Monday, November 27, 2006

It's Weird Being Asked What You Think

So I'm writing a book review right now on Patrick Rosal's new book, My American Kundiman. This is a requirement of the fourth semester at NEC, but it's also something I wanted to do. I enjoy critical writing (to the point where other students give me funny looks), and book reviews can be published in journals--so more material for me to put out there. I chose Rosal's book because it's new; it was only released Nov. 1. I figure the world doesn't need another essay on Whitman, but I admire Rosal's work and think it should receive critical attention.

Anyway, the weirdest part about writing a book review is what separates reviews from other forms of critical writing. In a review, you're asked what you think. As opposed to what you can prove. I mean, of course you should back up your opinion with citations from the book in order to make yourself credible, but you're allowed to write bad reviews, where critical papers are really not so much with the opinions and more about applying some kind of theory and dissecting the poem or book to see how it holds up. And while I agree with Alicia Ostriker's statement in Dancing at the Devil's Party that theory does tend to get in the way of honest response, it's fun to play ninth-grade biology with poems and pick them apart.

But now I'm asked simply for an opinion, and I'm struggling.

QUESTIONER: What do you think of this book?


QUESTIONER: That's not an opinion.

ME: I feel it's post-modern?

So now I must take myself back to where you just read a poem, or a book of poems, with the idea of really enjoying the thing, rather than with the eye of literary criticism. Perhaps this is a good lesson for me.

In other news, saw The Fountain this weekend with Ryan. Interesting movie, although I'm not sure exactly what its point was. It felt like an example of one of those things where you can stylize the crap out of something and be all artsy-fartsy, but in the end you're left with vacancy. Also, it creates confusion if the stylizing is not done well--particularly when you muck about with chronological leaps that are also supposed maintain connections between two or three seemingly disparate storylines. And I say "two or three" in this case because I'm not entirely sure which stories being told in this movie were fictional, and which were supposed to be grounded in reality. It did spurn at least an hour or two of discussion between Ryan and myself, over the span of a couple of days after we saw it. And that, I suppose, is worth the $2.50 we paid per ticket to see it.