Useless Literature: Responding-to and Responding-with

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Where recent discussions of critique have tended to focus on its resistant or suspicious attention, three more intrinsic aspects of critical analytic attention have gone relatively unexamined: directness, narrowness, and unidirectionality. Whether drawing out internal aspects of a text – its metre, its themes, etc. – or isolating its lines of interaction, one’s attention in analysing is directed intently toward an object. One responds, in other words, to the text.

Such attention is undeniably useful and highly prized – in neoliberal society, usefulness and value are all but synonymous. After all, it is intense, direct attention that allows for the production of relatively stable, graspable, exchangeable knowledge of an object. However, coming to know a text in such a way effectively reduces it to stable, graspable, exchangeable things – to symbols or tokens.

Yet there is another use of the word ‘knowing’, describing the intangible, ineffable result not of direct, subject-object attention, but of shared, subject-subject experience – of being or even resonating with.

In this paper, I sketch out a theory of ‘responding-with’ as a way of knowing without the reductions of analysis – knowing through resonance. With lyric poems as case studies and building upon advances in cognitive psychology and philosopher Jan Zwicky’s theories of lyric thought, I will explore how responding with a poem fosters an attention that is quite unlike the responding-to of analysis: open, indirect, interactional, less like a laser than like a bell – resonant. By endeavouring to work with a poem in the composition of a version, imitation, or intralingual translation, readers relate with the text as co-respondents or co-creators, as partners in a dance. Whilst not denying that poems and readers can be useful, in responding-with, readers come to know as utterly individual, irreducible beings¬ – gloriously and invaluably useless.
Period3 Sep 2021
Event titleUses of Literature
Event typeConference
LocationOdense, Denmark
Degree of RecognitionInternational