Tuesday, December 05, 2006

More About Pleasure

Josh kindly responds to my post (and Mark's reply). A few thoughts in return:
Eric is absolutely correct when he says, "Don't think that reading immersive fiction is 'passive'; it only feels that way because the skills it takes come so easily to you, have been so naturalized, that you no longer notice you're deploying them!" But doesn't that suggest an argument based on education: that the anti-absorptive requires the development of a new skill set, one that develops one's critical capacity because it at least potentially resists being so "naturalized"?
Yes, I guess that's right. There are a whole lot of skill sets to be learned, and "anti-absorptive" work certainly requires a mess of them. Part of the pleasure in reading such work, then, is the pleasure of using certain skills, perhaps even more so the pleasure of having to stretch a bit, so that one is conscious of using one's skills, which is in fact a pleasure. (Think of the "difficult" work as something like the city in a wonderful song by Jules Holland from the early 1980s, maybe even late '70s: "I love this city like a mischievous cat / 'cause it troubles me enough to make me feel alive.") On the other hand, doesn't this suggest that the pleasure that Josh or Mark takes in an anti-absorptive poem isn't all that different from the pleasure one of my undergraduates takes in, well, just about any poem, even what seems to us an "immersive" free-verse first-person lyric? (It's always remarkable to me how "hard" such work can be as the basic skill sets for reading poetry are being acquired.)

Josh continues:
And wouldn't that be a change in the world, if more people were capable of registering the Other in others and the Other in themselves through cultivating texts that resist "naturalization"? The opposite of the impulse to repeat, "That's just the way it is"? (Cue Bruce Hornsby.)
I guess. But why do you think that texts that "resist 'naturalization'" do that job particularly well? As my e-colleague Laura Vivanco points out in her comment at Teach Me Tonight, those of us who write seriously about popular romance fiction read those texts in an "anti-absorptive" way, although they hardly demand it. Aren't we now really talking about certain sorts of reading skills, rather than (or as much as) about certain sorts of texts? That is to say, can't we just excise the bit about texts from your comment, so that it reads "wouldn't that be a change in the world, if more people were capable of registering the Other in others and the Other in themselves"? Well, yeah--but now we're pretty far from talking about pleasure and poetics, no?

Or am I missing something? Maybe I am. Writes Josh:
It's certainly changed my world. It feels like an ethical opportunity if not an ethical imperative: a chance to enlarge and develop one's moral senses.
I'd like to stand this one on its head, Josh. It seems to me that you're not talking about the ethics of a particular pleasure at this point, but rather the pleasure of acting and thinking ethically. Through essays and other para-poetic work, "anti-absorptive" poets have framed their verse as an ethical / political project. The sensory and aesthetic pleasures it offers, and the intellectual pleasures (of "figuring things out," or simply "figuring") thus have added to them a new, third pleasure: that of doing justly, or developing one's moral sense.

That is, indeed, a powerful pleasure. Think how strongly you and Mark and others want to hold on to it as part of your experience of reading and enjoying anti-absorptive work. But I don't think that only such work allows for such pleasures, even in contemporary poetry, or that those who don't respond to such work with that kind of pleasure are therefore less ethically ept or expansive. I just don't see any evidence for that other, larger claim.