San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


All About Reading
[active dancer theory]

Blogs, so much about writing, turn reading into a two-way mirror.

Reading Gilbert in Tripwire and then Yepez in the Bible, I’m writing a little bit here about reading. All about reading.

They’re both right, for the most part. Forget the ‘open’ text, as well as the ‘passive/active’ binary. These are unfortunate metaphors whose funeral knell has sounded. Other more appropriate salvage projects—especially now, begging the blog’s pardon—might focus on ‘generative’ writing and the anarchic utopia of ‘subsequent compositions,’ ideas available in the same paragraph as ‘open text’ in Hejinian and maybe suffering from an error in emphasis (my reading).

Otherwise, claims (Hejinian and elsewhere) on behalf of a more ‘active’ reader are themselves historically situated and pretty much meant to be disruptive as, if not outright theories, at least a set of calculated habit-busters delivered at a time of insidious habit-entrenchment in American poetry.

Hejinian’s (for example) was a pragmatic solution (like Stein’s) for a metaphysical literary world, not a justification for a ‘one-dimensional pursuit of formalist effects’ or a ‘dogged disruption of conventional modes of communication’ (Gilbert). She hasn’t made that claim and probably wouldn’t, so drawing the link makes the dangerous mistake of reading back to cause from a loosely clustered set of disparate effects. Formalism is no one’s fault but the formalist.

‘Form is not a fixture but an activity’ (LH 47).

There’s an equivalent danger associated with privileging terms like ‘dialogue’ (Gilbert), as if, in the meeting of minds in conversation (another suspicious keyword), all texts potentially once closed are now open to the world of difference.

Dialogue has the unfortunate habit of putting words in people’s mouths, of guessing motivations.

Trumped, as always, by metaphors.

Where there’s reading, there’s action and rest, participation and consumption, writing and sleeping—each to the rhythm of one’s own assumptions and a pragmatic investment in a set of preferred outcomes. These can be personal motivations. A desire for community. A less invasive sleeping pill. A violent interception of subjectivity. A passion for truth, redemption, or good looks. In any case, in all readings, in every read-write activity, a set of margins for keyword scribbling.

Writing about reading is like dancing with your own feet. So, it might help, in both the pursuit of and escape from theory, to give reading a rest and take up dancing. Consumer-dancing and producer-dancing. All hope lies in theorizing a useful rhetoric of dancing.


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