth precious lifetime on. Until it does, no relevant literary criticism could be built around it. No critic would take it seriously.

    A “pastiche” of poetic lines however subsumed they are in archetypal material, (like those of Monte) might simply be ignored as a horseplay of linguistic (not necessarily literary) equipment. In the previous comment where I illustrated
    “blended” poetry (in that I composed an interlacing of lyrics that derive their energies from extant and familiar literature that have since become part of the mythology and archetypal landscape of the blended cultures), I would dread calling the created “verse” poetry. That is why it is crucial to answer the question: When does something that “appears” poetic become poetry? A literary theorist worth his calling fosters “frontier” expression. The literary critic stands on guard against dilettantism. The charlatan must still sneak through the critic’s sentry.

    Even in the artistic world, we cannot yet afford anarchy. Tolerate “creative” brinkmanship, maybe. Advant-garde-ism? Why not?

    It might even be unfair to suspect “that intellectuals have always tried to maintain the staus quo”. Quite the contrary, as in the case of T.S. Eliot where he hewed his poetry close to the “new” phenomenology and epistemological constructs of authors like F. H. Bradley (See “The Wasteland.”). Hence, the “symbolist” flavour (a la Baudelaire)seen in Eliot’s earlier poems.

    Mao Tse Tung wrote literature that effectively changed the entire Chinese orthography as well as the writing system (that streamed it toward the “modern” left-to-right as opposed to calligraphic right-to-left-top-to-bottom system, and created “people’s literature” that served the intellectual’s and people’s revolutionary aspirations. Look at China now. Does its literature still belong to the Mandarinate?

    This, too, is a situation where the critic must first be an artist, or even vice versa. It would guarantee the best — if not the most workable — condition of both worlds. Instead of suffering from an artistic “estoppel”, the writer still has his “reasonable” creative framework, and the critic still subscribes to a valid valuative norm in order to move on and do their art.

    A critic who is first a creative artist cannot and must not practise artistic despotism. If anything, the best literary critics ought to be the best writers, and the best writers are usually their best critics anyway.

    No adversarial relation here. One cannot give what one does not have. As a poet and critic myself, when I do write my criticism, I do not function well “looking from the outside” because I am more comfortable burning flotsam and jetsam inside a house whose “wreckage” I am obligated to clean up. I know what I need to clean up. Either way.– ALBERT B. CASUGA

  3. Has multilingual literature, blended poetry, (e.g., those written by Cassar and Monte) succeeded in “codifying” a valid literary theory that would allow an evaluation built around a nurturing literary criticism?

    While still in an “experimental” stage, multilingual literature must “earn” a currency that would make its reading and/or study worth precious lifetime on. Until it does, no relevant literary criticism could be built around it. No critic would take it seriously.

    A “pastiche” of poetic lines however subsumed they are in archetypal material, (like those of Monte) might simply be ignored as a horseplay of linguistic (not necessarily literary) equipment. In the previous comment where I illustrated
    “blended” poetry (in that I composed an interlacing of lyrics that derive their energies from extant and familiar literature that have since become part of the mythology and archetypal landscape of the blended cultures), I would dread calling the created “verse” poetry. That is why it is crucial to answer the question: When does something that “appears” poetic become poetry? A literary theorist worth his calling fosters “frontier” expression. The literary critic stands on guard against dilettantism. The charlatan must still sneak through the critic’s sentry.

    Even in the artistic world, we cannot yet afford anarchy. Tolerate “creative” brinkmanship, maybe. Advant-garde-ism? Why not?

    It might even be unfair to suspect “that intellectuals have always tried to maintain the staus quo”. Quite the contrary, as in the case of T.S. Eliot where he hewed his poetry close to the “new” phenomenology and epistemological constructs of authors like F. H. Bradley (See “The Wasteland.”). Hence, the “symbolist” flavour (a la Baudelaire)seen in Eliot’s earlier poems.

    Mao Tse Tung wrote literature that effectively changed the entire Chinese orthography as well as the writing system (that streamed it toward the “modern” left-to-right as opposed to calligraphic right-to-left-top-to-bottom system, and created “people’s literature” that served the intellectual’s and people’s revolutionary aspirations. Look at China now. Does its literature still belong to the Mandarinate?

    This, too, is a situation where the critic must first be an artist, or even vice versa. It would guarantee the best — if not the most workable — condition of both worlds. Instead of suffering from an artistic “estoppel”, the writer still has his “reasonable” creative framework, and the critic still subscribes to a valid valuative norm in order to move on and do their art.

    A critic who is first a creative artist cannot and must not practise artistic despotism. If anything, the best literary critics ought to be the best writers, and the best writers are usually their best critics anyway.

    No adversarial relation here. One cannot give what one does not have. As a poet and critic myself, when I do write my criticism, I do not function well “looking from the outside” because I am more comfortable burning flotsam and jetsam inside a house whose “wreckage” I am obligated to clean up. I know what I need to clean up. Either way.– ALBERT B. CASUGA


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