Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!


Tuesday, June 17, 2003

 
Education stew. Parody of true expression; no more poetry

The adjunct pay bit is coming along nicely, but I found myself engaged quite ferociously in a digression which I felt was best posted separately, as it made the tone of the whole thing more bitter and incoherent than it needed to be, and it lacks the analytical depth which I was aiming for. Fundamentally, the subtext of intellectually snobbish rage in the following piece sums up my dissatisfaction with the modern teaching of humanities; while I have picked on a particular point of irritation because it looms disproportionately large in the world of things which drive me to anger, consider it to stand as metonym for much of what passes for a liberal arts education these days. Anyway, with my theme:

*Ahem*

Does anyone out there know what a haiku is?

Why yes, yes, we learned it in school. It's a Japanese poetic form consisting of seventeen syllables, divided into three lines of five, seven and five syllables.

Wrong, fool, it's a Japanese poetic form consisting of seventeen Japanese syllables, etc, etc, etc. What you learned about in school was a completely pointless exercise in attempting to transfer a verse form which makes sense in its native language into a language in which it doesn't make sense. Japanese doesn't have word stresses in the way in which English does, and all the words in in vowels, so the concepts of rhythmic metre and rhyme are pretty alien. Conversely, Japanese syllables are well-defined and unalterable, while English ones are often ambiguous and elided. Furthermore, I read on the internet that classical Japanese haiku actually have (rather like the Welsh englyn) many other restrictions on their form, so it is actually quite difficult to compose one which sticks rigidly to the rules. In English, the answer to the question "can you compose a haiku?" is basically the answer to the question "can you count?". ( Proof.)

And yet there are still people in the world who believe themselves to be showing off their intelligence and even, ye Gods, sensitivity, by attempting to "compose" haiku extempore. I've seen it happen in real life as well as on the internet (obviously)and in Simpsons episodes about precocious kids. It's horrendous. The fact is that, unless you have decided to adopt some restriction of English metre or rhyme, the haiku is free verse, end of story. The intellectual effort needed to fit the seventeen syllables is equivalent to solving crossword puzzles in one dimension. It's much less intellectually challenging a form than the limerick, for example; damn few people can write a good one of those.

How the hell did the haiku get so popular? I can only blame English teachers. Nobody, apart from a few freaks, Orientalists and other statistical anomalies, would have bothered with trying to import this form into English otherwise. Obviously, as with so many abstruse and foreign forms, Ezra Pound has to cop some of the blame for introducing the English speaking world to the bloody thing in the first place, but I find it rather difficult to believe that a single one of these 456 people has ever heard of him (yup).

The point is that the haiku has the considerable advantage as a form of verse that it can be written badly with next to no mental effort. It is therefore an ideal verse form to teach to people who are too thick to be worth teaching and who don't want to learn; for example, computer science students on compulsory liberal arts courses. Furthermore, it's easier to mark than free verse; it's just a matter of counting to seventeen and checking that the line breaks are in roughly the right place, optional caesura, optional seasonal image, ten out of ten for you little Clyde and no messy embarrassment at having to tell someone that their precious piece of self-expression is no bloody good. The haiku cult allows you to sit down and perform a quick, straightforward quantitative check to see whether what you are reading is poetry or not, and how many of us could do with one of those? And so, a hundred thousand kids every year get an embossed certificate notarised by the government to tell the world that they're not devoid of an inner life. Talk about grade inflation.

If you're thinking of writing a haiku, don't do it. Or at the very least, don't share it with anyone. If you can't avoid that, at least try to keep it secret from me. This isn't pure intellectual elitism. I'm in general rather in favour of people trying to write poetry and one day if I get drunk, I might inflict some of my own on you lot. Bu what I'm against is people kidding themselves that they're writing poetry when they're just solving not very difficult puzzle-games. As noted above, I blame modern society for being set up in such a way as to systematically reward the business of distracting people from what they might be capable of into formulaic and uninteresting, but socially acceptable commodified forms. I note with a degree of sardonic humour that if I am right about the reasons why haiku are popular with English teachers, the root cause of the haiku epidemic in the English speaking world is exactly the dulling of artistic sensibility identified in Uncle Ezra's own "With Usura" ...

Update: It appears that not everybody agrees with me. Very well then, I fight dirty. Try reading through your slim volumes of Basho after I inform you that if a haiku has the right number of syllables, it can be sung to the tune of the first three lines of "Agadoo" by Black Lace.

Agadoo, doo doo
Push pineapple shake the tree
Agadoo, doo doo.


1 comments this item posted by the management 6/17/2003 12:42:00 PM


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?




Links:

Bitch : Lab
Aaronovitch Watch
Balkanalysis
Perfect.co.uk
Maxspeak
Brad Delong
The Robert Vienneau blog

Political and philosophical heroes

Subcomandante Marcos
Will Rogers
Boris Vian
The English Svejk

RSS Feed:
This seems to matter to a lot of people

If you liked this "Daniel Davies" website, you might be interested in

"Danux", the web developer
The martial artist (and fan of extremely annoying Flash intros) from Blackburn
The Welsh political journalist
A Scouse computer programmer who collects Soviet cameras
"Danimal", the heavy metal drummer
Canada's finest recorder of radio jingles
More of the same, at the Guardian
A tailor's in Lampeter where Jimmy Carter once bought a hat
An advertising man who has written a novel about dogging (I think we sometimes get each other's email)
An award-winning facilities manager in Dubai
The son of the guitarist from the Kinks Update: he is apparently "balls-out motherfucking shit-dicked exxxstatic" to be included on a Kerrang magazine giveaway CD of Iron Maiden covers, which is nice.
"Fritz Gretel" from the Ramones film "Rock 'n' Roll High School"
The former presenter of the leading politics talk radio show on the Isle of Man, now a business change manager in the Manx government secretary's office
An aquarium curator in Sussex who keeps on scoring home runs like this (this is the first stable link I've found, but he is constantly kicking ass in acquarial terms)

If you didn't like this "Daniel Davies" website, then don't give up on the Daniel Davies industry completely!

An American "Christian Political Analyst" who has the same name as me
A student at Patrick Henry College
these two might be the same guy ...
"Scatter", the deceased Liberian gangster
A naked man stuck in a chimney in Wigan
A thug in Barrow



This blog has been going downhill since ...

August 2002
September 2002
October 2002
November 2002
December 2002
January 2003
February 2003
March 2003
April 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
September 2003
November 2003
December 2003
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009
January 2010
February 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August 2011
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
January 2012
February 2012
March 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
July 2012
August 2012
September 2012
October 2012
December 2012
February 2013
April 2013
June 2013
July 2013
August 2013
March 2014
April 2014
August 2014
October 2015