Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The worst truth about the engine

(that's what the valve knows)

I was interested to read, via Amardeep Singh, about the new group blog, The Valve. Surprised, too, to find some friends and acquaintances there. I think it’s promising, but somehow it makes me feel flat, too and I’m not quite sure why.

By contrast, I was really excited to read the Bloggers Interview on the Emerging Writers Forum (via Chekhov’s Mistress). What’s the difference?

The Valve is a group of people pondering (in individual entries) how to do literary criticism; the individual bloggers are just doing it. None of these people are theoryheads, though many of them are well-versed in literary theory and have a lot of respect for the best that theory has to offer a critic (guidance, perspective, an idea or standard against which to judge a work of art). In the case of all these writers, what attracts me is the clear love of reading that remains their central motivation. Part of my skepticism about the Valve comes from its sponsorship by the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. But why the skepticism? With an epigraph from the great iconoclast Empson and Christopher Ricks (the Tennyson scholar who loves Dylan) and Rosanna Warren (the translator and also daughter of Robert Penn Warren). In short, these are my kind of people, but I don’t want to be part of their club.

Partly I hesitate because I fear that their loud proclamations of loving literature come from too narrow an aesthetic: there’s a kind of young fogeyism about them that I don’t find in the bloggers. Also because I remember they began in protest over the evils of the MLA: that's an inbred political origin and seems at odds with the anti-political readings of literature they advocate. Knowing all the dangers and limitations of identity criticism, I still want to know that there is a place for women, for feminists, for writers of color, for writers from other social classes. And I mistrust myself and others enough to find that it can be helpful just to run a quick check: are we being as diverse as we hope to be?

Moreover, I fear the ALSC folks are institutionalizing idiosyncrasy where the bloggers are just exhibiting it. Nonetheless, it may be the case that the Valve transcends the limitations of its sponsoring organization. The recent post on the relative neglect of Charles Chesnutt (on account, it’s suggested, of his gentility), however, is as much about the sad state of academic politics and political correctness as it is about teaching us what’s ultimately really cool and rich about The Marrow of Tradition (a great book).

In Three Guineas, Woolf proposed an Outsider’s Society and then, upon the publication of the pamphlet was somewhat alarmed to receive letters from folks seeking to join. I think much of my hesitation comes from a reluctance to join. The Bloggers interview asks us to join nothing, just to read. That, I find inspiring.


Lawrence said...

Hey Anne!

I may be a Valviste but I too worry about the ALSC thing. In what is probably a bad faith move, I treat it as accidental and not essential. It's an accident for me: I agreed to come aboard because I knew from the interent a couple of the folks & respected their work.

As for the charge of young fogey, I am not young! & I would also say there are many different kinds of love. Forgive this rank self-indulgence, but here is a poem on the subject, which explains things about as well as I can:


In the Aristotle lecture are explained
three kinds of love: philia, what burns
the cigarette, eros, what runs
on monkey glands, and agape,
what gets a paycheck.

In the meadow, under a sky empty
as glass, to the forge hut
we wander.

Above the forge—in which
we fashion parts—is stamped
Dolce far niente: if only
moonlight, no reading, no writing.

No love for us
in the forge. Only what love
ignites the sun.

Anne said...

Oh Lawrence,
I must say, the idea of being a valviste entices. But getting a poem in return for a rant is not self-indulgence. It's a gift. Thanks! I love it. Much better than the homily on the same topic at our wedding...

I am in the forge as I write this, so must go. I can confirm: no love here.

genevieve said...

And you are blogging for the love, right, Anne? Great post. I have been wondering myself what the hell a blog like The Valve would look like in Australia and am feeling it would be pretty scary actually - no fogies, just cronies and enemies facing off relentlessly. Oh, hang on, that's what our journals are for...Maybe you should be grateful for small mercies :) is a young fogey such a bad thing?

Anne said...

Thanks, Genevieve!

Yes, lets keep the scratching and clawing as contained as we can, eh? Lawrence's frenchification of it gives the Valve a sense of humor: that's maybe the thing I was missing--though I think it's there and I am willing to be persuaded... And mabye that--humor--is my fogey-bogey: I don't mind being out of step, but I want to be able to enjoy it. I don't want to be a young scold.

Lucy Tartan said...

Hello Anne. What a strange circuit I've just been on - relevant I think it is to the subject of your posting. I was just at The Valve (posting a comment kind of remarking on what seems to me the snarkiness of people who seem to be the regular commenters) - and I saw your blog in their blogroll - recognised it from a comment you left on mine the other day...and I recollect you got to my place via the valve?
Well, here's the abridged version:
1)I agree with everything you say.
2)I am blogrolling you (want to hear all about editing Mrs. Dalloway - and anything else you feel like telling)
3)I'm deferring making up my mind about the Valve, for now.