disinterested science

alec ramsdell a_ramsdell at hotmail.com
Thu Jul 30 10:56:46 PDT 1998

Brett Knowlton wrote:

Reading literature and poetry
>at least opens you up to the notion that there is more to life than
>a bigger paycheck.
>I think the weakening of the humanities is a problem because it is one
>the few places that the dominant neo-liberal (or whatever the right
>word is) ideology isn't rammed down you throat - other alternatives are
>presented for students to chew on, and to this extent it is a good

I studied poetry writing at Northwestern University with Mary Kinzie. Her approach was rigorous, pedagogical, and ideologically loaded (BTW, James Merrill, yes of *that* family, was one of the nine poets we studied in depth). Some students considered her class traumatic--she was wont to writing things like "this is cant", "doggerel", and other more subtly enlightening observations on the margins of student poems.

Apart from all the extra-textual matters possibly bound up with studying writing--careerism in the field of workshops in universities (I remember Mary Kinzie calling Iowa the Vichy of writing programs: a judgement insensitive in historical political scope?), taste-cliques in journals, etc.--such a course of study meant serious formal, linguistic analyisis of texts. History, Economics (poetry is quantitative too, and we all have ten fingers), Political Science. For instance, of recognizing how ideology accumulates in writing, how words can be magnets for ideology. And also how writing traditions and tropes cross historical lines: how certain styles or figures of speech may be favored in one historico-political context over another. How writing conventions are common currency through time, etc.

Oh, here's a funny one: Shelley has that famous line about poets being the unacknoledge legislators of the world (or was it mankind (sic)). Which the wag W.H. Auden, living through WWII revised to: no, the secret police are.


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