Our Promiscuity

That could be an interesting topic, but in this case I mean something academic.  In doing some rudimentary thinking about a paper I have to give in a month, I’ve been thinking about the theory of reading for which Susan David Bernstein coined the term “promiscuous identification.”  What it means, really, as it is applied in various places, is a reading practice that too reductively collapses the actually unbridgeable distance between the fictional subject/speaker and the author, between the fictional and historical subject or world, or possibly between the fictional speaker/subject and the reader herself or himself, making a holistic identification that overlooks or ignores the actual noncoincidence of the two.  ED is such a fascinating figure as The Myth of Amherst, and so many readings of her work seek biographical parallels– maybe due to the tendency I mentioned by Shanea’s Bridge post, that the privacy of her life makes us assume there is no external, is no public or theoretical, that comes into play.  I guess what I’m struggling with is wanting us to avoid the traps of promiscuous identification or of shallow biographical interpretations but also not to pretend that the lyrics exist in a pure isolation as mere artifacts of beauty.  This is a hard line to walk, isn’t it?

3 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. sarahsmile

    i suppose i understand what this means, but i am just not sure why in the world the word promiscuity would at all be applicable. it just gives me this vague feeling that i’m somehow a loose person when i read poetry….

    February 8th, 2011

  2. I kind of agree with Sarah on this one.

    It always fascinates me though how much of a writers life we want to put onto their writing in general. I can see how there’s a tendency to do that for general feelings and sentiments–guilty as charged in my own writing. But I know that if someone took a fine-toothed comb and went through my own poetry trying to sort out exactly which events corresponded to particular words or phrases they’d be wasting their time.

    And, sometimes, writers, you know, especially writers of what is usually known as “fiction,” just make stuff up. Weird, huh?

    This got pretty sarcastic pretty quickly. I should probably stop now.
    But at least someone has identified this behavior in readers of poetry and, now maybe I can disagree with Sarah, and say that it’s a good thing they made it sound so icky–perhaps we’ll stop.

    March 5th, 2011