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kbrandall's picture

How to talk about Leaves of Grass?

I found Sontag's rejection of interpretation interesting partly because she writes about art for a living, and so she must think that writing about art (and discussing it, etc) is a valuable pastime. She tries to give some examples of non-interpretive ways to treat art (by writing an immediate, sensual description of it, for example) but I am not convinced. If art is something new, if its purpose is simply to be something new for you to experience, what good is writing about it? What good is discussing it? Whitman gives us the same contradiction-- near the beginning of Leaves of Grass he says (more or less) that experiencing the world is far more important than anything you find in books. If so, how do we read his book? How do we look at this poem in this class? What can we say about it beyond description, and how can description be anything but a flawed reflection of the poem itself? If we can't interpret, if the point of Leaves of Grass is to see and feel it, why are we talking about it at all? Maybe we should just read part out loud, pause to let the experience wash over us, and then leave.


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