Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Back By Popular Demand

Poetry & Self-Identification

One of the perks of being a graduate student was a valid justification for keeping odd hours. All night vigils were common as I waited for an unaccustomed silence to give me respite from "dumbfoundry". Pulling all-nighters in search of a thesis, as though somehow the archetypal stream of consciousness was freer in the wee hours of the morning, was a common occurrence. Inevitably, the next day’s start would be delayed and often graduate tutorials were scheduled as late afternoon classes so as to accommodate both my professors and myself. My mind was never sharp in the mornings anyway. A very good argument might of course also have been made for bouts of afternoon obtuseness.

My afternoon starts meant that my departure toward a downtown university campus coincided with my father’s return from work. As I walked out the door I could see him making his way down the left side of the street. Sometimes he would emit a soft but audible whistle as I crossed the road in a huff hurrying toward the bus stop so that I might make my tutorial on time. But no matter how I cloaked it in that rationalization, it was a clear attempt at avoidance. The truth lay more in the fact that I was so preoccupied with breaking out of a “working class” mold that I even tried to physically avoid my working class origins.


Kathy Lou Schultz seems on the money when positing that with respect to university, “not everyone enters such a program with equal amounts of privilege and completing a degree while providing for the acquisition of particular cultural capital is not a great leveler.” (1) Albeit, education is mistakenly seen by the working class as a “way out” of the quagmire of this caste. But sometimes it’s more like owning a tuxedo with no place to go. Or as Schultz describes her own sense of marginality: “Amphibious, we live in both worlds, but belong to neither.” (2) And though we are indistinguishable from the “genuine” article in a Zelig type fashion we are always wary that we might be found out. We fret that “they” might see through us and realize that we really are vapid and uncultivated because we secretly prefer the Doors to DeBussy.

Still we want to be part of an intellectual community and/or a writer’s community. Wanting to be a poet only exacerbates the dichotomy as poetry and working class ethics seem to be diametrically opposed. There is little room for the quiet contemplation that is necessary to foster a rapport with the poem in the survivalist mentality which pervades the working class experience. Parents inevitably want their children to attain degrees that tout their professionalism to relative and neighbor alike. For my efforts I have a B.A. in Anthropology/ minor in Sociology and a M.A. in Sociology. My father still, to this day, doesn’t know quite why he sent me to university for and how to describe my educational achievements to significant others.And no, he doesn’t quite know what to make of my poetry either!


1&2 from "Talking Trash, Talking Class: What's a Working Class Poetic, and Where Would I Find One?" by Kathy Lou Schultz . This essay first appeared in tripwire: a journal of poetics, no. 1, Spring, 1998.


poetzie said...

Scultz is taking that concept right from Pierre Bourdeau's book Distinction. . .I sure hope she cites him :) His idea of "Cultural Capital" is definitely more problematized these days in an economy that has virtually no respect for a "poet" and the ultimate respect for someone like Donald Trump. I think it is high time to reevaluate how much capital "cultural capital" really has. I believe the exchange value has gone down quite a bit.

I just finished a book by Walter Benjamin about the poet Baudelaire. . .there was an actual class of people who did nothing all day but walk around, look at people and write about it (the flaneur, or the boheme- all the same dude, really, as far as I can discern). I can't get over imagining this- to have time, all the time, to watch and write. Amazing. According to Banjamin, the introduction of the commodity into the society and into the economy botched it up for the wandering, seeing poet, for now he coveted the commodity. Anyway, thought this might be at least slightly relevant.

Nick said...

The version of the article that I read had no bibliography and made no mention of Pierre Bourdeau's book and/or accredited him with the term: "Cultural Capital". I have not verified whether or not she mentions his book in the original publication.

I did not perceive, however, that the term was only applicable vis a vis "poets". And yes "cultural capital" cannot compete (in our modern context) with "real capital". Money doesn't just talk; it also swears (thanks Bob). Perhaps you are right CC's exchange value has been deflated. But still, Fitzgerald made a point - "old money" is always preferable to the "nouveau riche" because it includes the whole package deal: "Cultural Capital" and "Monetary Capital".

Benjamin's book sounds fascinating. It's now on my reading list - if the kids will ever let me get any reading in edge-wise. Thanks for commenting.

Simon said...

Nick -- this was very interesting to read. I hope you'll write more about this.

Nick said...

Simon, thanks for the interest in my post and I'm glad that your blog is active again.

The Blind-Winger Jones said...

My parents don't really know I write poetry. I've never told them. Poetry just doesn't feature in their orbit and I find it easier not to enlighten them.

Nick said...

Problem is that poetry seems to be featuring less and less in the orbit of others - significant or not!