(This post was inspired by the piece “Unzesty” from Renee over at “This Dead Horse”.)
When people tell you what a poem “means”, they are almost invariably telling you stuff about themselves, and only partially about the poem. Poems come to life through interaction with listeners or readers, so this seems only natural: any interpretation is telling you about that interaction, which necessarily contains the person who has said interpretation.
Like Renee in the blog post above, I can recall teachers who graded us on repeating back their own interpretations of poems, more-or-less verbatim; like her, I had to learn this the hard way, by failing a few quizzes before I caught on to the game being played. This didn’t seem like a practice calculated to building a love of poetry; it seemed more designed to create something like a cult around the professor, and there is a whole world to explore in that phenomenon.
Many of us want to appear as “oracles”, people whose insight into truth is not to be questioned. One need only go so far as Twitter to see screen after screen full of people who make assertions as to the ultimate truth of everything, and with serene confidence. I had professors, both in poetry and philosophy, who had little-to-no interest in developing the critical thinking skills of students: they had already obtained all truth, and it was the student’s job to ingest it and regurgitate it, unchanged.
It is easy to see the hallmarks of wounded ego in all of this. Very few people care about poetry — you can take it from me, I’ve been a philosopher and a poet — and the natural response of all of us who feel compelled to pursue interests few others have is to dismiss all others as a bunch of unfeeling idiots. They are not, of course, and it is only our desire to feel that our passions should be shared by the rest of the world that causes us to react this way.
I assumed that the teacher described in “Unzesty” himself thought pretty much nonstop about sex and death, so he saw it everywhere he looked. That human beings confute sex and power dynamics constantly is another topic about which many pages could be written, and a significant number of those would be dedicated to college professors and other people in positions of power.
If the concept of “privilege” means anything — and many dispute that the concept does mean anything, other that to be used as an empty pejorative — it is that no one sees all things objectively, and that honest perspectives on the meaning of things have equal validity. This is a vexing reality to all who love something so much that they become an expert on it.
Those other people, with their opinions. Geesh.
(For other posts from the Mighty Cheer Peppers, see here.)