Theory & Criticism

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned having to take a theory and criticism class, and that the contents would entail having to analyze current events and present arguments for discussion. This was my assumption of what the class would entail, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Theory and criticism refers to the analysis of poetical works, a.k.a. poetry (opposed to “a poem”), a.k.a. literary works in general. When I began reading the introduction in the book, this massive and very heavy yet seemingly condensed book, I felt a little foolish about having jumped the gun concerning the content, and as I read more, I began to see how awesome the subject was going to be, a subject even more interesting to me than the current event study, though I would have faired just fine in that area with pleasure.

This realization couldn’t have come at a more coincidental time as I happened to encounter an exchange with a fellow blogger about poetry interpretation and analysis. What I’m learning is that poetry is an art that has to be contemplated and understood. To apply an analogy, reading and interpreting poetry is likened unto drinking fine wine, where one takes their time, savoring the taste, exploring the aroma, etc., as opposed to watching a movie, which I liken unto consuming Budweiser during a football game.

The art of understanding poetry and its purpose, even deciding whether or not the purpose of poetry is even viable, stretches back to the ancient greats of philosophy, Plato, his spokesperson Socrates, and Plato’s famed student, Aristotle. While Plato and Aristotle agree that mimesis (imitation/representation) is a defining characteristic of poetry, they contradict each other during the evaluation, where our first understanding of Plato’s view of poetry is that he “disapproves of poetry’s imitation of reality on the grounds that poetry cannot depict truth and teach morality and that it is irrational, based on inspiration, not knowledge.” Aristotle contradicts this view by asserting that “poetic imitation can reveal truth precisely because it does not passively copy appearances: it is a more creative act.” These last few words alone are enough to scare a few away who suffer from literary queasiness, but as anyone can see, poetry is big, philosophical business, and clearly I’m in for some rather in-depth study hours I predict.

As for my own experience, poetry, in the form of a poem, is read and understood, as I have come to surmise based on my exchange with a natural poet, in relation to the events and circumstances that the reader has experienced in their life. Thus a poem can mean many different things to many different readers. Even if a poem is not read with intense scrutiny, like the wine drinker would, say, hold the cork close to the nose to gain a sense of aroma, a picture is formed by poetry even by a cursory glance at the work. More so, the more one puts into reading a poem, the richer the mental picture will become. What we have in the end with a poem, is what the author intended, and what the interpretation becomes to a reader. The author has produced an extension of themselves, an artistic expression, and the reader has learned something of the author as well as themselves by the process of reading and interpretation. In these cases, maybe poetry serves as a self-learning tool for both.

These are my preliminary musings on my understanding of theory and criticism, where by doing so, I seemed to have opened a doorway inside my mind to another world of educational experience, though I’ll always tend to stay on the creative and not the critical end of literature. Education rocks, and I encourage anyone who may have stumbled upon this post to go on, learn something today about something that interests you, the experience can be very spiritual and uplifting.

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6 Responses to Theory & Criticism

  1. noranoir says:

    You mind if I learn vicariously through you? Sounds interesting!
    I have a few points of contention with what you stated, though. Not all poetry is based on experience. Some are based on imagined fantasy, and some, like, Nioreh, are based on trying to imagine the experiences of others. But ‘the source’ isn’t what actually matters in comprehension and appreciation of the artistry. It’s a totally moot point I thought I’d bring up.

  2. LK says:

    Of course, as I have a tendency to post what’s relevant to the courses I’m taking; last time was psychology, this time it’s literary criticism.

    I believe that the writer has a concrete image of what they’re trying to relay, as in Nioreh, whether real or imagined, but like you said (which was brilliantly put):

    “It seems funny, but I think every time a person reads something, the first dawn of understanding comes from the things they have already known and sensed from the world. The second dawning comes from trying to understand the world outside of their own experience.”

    The reader may first interpret the poem based on their own experiences, and then read again to align with what the writer has intended to convey. Which is exactly what happened with Nioreh, where I first interpreted a sense of being lonely, because for a while there, I was pretty isolated and lonely. Then, of course, after the discussion, I came to understand the true intent. Ironically, coincidentally, the two are analogous because hurting to have someone in your life can be somewhat like hurting for a fix, where finding a mate, and getting the fix, are the cure (only finding a mate is probably the more wholesome and permanent cure).

  3. LK says:

    Agreed…also probably why I’ve stuck to the creative end; these explanations can get a little drawn out…why, after having heard of Plato and crew over the years, never actually read their stuff.

    : )

  4. woowooteacup says:

    “What we have in the end with a poem, is what the author intended, and what the interpretation becomes to a reader.”

    I would argue that this is the case with any piece of writing, LK, not just with poetry. I do have to admit, though, that poetry is a difficult form for most people to relate to (including moi) because the form itself tends to make it harder to interpret. There aren’t nice connecting sentences between thoughts.

  5. LK says:

    Poetry was more fun to write than read–depending upon who’s writing it, while reading heavy and published poetry was a nightmare for the longest time till I started doing these classes that are pretty much enforcing the poetic code. I’m like you Mary, give me some of those nice connecting sentences, please.

    After all this, though, I’m inadvertently becoming a poetry connoisseur.

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