Saturday, 17 December 2005

Stereoscopic Poetry; or, How the Near-Deaf Focus on Words Because I have less than no time to post tonight, I present you with interesting facts about my life culled from other places: I’m a certifiably strange listener of poetry, since when I attend readings I’m reading the poet’s lips as much as I’m listening to auditory cues. When I listen to recordings, however, I have to do so with the text memorized or in front of me, which means that my eyes are keyed to the words and my ears to the rhythm. Then there’s the article a doctor-friend of mine sent me a while back about the way children with severe hearing loss during early childhood (I was stone deaf until corrective surgery at two or three) end up with brains wired to handle language differently. From what I understand, there’s no demonstrable influence on my communication skills, only on the parts of the brain responsible for them. I can’t remember which parts, but I know the way I experience sound is different from the way other people do. For example, I “hear” noises in people’s voices that other people’s brains filter out, so what I hear when an ordinary person speaks isn’t what you hear. All of which is mere preface to this: When I listen to poetry I have the distinct impression that I’m not listening to human speech; the rhythms, the way the mouth moves, the noises other people’s brains filter out all combine to create the distinct impression that I’m listening to something speech-like, but not actual language. I have to work to snap the sounds back into language, much like when one stares at one of those magic eye stereograms--it clicks for a moment, then I have to “refocus” and it does again, ad infinitum. In other words, I could describe my experience listening to poetry to other people, but I’m not sure it’d be relevent in any meaningful way. The agonzing complement to this story can be read on Michael's blog so long as you don't mind scrolling down. (I would copy and paste it too but you should read Michael's post before reading my comment.) One day I'll take Matt and Ray's advice and place my life somewhere prestigious. For now I'll settle for snagging it when time is tight so readers don't forget about this humble blog as they celebrate the season.
Reader-Response and the Editorial Experience; or, To Them? No. To Me. Are editors supposed to interpret the works they edit? The manuscript I said I'd be reading exceeds the high expectations I had for it . . . but I keep feeling myself interpreting what I read instead of editing it. Focusing on ideas instead of the rare infelicitous sentence puts me in a strange position vis-a-vis authorial intent. I suspect I can help shape the communication of intent . . . but that means I have privileged access to authorial intent when all I really have is privileged access to the author. I am an author of a reader or a reader of an author. Can't tell which. All of which brings to mind Octavia Butler's running commentary on the meaning of her short stories in Bloodchild. In the introduction she complains that Before now, other people have done all the print interpretations of my work: "Butler seems to be saying . . . " "Obviously, Butler believes . . . " "Butler makes it clear that she feels . . . " Actually, I feel that what people bring to my work is at least as important to them as what I put into it. But I'm still glad to be able to talk a little about what I do put into my work, and what it means to me. (x) Her "to them" trips me up. She acts imperially here without seeming to by declaring that what other people think "important to them" pales in comparison to what "[she does] put into [her] work." So when I read those commentaries I found myself disputing not with the text but Butler's authorial fiat of "what [she puts] into it." All of which points to my strange relation to the manuscript I'm reading: I am a reader who thinks certain things about the novel important to me but have the potential to be authorial in the sense that I can influence its author to put into the novel what is important to me. Where do I stand? I don't know . . . but from a theoretical perspective this editorial experience has been as exhilirating as reading the novel itself has been.

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