Friday 25 May 2012

George Steiner on difficulty in poetry

This blog is going on holiday, to Exmoor, in around half an hour.  I’ll just post some food for thought…  I’m not even sure if it’s a direct quote or a paraphrase.  It’s from Parameter magazine online, referring to an essay by George Steiner, ‘On Difficulty’, in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol 36, no.3, spring 1978.  One day I’ll look it up.

According to Steiner, or the paraphrase of Steiner, these are the causes of difficulty in poetry. 

"1 – The Epiphenomenal Difficulty. This is in the use of obscure words, phrases; and of ideas that relate to unusual or relatively unconnected areas of knowledge.

2 – The Tactical Difficulty. This is where something is deliberately withheld from the text. This was a major strategy of Eastern European writers, where a classical allusion was used as a comment on a contemporary situation, but the readers had to draw the linkages themselves.

3 - The Modal Difficulty. This is where the tone of the poem renders it unappealing. Think of Swift’s diatribe’s on women’s boudoirs. It need not be inimical to the reader, just at odds with the subject.

4 – The Ontological Difficulty. Contemporary poets question more than ever before the ways a writer communicates with the reader, the languages used, and the ways syntax can be manipulated to express more of the complexity of the contemporary world."

PS (nearly 2 weeks later): I posted the quote without re-reading it first.   It reads like a paraphrase. 

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