I’ve quoted Keston Sutherland on arduity about what reading serious or difficult work might entail. He claims that paying serious intention involves “staking an intimacy on the work of interpretation” and I quoted him because I thought that he was right.
On reflection and thinking about my own reading practice, I don’t think ‘intimacy’ is adequate and could be misleading. In preparation for a re-write of the arduity page I’ve come up with the following components of my practice-
- Evaluation. I’m not going to waste my time with stuff that isn’t any good so I scan the work to see if its subject(s) is going to hold my interest and to see if there are any lines that I wish I’d written. This second factor is usually crucial, I don’t need to understand the line but I do need to be impressed by it.
- Reading. This involves reading the poem four or five times to gain a foothold as to what it may be about. I’m not committing to interpretive work at this stage but again evaluating whether this is worth my while. It’s a this stage that I stop if I feel that the poem is dishonest.
- Interpretation. This involves work and usually entails me pouring most of what I know (or think I know) into working out what’s going on. This is an intellectual exercise that involves a great deal of mental effort but it doesn’t feel particularly intimate. There are some passages that speak to my personal experience and these are intimate in that they remind me of things that I try not to think about but these are usually identified in the reading stage.
- Re-reading and analysis. Once I’ve done the work of interpretation I re-read the poem several times and try and work out how it’s put together and the poet’s motivation for structuring it in that way. There are some poems that I re-read all the time both because it’s pleasurable and enriching to do so but also to try and work out how certain ‘effects’ are achieved.
So, the work of interpretation does involve throwing most of yourself at a poem but I don’t think that it’s just about intimacy. There’s also the element of testing yourself to see if you’re up to the task whilst evaluating whether or not the effort is worthwhile. I’m currently hovering on the brink of giving up on Simon Jarvis because I don’t think I’m up to the task.
On reflection I think I’d go with ‘immersion’ because I think that more accurately reflects what I think I do.
Any other suggestions?