Today I thought about this (and I’ve thought about this off and on for some time): what is the role of what one might call “artistic context” in reviews? Or blurbs for that matter. When I write them I tend to want to find connections between different writers and artists (hopefully across media, genres etc) because I am interested in seeing how different people work on concepts and ideas, and also because if the reader of the review likes one of the artists, they’re likely to want to search out the others. So for example in my last post I made a connection between Sara Tuss Efrik and Nathalie Djurberg.Or when I reviewed Kate Durbin’s Ravenous Audience for Raintaxi a while back, I referred to the gurlesque, Plath. Judy Grahn and the Rodarte designers.(Though it should be said that someone complained on facebook that I was being a snoozy academic pedant in the Durbin review.)
But it seems this is a no-no in a lot of reviewing and blurbing. Is this because that would mean that the writer was not absolutely original? In fact, I more often find reviews stating: this personal is absolutely original. It oftens seems almost defensive to me: here’s this wild book but don’t you try to expect anything more in this vein. It’s often about a daring writer/artist who explores aesthetic zones that are not usually represented in big presses, or university presses, or not reviewed. Often I come upon these statements of absolute originality for writers I like, and I think, “no actually I can think of a dozen people who are working a similar terrain.” That doesn’t mean that the person in question isn’t original or good; it just means that I can think of people who are similar.
Someone who does do quite a bit of contextual type of readings is Steve Burt (the elliptical poets, the new thing poets etc). Often I find those articles quite perceptive, and they are also articles that tend to generate discussion. My problem with his articles is that they sometimes claim to take into account everything, to capture all of poetry. In some sense that’s why I suppose they generate so much discussion (otherwise people might not care), but there’s also something stabilizing about it, and perhaps this is why people shy away from such readings. Certainly, Steve has received a lot of criticism for his articles.
But mostly this kind of approach seems to be used negatively: This is the heroic poet who is not writing poetry like that wave of soft surrealist (or something like that), read a blurb on a recent book (I liked the book, not the blurb). The genuine writer is one, the one who is part of a orbit of writers is just a follower, imitator, kitsch.
Anybody have any thoughts about this?