Friday, July 22nd, 2005
In reviewing the reading series in development here, I think I can come to a few major conclusions: I’m considering reading in two senses:
1. Reading as everyday (existential) activity: reading the self, environment, and landscape
2. Reading as cultural act and agency–multiform(al)/function(al) literacy
Literacy is applicable to both, but I would argue that literacy in its presence sense is more in line with the professions, scholarship, and specialization (I heard it used just the other day in this context). Likewise, both areas can involve degrees of skill and value. In English studies close reading is valued over the glance or surface read and thus the skill of close reading is emphasized in the classroom and developing the skill is supposedly addressed in the teaching pedagogy. But the term “close reading” can be ambiguous, in that people assume multiple meanings in its use, especially when we talk about education policy and schooling. Surely to deconstruct a text involves close reading, as would any other critical or philosophical aesthetic applied to texts. There are indeed different ways of reading William Carlos Williams’ poem To Daphne and Virginia
The smell of the heat is boxwood
when rousing us
a movement of the air
stirs our thoughts
that had no life in them
to a life, a life in which
two women agonize:
to live and to breathe is no less.
and Dean Young’s I Am But a Traveler in This Land & Know Little of Its Ways
Is Everything a field of energy caused
by human projection? From the crib bars
hang the teething tools. Above the finger-drummed
desk, a bit lip. The cyclone fence of buts
surrounds the soccer field of what if.
–But, of course, this is well known, even though the poems may not be. Yet, I’m nagged by the second of the two main ideas. Is one way of reading better than another? What does best justice to the poem or to the photograph at least for the reader who wants to read: the biographical approach, which informs a reading of Williams’ Asphodel, that Greeny Flower by looking for the connection between real life and the poem; the new critical approach which takes the poem as a self-contained work; the post-structuralist, which, as a set of approaches, focuses on the ambiguities and complexities of meaning, identity, and construct; the reader-response, which places the reader at the heart of the process? It may be that these are pointless questions. If someone wants to compare Williams’ life to the things he writes about, I’d say, go for it (who is Daphne?). Likewise, if one wants to read the philosophy of Derrida or Jacques Lacan or explore the notions underpinning colonialist writings, that’s excellent too. Or what about studying the patterns of things and get into the philosophy of recursionism, a la Escher?
All of this is taking me off track though, it would seem, because anyone can seek out the approaches and use them to understand some part of the stone to whatever degree this may be possible. Is it fine to bring forth the story then of the three readers: the poet, who observes the stone; the geologist, who tells us its parts, and the capitalist, who will figure its market value. Three readers, three stones. But is there one “essential” stone around which all three congregate with gloves on?
At my son’s recent eye test at the doctor the nurse held up a chart and asked, “What is this?’
“It’s a glove,” he said.
What do you think he was looking at?