Sunday, October 17, 2004

How to turn a poem to sawdust

I admit it- I googled myself, and the top four hits all belong to me-- a sort of one man Google bomb . Somewhere back in the nether hits, there was this page from a state university, in which Helen Vendler takes a scalpel to Keats's poem. After a single sentence asking about the impression or theme of the poem, there is a lengthy checklist of analyses to be performed-- so long, that a quote seeking to convey the sheer tedium would get me into serious copyright trouble.
You know, if you reduce a human body to its mineral components, you get a value of about $4.50. I think something similar has happened here. I seriously doubt the people taking this course ever came up for air to look at the poem again! What seems especially wrongheaded about analyzing Keats in this way is that his whole era was a reaction to the hyper-rationalism of the Enlightenment. (I enjoy Vendler's book the Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets very much, and here I think this approach brings something. ) We scientists are often accused of hyperreductionism but I like to think that I know when to pull back on the reins.

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