Obscurity rules?

I was reading some modern poetry the other day. At least, that’s what it called itself. Frankly, to me it was unintelligible. A jumble of words – some of them misused – without any apparent structure and making no kind of sense.  I tried speaking it aloud, to see if the sheer sound of it would strike sparks. Nothing happened

In this particular instance, I made a comment. I didn’t say the piece was rubbish (though that may have been what I thought); I just said that I didn’t understand it. The author’s response was that he didn’t give a damn whether I understood it or not .

This is what irks me about so much modern art. Surely the purpose of art, in any medium, is to communicate?  Art isn’t created in a vacuum. Nor should it, in my opinion, be created purely for the gratification of the artist.  If it fails to communicate – to arouse some emotion in the viewer or reader or listener, or to provide some new insight into human experience – then surely something is wrong. And I think it is deplorable for the artist to be indifferent to that failure.

Yes, of course some people are too thick, too unimaginative, too insensitive to respond in the way the artist would wish. But if a majority find his work incomprehensible, should he not worry? Should he not wonder if he is saying what he is trying to say in the right way?

I am not for a moment suggesting that everything should be ‘dumbed down’, to be accessible to the lowest common denominator. But obscurity for its own sake leads, in my view, to incomprehensibility being seen as a virtue; to rubbish being sold for thousands simply because rich men want to pose as connoisseurs.

There is modern poetry, modern art, that is mind-blowing, life-enhancing; but beware the man who doesn’t care whether he connects or not.


4 Responses to “Obscurity rules?”

  1. 1 illusionofasinner February 14, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I’m afraid that I’m going to have to disagree with your views on obscurity. Different people have different ways of communicating, maybe the poem in question was intended for someone that knew a secret language, or had some other meaning behind it. On blogs you also have to take into consideration that a lot or at least some are intended for merely themselves. As time goes on things change into meaning different things also, and i have always thought of writing poetry as it’s a secret, i doubt in most of my poetry you could get my actual meaning unless i sat down and discussed it with you. that is simply because i need to get something off my mind but don’t necessarily feel like having people read and know about my personal life. I’m not saying that you in any means have to like what they write, or agree with it, just that it is still poetry. but then i have not read what your are talking about, and can not completely say for sure.

  2. 2 johnchap February 14, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    If you are writing purely for yourself, to get something off your mind – fine! Write it in your private journal, in a secret language if you prefer. But if you publish, in any way, the implication is that you want others to read it. And, I submit, you should care about how they receive it and whether it is likely to be meaningful.

  3. 3 internationalpoet February 14, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Recently I had an experience which points to my approach to rendering judgement of the worth of a “written work,” whether poetry, short story or written observation of the world around us…..”Do so, with a gentle hand, and thoughtfulness for the emotions and feelings of others.” Shortly after joining a much advertised “Free Writer’s Website.” In reality, an extension of a third rate web-based vanity publishing company (which I latter learned), I observed a learning disabled poet (who was published) being attacked in a thread by one of the administrators of the site. The individual was a 62 woman who in earlier posts related the problems in becoming a writer of poetry with a learning disability. Latter observations of other adminstrators on the site demonstrated the same attitude toward other posters on the site, because of reasons I never understood, thought they were superior to all others. I cancelled my membership to the site and quickly found forty hours of effort on my part in the posting of a portion of my poetry work, disappear from the site. It is my observation, that many individuals who express a form of written abuse toward others, many times are individuals, that have few friends and associations in their reality life. The net offers a place for the release of their self hate, that they have many times, for their own lives.

    Respectfully Rendered,


  4. 4 illusionofasinner February 18, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    I agree with what internationalpoet wrote, and would like to add that also it is reader’s job to mindful of the writer’s style if he wishes to broaden his horizon and the writer’s job to know who he is writing to and communicate as well as possible to the person intended. after that all is fair in game. I do however under stand your frustration at not being able to understand someone’s work, i recently read Scarlet Letter for the first time and that was a PAIN to get through. lol.

    let life flow.
    from someone who knows.
    [kinda sorta]

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