February 08, 2007

Poetry and Culture

The Dutch Settlers by J M Basquiet

Read these quotations and you might like to consider the questions that follow:

Even today the culture industry dresses works of art like political slogans and forces them on a resistant public at reduced prices; they are as accessible for public enjoyment as a park. […] Culture is a paradoxical commodity. So completely is it subject to the law of exchange that it can no longer be exchanged; it is so blindly consumed in use that it can no longer be used. -Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment

Thinkers like Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, and E.P. Thompson came to see culture as a means of resistance to capitalism. If illiteracy was a way of keeping the poor and working people away from intellectual instruments that might impel rebellion, literacy in the form of clandestine pamphlets and underground newspapers was a way of maintaining alternative perspectives to those demanded by the progress of industrial capitalism and the subsumption of the population by factory labor. -Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, “The Politics of Culture”

[…] to take up arms to dominate a people is, above all, to take up arms to destroy, or at least to neutralise, to paralyse its cultural life. […] This for example is the case with the so-called theory of progressive assimilation of native populations, which turns out to be only a more or less violent attempt to deny the culture of the people in question. -Amilcar Cabralcar, Return to the Source

Look at the images in the Zionist films of the thirties: the land is always displayed as empty. Insofar as Arabs are present, they are acknowledged only as camels and keepers walking across the screen at one moment or another to supply a kind of exotic local colour: This is not a field in the Ukraine, this is the exotic East. […] And the same idea occurs in America: the pioneering spirit, errand into the wilderness, the obliteration of another society, and the continual sense of enterprise, that enterprise is good for its own sake, especially because a Book says so. It doesn’t matter that the enterprise means killing people, bombing apartment houses, emptying villages. But it’s enterprise of a particular kind, the kind associated with new settler society. And with it goes a tremendous hostility to traditional societies which are posited as backward, primitive, reactionary, and so on: Islam for example. -Edward Said, Power, Politics and Culture

It is the outward looking, expansive gaze which makes possible the interaction with a ‘significant other’, a foreign culture in which gifts for the future of one’s own culture may be located, and in which an illuminating reflection of one’s own identity (or desired identity) may be glimpsed. That foreign culture may be geographically or linguistically or temporarily ‘other’ or a combination of these. -Robert Crawford, Identifying Poets

How to tear a minor literature away from its own language, allowing it to challenge the language and making it follow a sober revolutionary path? How to become a nomad and an immigrant [...] in relation to one’s own language? -Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature


• How can poets and poetry reach the ordinary citizen and to what end?
• How does poetry help define or redefine “community” or “culture”, a term that has lost meaning and significance by virtue of its overuse?
• Can poetry transform suffering? Can it be useful in creating unity; does it have value as a tool for change?
• How has poetry influenced various kinds of communities—the disabled, the oppressed, the incarcerated, the gifted, the professional, and the cleric—by way of insight, balm, or transcendence?
• What role does poetry play in defining identities and concerns of ethnic groups within a given community?
• How do poets help to make silent voices heard, and what other opportunities do we have to bring poetry to the public?

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Steve Crawford

    It is interesting how contemporary academia is so species specific in its approach to the arts. Should we take a trans-historical view, a trans-west, trans-humanist, trans-Judaeo-Christian perspective – a distinct possibility – we might find what is essential to subject matter is fundamentally that-which-is as a totality. This idea currently bracketed off as ‘eco-criticism’ perhaps, or ‘environmental perspective’. But there is a conceit and a condescension in such characterisation, the sub category – sub-human. Perhaps it should be the other way round. The universe be given priority, then the world, then ourselves within it. Once achieved such an approach can alleviate much suffering down to a self-obsession and isolation that is in fact an intellectual artifice.

    Not sure what you might make of that. I see this is the true Celtic tradition, the pre-Christian Saxon even, in fact all pre-Romanised, pre-Christianised North European cultures. We get an idea by acquainting ourselves with the like of the Sioux, Inuit, Aborigine outlooks. Theirs somehow far from being simply ‘primitive’, encapsulates our own as the narrow category of ‘intellect’ rather than the greater whole of intuition.

    25 May 2007, 13:14

  2. Hi Steve,

    If you are interested in eco-criticism, you might like to take a look at some of these entries on my personal research blog. Many of these writers are positioning nature as either equal if not greater than humanity. I have been working on the poet, Pascale Petit, and I think that she is a poet who gives voice to the silenced languages of nature. You might like to have a look at…

    a summary of Jonathan Bate’s argument in Song of the Earth
    a summary of Jhan Hochman’s notion of green cultural studies
    commentary on Deborah Slicer’s notion of the body as bioregion
    Annette Kolodny on Herstory
    or a summary of Christopher Mane’s argument in his essay about nature and silence

    25 May 2007, 14:09

  3. Steve Crawford

    Thanks Zoe,

    Interesting and valuable resources..

    26 May 2007, 14:19

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