Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Lurk Theory? or Are Women Born Lurkers?* As of 7:11 p.m. this evening—exactly 24 hours since my last post hit the 'Net—I've heard from 37 people on the blog and another 211 via email. I must say: I never realized how great the gulf separating commenter from lurker was until today. A fairly substantial community of people who don't even know they belong to a community encircles my evening blather. Despite devoting today's spare brain cycles to spinning Lurk Theory, I'm no closer to understanding its appeal—not because I think less of lurkers, but because I'm constitutionally incapable of not speaking up when I feel so inclined. I know some people are better at biting their tongues than others, but I lack the requisite imagination to understand why. Bits of my brain scream GENDER POLITICS! but I really don't think that's the case. If my (outrageously unscientific) survey is any indication, my readership is overwhelmingly female. Why are most of my readers female but most of my commenters male? This probably plays into the hands of some oh-so-terribly unprofound dynamic, but I wonder whether it's a product of what Kathleen Fitzpatrick discussed the other day: But bloggers—generally speaking, bloggers seem to be good folks, but beyond that, blogging’s mode of discourse, its reliance on a kind of ongoing development of a narrative of self, seems to allow, if not require, some aspects of an actual personality to come through. The blog is of course always a performance of self, and never that self in any direct sense. But the performance in this form gives me the impression, after having met a number of folks in person whom I knew first from the blogosphere (n=something greater than 10), that the blog permits, where it is desired, some glimpses into an “authentic” identity, which other modes of online discourse have often managed to mask. Is the appeal of that discursive development gendered? I wouldn't think so, but I'm not sure what to do with the numbers I'm looking at. Should I hold out for a more respectable sample size? Is my male readership hiding in the bush? If so, why? What are these fools hiding from? Or do they not exist? *Made you look!
Close-Reading Exercise: A Good Bad Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" In The Structure of Complex Words (1951), William Empson prefaces his discussion of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" with a complaint about looming unreadability: It seems clear that we have to imagine what went on in the mind of Keats, as he wondered what the pot can have meant—we, it is understood, being those who have lost our innocence in the matter by reading the contradictory babble of the critics. Fifty-five years later, the contradictory babbling of the critical brook has grown into a rushing roar of deafening rapids whose brutal churnings hoist screaming scholars from their tiny boats and into the water, under the water, out of the water, rumbling them here then tumbling them there and pushing them forward, forward, forward, so when they gain, for good, the surface, breathe a breath, or two, and find, their bearings, they have just enough time to see the end they share with the cascade as it launches them over the falls—ascending, soaring, falling, plummeting—and they slam with fury on the surface of the lake below, where their battered bodies drift here, then there, until they join, join the others, on the shore, another academic casualty, half-drowned, half-broken, bloating in the hot sun. Such is the fate of those fools dull enough to venture into criticism of what W.J.T. Mitchell calls "the ritual example" of ekphrastic poetry. Interpret "ritual" as a hazing cruel hazing gratuitously cruel hazing and you'll begin to understand the pleasures attendant upon entering the Murray Kreiger Memorial "Ode on a Grecian Urn" Wing of the critical canon. Unfortunately, I need to produce a specific, sophisticated reading of the poem in order to finish my Silas Weir Mitchell chapter: specific, because it must conform to Mitchell's notions about art and history; sophisticated, because contemporary literary scholars must be more sophisticated than the dim brutes they study. I can handle the former—I'm likely the only person alive who can—but I could use some help with the latter. Otherwise I'll spit nonsense about how some ekphrastic moments are "considerably less stable than [those] maintained by a model ekphrastic text such as 'Ode on a Grecian Urn,' [in which] Keats' speaker has direct access to the urn." (No, I will not provide a citation, thank you very much.) Anyhow, on to the interpretation: Most critics agree that the urn is a composite, equal parts Elgin Marble, Townley Vase, Portland Vase, one of Josiah Wedgwood’s jasperware duplicates of the Portland Vase, &c. It's only indirectly ekphrastic, because it does not describe a particular object so much as create in readers' minds the object it describes. So Keats' infamous ignorance, which I will discuss shortly, must be feigned—one cannot not know what's represented on a nonexistent vase. Keep that in mind as I weave—sometimes deftly, sometimes like a drunken sailor—through Keats' poem, the first line of which reads: Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness The speaker addresses the urn here, so we can't say for certain whether he's describing the poem or...

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