Hoagland, D'Souza, and Despair

When I heard friends and acquaintances talk about Hoagland's essay in Poetry, it sounded like a feast of caviar. When I read it during jury duty this week, the essay was preserved, hot-pink bait-shop salmon eggs.

I don't have the stomach to write a long piece about the flaws and lacunae in Hoagland's argument. The essay leaves me feeling like D'Souza's Illiberal Education did while I was in graduate school. I knew the work of the literary theorists D'Souza wrote about. I knew that what he wrote was utter, total bullshit, and that if he'd read half of the work in his footnotes, he knew it, too. And I knew that the book was going to be popular and that it, rather than fact, thought, and careful argument, would set the public perception of an area of study I found endlessly fascinating and fruitful.

And that is the way hackwork like that of Joan Houlihan and this recent Hoagland essay leaves me feeling. Hoagland's essay is in Poetry, and more people are going to read it, and have their perceptions set by it, than will ever hear of or go near Perloff and Altieri. The essay's readers can nod sagely with Hoagland that all this disjunctive stuff will dry up and blow away. They can then settle themselves comfortably within the claustrophobic circle of the personal free-verse lyric, confident that they know everything that literature can and should do. And they will never know their true poverty.

I'm starting to think that Lisa Robertson had the right idea about going to Paris and getting the hell off this continent.


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