Saturday, May 24, 2008

An Artist Who Likes Theory

Video artist Paul Chan says: "Part of the pleasure of reading Derrida is precisely that I do not have to understand him. Comprehension is not the game. I don't care what he thinks he's saying—I want to read word for word, and pay attention so much that I begin to hallucinate. Which I think is a very reckless way of reading, but for me a productive one."
("Shadow Player: The Provocations of Paul Chan," by Cavlin Tomkins, The New Yorker May 26, 2008, 40-45.)

I think that this is close to my method of teaching literature. I advocate such a "reckless way of reading" in class; I also urge my students to explain their 'hallucinations' precisely and clearly. (Indeed, that's what they are graded on: written clarity.) Yet I wonder: how is this method "productive"? What is produced? Chan calls it "articulate speechlessness." I am not sure where the literature class stands in relation to art and (mystic) philosophy.