Saturday, January 28, 2006

The O/Frey flap reminds me of a frequent difficulty I had as a teacher- getting students to engage with a text beyond the level of tabloid, biographical echo. I wielded the "say 'the speaker' when referring to the use of 'I' instead of 'the writer'" rule like a nun-sharpened switch, but students' first question was still often "did that really happen?" and so many papers were speculative psychoanalysis of the authors based on their poems as much as I hammered on actual critical models the entire semester. Yes, Plath really put her head in an oven, now we have 2 hours and 45 minutes left to talk about her, so let's move on from that fact. When a reader's only criteria for literature is whether or not it sounds "real" -that creates a lot of Bukowski fans, but few/no resources to access a writer like Pound, or his present-day ken.

F's actions were dishonest, but is his audience's anger over being "duped" really a frustration over realizing just how dupable we are when cultural attention and tastes run toward an ever-higher bar of blood and guts shock value coupled with this voyeuristic desire for "truth"? Is betraying our voyeuristic trust different from betraying our other trusts, like our trust in the institutions of journalism, the legislative system? Perhaps, since we don't see Jayson Blair, Jack Ambramoff, Tom Delay... getting such a sensational public flogging.

The F incident is ultimately positive if it gets us talking about what our expectations and obligations should be as readers, and to what standard of truth we want to hold other aspects of the culture to account. Hopefully it was not just a moment of displaced cultural angst, a little venting of steam to be consigned to Trivial Pursuit cluedom.


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