On Sat, 7 Feb 1998, Keston Sutherland wrote:
> to repeat myself:
> (1) I suppose what I'm groping after here, is that the quality of
> disappointment arising from a preparation to be disappointed is different
> from that arising 'naturally', though perhaps only (and this, I hope,
> rather clinches the imperative) in -degree-. 'Natural' disappointment has
> the flavour of Nietzsche's criticism of the Romantics, that naivety is
> basically a paradox, and is negative; because not prepared for adequately
> (or, perhaps, honestly), its issuing sense of reappointment is of inferior
"Nietzsche, Peter Altenberg, Dostoievsky, or whoever it was they had just
been reading, would have to make the best of it, left lying on the floor
or on the bed when they no longer needed them and when the current of talk
would not suffer the petty interruption of putting them tidely back in
their places. The overweeningness of youth, which finds the greatest of
minds only just good enough to be made use of 'as desired', now appeared
to him quaintly endearing." Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities.
> Been pondering, with somewhat emaciated attention (Boss Hogg were a bit
> disappointing), whether it's strictly accurate to say that the difference
> between 'prepared' and 'natural' disappointment is in -degree-; might it
> not also be the case, that the former affection is more properly
> -spontaneous-? That's to say, more voluntary, and therefore more
> assertive of one's -own- disrespect, as distinguished from (though not
> quite opposed to) simple disrespect? That distinction is a tenuous one,
> but smacks of at least a trifling validity - that prepared re-appointment
> is more impressively reflexive than re-appointment arising from
> unanticipated dissatisfaction, i.e. its effects are not stimulated (and
> directed) by the substance of the book/film/song/poem alone, but also by
> one's own immediately relevant understanding of the imperatives arising
> from dissatisfaction.
With 'prepared disappointment' do you mean an attitude (to be prepared)
which is preemptively critical of its own intuition (which is about as
'natural' as the pedagogical routines which ingrained it) towards (surely
specific?) texts. Steeling oneself. Sum of the affect: I resist that I had
already been set up to be dissappointed more than the disappointment, as
this affect itself reveals the critical point in the 'set-up' (its 'weak'
spot). A disappointment which, curiously, you would have lead to an
assertion of 'one's -own- disrespect'.
> This seems, perhaps, a bit counter-intuitive; if our intuition would have
> us pleased by what we spend time over, why should we minimise our chance
> of being so? Isn't this a mere prejudice, inflated and inspecific?
> Furthermore, wouldn't it effect in both reader and text a kind of
> repression of generosity - a pre-emptive stultification of possible,
> helpful results of reading, diminishing the ability of the text to
> 'mature' in reading and, at the same time and as the aetiological motive
> of that diminution, making the reader -lethargic-? Persistence has been
> greatly extolled, over the past couple of decades and in certain areas of
> the poesy earth, as the necessary state of a successful reading attitude;
> many current writings would be almost untouchable if we were not
> persistent with them - if we did not arrest, or at least consciously defer
> our initial disappointment.
Yet the text's 'ability to mature in reading' (or, rather, the ability
to recognise the measure of maturation of the 'self' in relation to the
text) is dependent on a kind of forgetfulness (lethargy?), an intervening
time lag that would define the 'comeback' (the reward of it). The
returning mind recognises self-grown autonomy precisely because it had
forgotten to be persistently arrested. 'Persistence' is a disciplinarian's
> Firstly, whilst a preparation to disappointment is likely to stimulate
> what it prepares, and our chance of being pleased is in that sense
> minimised, it's only through this preparedness that 'our chance' and
> 'being pleased' can be seen clearly; that their stratification in value
> and into values (political values being one set) can be perceived and
> examined; that, to take account of the poem simultaneously, culturally and
> artificially installed mechanisms of 'efficacy' in the object regarded can
> be distinguished from the effects they (seek to) produce: infectious,
> -reflex- acceptance (a granting of permission) can be exorcised from
> The prejudice is certainly inspecific in outset. In fact, it -must- be
> so: to keep unpreparedness in reserve, to read one's favourite authors
> without the same negative anticipation, is to exercise a tacit and
> un-self-reproved tendency to grind to a halt (to settle down with what one
> has, whether this is for comfort or its opposite).
"While looking round for this, however, it made the discovery that the
tricks and dodges used by an inventive mind in going through the logical
operations of a mathematical problem are really not very different from
the ring-craft displayed by a well-trained body; there is a general
psychological fighting-strength that is made cold and shrewd by
difficulties and improbabilities, whether what it is trained to search out
is the vulnerable spot in a problem or that in a physical opponent."
Musil, The Man Without Qualities.
>This bears, I feel, upon the issue of addressing discrepencies in the
reception of women's poetry compared to that of men's: it's poisoning the root of the
> aspiration for equality and for redress, which is an aspiration I share,
> to allow a preparation to disappointment to be appalled by its
> circumstantial dependency on a politic hopefulness. Women's poetry
> deserves and demands exactly the same rigour, exactly the same distinction
> of its pleasures from its 'cultural' efficacy, as does men's. I
> wholeheartedly approve of positive efforts in publishing, buying books,
> organizing readings and urging reviews. There are many women's poetries
> that disable the fruition of a prepared disappointment, and in doing so,
> succeed without affectionate, implicit patronage.
The phrase 'positive efforts' in itself implies such practical actions are
considered as 'affectionate, implicit patronage' (as were there an elision
of the 'yet' between those latter two sentences). Yet it is with politic
hopefulness that you write that 'women's poetry deserves and demands' (oh
not respect) but 'rigour'. The cerebral attitude may steel itself, but
the punches will land elsewhere:
Some very dark blue hyacinths on the table
A confession or two before dusk
flings open the fridge with loud relief
Listen honey I
A warm disturbing wind cruises the high road
where in the curtained rooms children
are being beaten then so am I again but no-one's
asking for it, I'm asking for something different now
> Regarding the repression of possible reading-results - that a text becomes
> -less- if treated in this manner, I can only assent.
One could read the poem as being on the subject of domestic violence
('hyacinths on the table', 'fridge') in which case that concluding 'now'
is so painfully fraught ('*this* time I am not asking for it' where that
expression also means 'deserve it'). If it is categorised 'women's poetry'
it is because sociological statistics will tell us many more women than
men suffer domestic violence.
However, if the prepared dissappointment was that there were no modernist
plums to be had (at which moment one is welcome to 'assert one's -own-
disrespect'), then where would the disablement of that fruition lead you?
Is the asking for 'something different' perhaps asking for, not so much
'rigour', but precisely something counter-intuitive to the trained
critical mind, that is, empathy?