Friday, August 19, 2016

Reading a poet on poetry, and why cats paint

This week I've been slowly taking in Jane Hirshfield's Ten Windows, How Great Poems Transform the World.  Goopy title, but the content is far from goopy. 

It's simply so worth reading and thinking about, and so illuminating in every line.  Each chapter is one of the windows, and the prose is so rich and dense with meaning that you really have to read a chapter then set it aside for a few days before your brain can go on with the next.  She knows and totally grasps a great deal of literature, brings out quotations to illustrate and analyze her point, with such clarity that you have to stay with her. Hugely recommended, though I usually look with a cold eye on books that talk about books.

A lot of lit crit is so literal, or dense in the unintelligible sense,  and dry and oh dear, why bother, just written for academic advancement, nothing to do with the advancement of understanding and effects of great literature, and writers of the unfortunate semiotic school, I'm lookin atchou!  anyway, I am cautious with this sort of reading, but had read some of Hirshfield's poetry and liked her insights.

So I embarked on this one and so glad I did. She brings a poet's incisiveness and many layered vision to the concepts, and you just accompany her on a ride over and through new ideas, shaped and presented and still open to dispute.  It's like a personal seminar you never want to leave.

As you see, I'm also reading her poems here, so as not to forget to dance with her what brung me here.

On the subject of literary and of fine art analysis, I do have a very sceptical approach, except  for such tours de force as Why Cats Paint, which is one of the most full-on hysterically funny treatises on the painting exploits of cats, complete with works, analysis, and footnotes and references.  

It should come with a warning sticker to those literal folk who try to read it as serious art history of the zoological kind, and think it's going to be about elephants and chimpanzees and all that, playing with color and paper, all very nice.  But that's not what this is. 

It's a penetrating sendup of art criticism, wonderfully skewering the solemn writings of solemn white males discussing the work of other solemn white males.  And gets funnier and funnier until everything in the universe seems funny.  

Do look at it, particularly if you've been stuffed with Gombrich and Pevsner and all that canon.  Or even if you haven't.  Real artists, as opposed to wannabes and to people who write about them, usually have a terrific sense of humor and ability to see themselves as basically comic figures.  It's no coincidence that a lot of them have cats as studio companions!  Life's a banquet, not an essay to be written, after all.

1 comment:

  1. I was happy to see that my library had Ten Windows, so requested it. Your blog must have good readership here in Beaverton OR, as there are 11 requests ahead of mine😏
    I'm looking forward to it, am just starting "The Quality of Silence" today. Not liking the lead narrator very much so far!


Thanks so much for commenting. I read all comments with care and much pleasure!