23 October 2006

Catching Up

I had a delightful chat with the most hated man in American poetry, my former mentor, last night. Although we'd kept in touch off and on via e-mail, it had been over a decade since we'd last heard each other's voices. I had a chance to tell him how much I was enjoying The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin (2005 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism), particularly his introductory remarks, which included a critique of academia and its infatuation with theory--the deconstruction of texts in light of politics, power, oppresser vs. oppressed. I was a philosophy major as an undergraduate, so I know all too well the role such theory plays in modern learning. Students are glutted on postmodern interpretations of literature, philosophy, art, (pick any subject) and told to look beneath the text to find the true motives: racism, gender inequality, homophobia, etc. rather than fed on the great works, the classics, and taught to savor them as they are (yes, naive as it may sound, it is possible). I heard it once said, and aptly, that postmodern theory is "the hermeneutics of suspicion."

In any case, I told him of domestic life and my occasional attempts to write, and he told me of his current crop of students, the appalling grammar of some (how well I sympathize with his frustration; there was a time when a bachelor's degree meant something. In this most egalitarian of times, when everyone presumes a college degree is his right, the plain and simple truth remains that some are simply not meant for higher education--and there's no shame in the fact. See Russell Kirk for details), and very kindly offered advice on poetry submissions.