Monday, 19 January 2009

The Anthology: IV

I just want to get this down before I go to bed.

After writing the last post, I checked my e-mail and I saw that I had received another edit. In it, the editor offered an interpretation of one of my pieces. When I first read his interpretation, I was horrified. That wasn't what I wanted at all! This wasn't about conforming my religious beliefs to unassailable 'facts' or about religion's subservience to academia; those parts which deal with academia whatsoever are critical, protesting the university's attempts to enforce its materialism upon me. It certainly doesn't indicate that the word 'heretic' has no power; instead, it indicates that the same stigma, though differently labeled, is applied just as harshly to those who oppose the orthodoxy of the school and the marketplace as well as or instead of the church.

I combed through the poem again and tried to read it as the editor did, seeing where these alien readings came from. I located what I hope are some of the passages, and changed around some prepositions, line breaks, and short phrases, hoping to clarify my stance. There are still a few places where it may be possible to interpret differently than I intend, but I'll need to let it sit for now.

And then I went through other people's critiques and see if I can divine whether they had the same understanding as the previous editor. From what I can tell, some may have and some certainly did not, but none certainly did.

After a bit I returned to this editor's critique to re-evaluate what was said. It turns out I had misread some of the interpretation. Religion is not subservient to academia after all, but instead the speaker of my poem (according to this editor) insists academia should not be repressed by religion either. Well, that's better. I don't know that I'm so committed to that--I do not think academia should be simply allowed to run amok--but I won't be mortified if someone reads it that way. OK. I'm still not sure about the unassailability of things like theoretical physics, but I can stand behind religion needing to be capable of change while still remaining rooted in the past. I have stood behind that one before. A Protestant can hardly object to religion changing. So, alright. I don't agree with the lightness of the term heretic, however; can I live with this?

I returned to my piece and really tried to look at it as though I didn't know what it was already about. My conclusion is that I really can't see how you could mistake me for anything but a Christian while reading this. A somewhat less than orthodox one, sure, but located squarely in the Nicene Creed nonetheless. With my little changes, I think my attack on academic hegemony is clearer, too. (Wait, I just thought of a line...I'll maybe add something to make it even clearer, and prettier, too. Anyway, to the matter at hand...) This leads me to two questions.

1) Can I be satisfied if my poem may allow readings that, while not outright opposing my intended meaning, emphasize entirely different aspects of my belief than what I was trying to convey? I wanted among other things to express what it felt like to be a heretic to academia, and I do not think this editor picked that up at all. At least, he did not mention that in his interpretation.
2) How concerned should I be about people misreading my poem? This is the flip side of the above question. Is it possible that my poem does not, if fully and informedly read (I don't think that's a word), allow for this editor's reading? And if that is the case, how responsible am I for making it even harder to misread? I have sometimes thought that if people misread what you've written, you need to be find out why and fix it. Could it just be, though, that readers sometimes bring in enough of their own ideology and are sloppy enough in readings because of some little ambivalence early on in the poem (that will be cleared up sufficiently in the end) that they will misread it no longer how clear I am? Or that I will have to be so mind-numbingly explicit that I oughtn't worry about their misreadings? This is not to suggest that the editor was stupid, but just ideologically driven, or tired, or assumed something from my demeaner that is false, or some combination of the three. (I've discussed before how people sometimes assume I'm an atheist.)

I just wanted to think out loud here. I've been trying to show you the intellectual process of the anthology, and these questions are part of the editing entailed.



Cait said...


i don't know if this helps any but do you remember that story of the witches from Thomas King's The Truth About Stories?

What you write takes on a life of it's own. And people will read it with their on experiences and thoughts in mind. It changes what you wrote then. People will read into it what they will. It's the risk that we take when we write. I mean I'm sure Shakespeare didn't intend half of the things that we now find in his plays, but that's how that cookie crumbled.

I know that you already know all of this. But I think that it's kind of fascinating that people can read the same thing and yet take away such a different interpretation from it I mean it's one of the reasons that I love what I study and I love writing and books - because words breathe. They change, they grow. It's exciting and frightening at the same time.

I know that you know all of this already and that doesn't mean that you can't change what you wrote or something to make your point more clear. I'm just merely pointing out the power and fluidity that words seem to have.

Jon Wong said...

I remember Morrison talking about how basically every Romantic poet we studied would be turning in their grave if they knew that we were sitting in a class spinning theories about what their poems may or may not mean. Especially with something like poetry, this can't be helped.

Like I told you this morning. Keeping the audience in mind ruins everything in the writing process.

Cait said...

true that.

Christian H said...

Well, maybe, but writing is communication, n'est-pas? And in communication, you need to be sure that the person you're talking to knows what you're saying. If they're not listening, it's not your fault (unless you're really boring). If they're listening and still get something else, though, isn't it at least partly your problem?

I overthink things, obviously, and I think my concerns about where meaning is located is getting involved here in such a way that it's starting to paralyze me.

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