Monday, June 18, 2012

On Listening

(From Canadian Women in the Literary Arts)

"The discipline of the appreciative review is, I believe, among the great unsung arts of our culture. I suspect it remains unsung because, appearances to the contrary, it is not actually a species of speaking, but a species of listening; and our culture tends to regard listening as a passive activity. But listening — real listening — requires that we give over our attention fully to the other, that we stop worrying about who’s noticing us, that we let the ego go. As such, it is an activity requiring much more effort than the activity of proclaiming our selves through speaking our views."


 "My suggestion is that it is those who insist on listening nonetheless who are really tough: they have the courage to continue to serve art when everything around them is making it easy not to."


 "It’s what Rilke said: in art, as in friendship, the ear of love discerns more, and more truly, than the eye of judgement."

--from Jan Zwicky's essay, "The Ethics of the Negative Review"

Listening is, indeed, active (though not "requiring ... effort"). Real listening is joyful, without conflict, without concentration (because concentration requires effort and discipline, even force and bargaining), without judgement. When one has thus read (in this case) a passage or an entire novel or poem or book of poems through the non-state of active listening, then, and only then, can one proceed to engage with it on the so-called speaking (or writing) level. Attention or listening from a global, an absolute, perspective,  begets judgement. There is no dichotomy here between love and judgement. This foolish antipodal strawman, incorrect even in a different argument, thus destroys Zwicky's assertion which is based, ironically enough, on the hurt feelings of the author, not the perceived fractured reception of the review's reader(s). But there is no ego in listening, remember? Therefore there is no one to be hurt in this global attention, this holistic approach (which only comes in fits and starts, anyway, and which only provides the basis for authoritative criticism, not the necessary relative state from which all judgement must navigate through).

Zwicky's philosophical views stem from a common spiritual misunderstanding of the nature of the absolute and relative states. One listens (or reads) ideally, from the absolute non-state, from deep listening. (It is arrogant, preposterous and strawstuffed for anyone to suggest that, because one may write a "negative" review, it somehow originates from a lack of clear listening.) A transitional "considering" state is then often given spontaneous reign. Finally, a wrestling-with relative framework will take hold, and from which the review or speech will occur. But the relative is not always in the absolute. Without active listening, any fool can misinterpret or misrepresent their own view(s) as stemming from a deep understanding. Why, all one has to do is proclaim it in a book of poems, or, in this case, in a screed, which, through misappropriation or baseline confusion, demonstrates how a fundamental error in recognizing how harsh judgement can come from a love of legitimate art can also serve to show up that same person's misunderstanding of how the absolute and relative don't oppose one another, but coexist with complicated cross-traffic.

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