Saturday, March 29, 2008

classroom as kiva

During the era since the emergence of digital media and, now or very soon, of ubiquitous connectivity—-and as the effect of these advents on the delivery of materials to the classroom but also their storage outside such a space becomes profound—-the irony of the classroom lecture on modernism has become more obvious than before and increasingly disabling.

I want to explore that irony and lament the disability.

I've written this here before, and I've noted that the main problem is not diagnosing the ill. It's easy to mock someone lecturing on modernism as a failure to admit any measure of the form of its innovation into the room. Which is to say: the problem will be to define or at least describe an alternative.

So I've turned to ideas about noise as a possible model - I mean, poetry as noise or what Bruce Andrews has called "athematic ‘informal music’”. Aligned with the spirit of this, I've been wondering here from time to time if the poetry classroom might be filled with such noise.

One working assumption is that the “use” of new technologies to abet the teaching of poetry is not going to make a bit of difference unless some sort of fundamental pedagogical change accompanies it.

Is it possible that quality of that changed environment might indeed sound something like Andrews’s athematic informal music? If it is true that “An onomatopoetic expression automatically entails the specification of what is being described,” then the teacher of that expression who wishes to describe specifically must to some extent reproduce sound-sense.

Because of the difficulty of effecting such reproduction, most advocates of an historically capacious modernism — I mean, the radical modernism that embraces archaic, pre-literate forms, the non-Eliotic mode that defies New Critical analysis — have argued that such poetry does not belong in the classroom. If one accepts such a contention, such as that put forward by Jerome Rothenberg in 1975 in his “Dialogue on Oral Poetry,” then one must either remove this poetics from the curriculum or rebuild the space and the role of the teacher. Rothenberg:

“As for poetry ‘belonging’ in the classroom, it’s like the way they taught us sex in those old hygiene classes: not performance but semiotics. If it I had taken Hygiene 71 seriously, I would have become a monk; & if I had taken college English seriously, I would have become an accountant.”

Yet Rothenberg did and does teach, and so admits to the realization that “the classroom becomes a substitute for those places (coffee shop or kiva) where poetry actually happens & where it can be ‘learned’ (not ‘taught’) in action.”