What does rapport have to do with aesthetic ejaculation?

I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about the FHSS Seminar given by Kendall L. Walton today and some thoughts on the writer/reader relationship.

Going on from the last comment I made about a voice in a poem being composed of a scale of imperatives, that shape the reality of the world the voice inhabits, I feel I need to do some thinking about interplay between fiction and non-fiction or autobiography in what I’m writing. This is important when considering where the voices will draw their worlds from. It is also important when considering how the reader will be able to recognize and participate in the worlds of the voices.

Thinking more about the dramatic monologue lately I think where I speak from is becoming more of a focus in the writing I’m doing. Obviously it is how this position manifests in the writing that is of interest here.

Wikipedia describes the dramatic monologue as:

‘A type of poem, developed during the Victorian period, in which a character in fiction or in history delivers a speech explaining his or her feelings, actions, or motives. The monologue is usually directed toward a silent audience, with the speaker’s words influenced by a critical situation.’

So the speaker’s words are influenced by a critical situation real or imagined. How does the writer inhabit the critical situation? How does the reader inhabit the critical situation?

About the FHSS Seminar given by Kendall L. Walton, ‘the world’s leading expert in philosophical aesthetics,’ today, I have to say I was disappointed. Not by his core philosophies but where he was directing them and where he chose to situate the limits of his work in relation to readers and poets, and musicians and listeners.

In his paper entitled “Poets, Personae, Thoughtwriters” he set out a comparison between ‘speech writers’ and poets to emphasize that once the poem inhabits the reader, the poem ditches the poet. Poets invariably arrange poems for use by readers – the poem first and foremost belongs to the world of the reader.

To explain, poems end up in the voice of the reader, a reading voice, a thought voice of the reader, however you want to put it. Poems can be spoken at a wedding, be recited internally, be memorized and they are realized in the context of the readers world. Thus once the poem inhabits the reader, the poem ditches the false position of the writer as key to the poems mobility (that’s how the poet is like a speech-writer in Kendall’s thinking. The poet prepares the poem for work in the voice of the reader).

In this way it is the reader who socialises with the speaker in the poem, the words used, and employs them in their everyday life. The reader can engage the poem in many ways by imagining they’re the speaker, refusing to empathise with the speaker, using the speakers words as a succinct exemplification of thoughts or feelings they have but can’t express etc.

Granted some of this is a bit suspect, but if you keep in mind that his aim is to emphasize the place of the reader, that poetry perhaps is centred on relationships across readers, rather than having the writer at the center then his aim is justifiably contemporary.

A key area of discussion in recent years in the visual arts in NZ has been around ‘relational practice’. One way to understand this is that relational just means an emphasis is placed on the viewer of the work of art as the key to activating the work. The artist then is on an equal plane as the viewer, the artist is there to facilitate participation in the artwork, and importantly the artist doesn’t know more than the view. The viewer has a bit more power in this respect. Unfortunately Kendall L. Walton didn’t relate his work to the recent approaches in the visual arts that articulate a participatory involvement of viewers and the arguments that have arisen around this.

Kendall mentioned another contemporary method of understanding a work of art, though did not outline his negative response to it in relation to his ideas of the reader. He stated that thinkers have moved from locating the meaning or true experience of the work of art from the intention of the creator to having the meaning/experience/mobility imbedded in the work itself. The work perpetuates an experience of it that doesn’t rely on the subjectivity of the author or reader.

To illustrate the problem I can identify in the limitations to an aesthetic navigation of poetry through the reader alone, that seemed present in his paper, I will tell you something about ‘ejaculation’.

And what place does ejaculation have in this I hear you ask. Well, writer and Anglican priest, George Herbert, (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633), related his verse to a process of ejaculation, which in the ecclesiastical sense, suggests that the believer is the conduit for the word of God. Ejaculations were pure inspirations, rather than representations of inspirations. In a nutshell it removed human involvement, specifically the writer, from the sophisticated inspired verse.

There are many interesting interpretations possible here, but back to Kendall. I thought there was some part of his argument that seemed to update the position of the writer-as-conduit of God to the more contemporary, reader-as-conduit of the poem.

What a weight of responsibility to put on the poor old reader! I mean I thought I was just reading a poem! I at least thought I’d be sharing the load with the writer! I realise God is dead and well the author died a little while ago too, but I thought that was just a way of weening ourselves off silly subjective reductions and veracious appetites for meaning – I thought we were broadening our appetite rather than slimming it down! I’m hungry for words but don’t leave me by myself, I need companionship, I need to feel like I’m in the company of others – God-dam all I’m asking for is a chance to socialise and be reminded that its out there for me at any time – even when I’m at home in my turtle PJ’s sipping a cup of muesli.

Well that’s my rant over, for now. Good on Anna Jackson for challenging his metaphor of the ‘speech writer’ in relation to the poet. I just wish Kendall had risen to the challenge and explicated his position more thoroughly in relation to broader fields of aesthetics.

Right, so the reason I bought this up was to talk about fiction and non-fiction in my writing. Basically I think me and the reader are in it together. Like any relationship (that may last or may necessarily be a fulfilling one-night-poetry-stand) you need to work at it and build up a rapport from the start. You need to establish certain limits and certain places where these limits, given the right context, can be exceeded or surprised.

The speaker of the poem can be imagined or be closer to my own voice and the reader or listener is capable of accepting either so long as they can verify what the speaker is doing there in the poem, and as importantly what they themselves are doing there in the poem. That’s what rapport is I guess.

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