Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Spot the Difference

When I finished my undergraduate degree, a professor of mine gave me a copy of Lorine Niedecker's Collected Works. Years later, knowing that I am no fan of Emily Dickinson's but that Niedecker's work is influenced by and at times strongly resembles Dickinson's, that same professor asked me if I had disliked Collected as a result. It was an interesting--and valid--inquiry, one that I was able to answer truthfully by saying that I in fact found that I enjoyed Niedecker's work.

Having recently come across the volume in question, I wondered what it was, exactly, that attracted me in Niedecker's poems but repelled me in Dickinson's, and I think the most honest response is that there isn't necessarily a strong set of criteria. Sometimes, it's just a gut feeling that you have.

Here's another example. I love Quentin Tarantino's oeuvre, and my experiences with him began in high school prior to the release of Kill Bill, which was the first Tarantino film I saw in real time rather than on DVD or (gasp) video. But when Inglourious Basterds came along, I hated it with a force that surprised me. To this day, I cannot fully articulate what made me dislike it so much. The acting was superb. The editing was impeccable (RIP Sally Menke). The production values were unimpeachable. Yet there it was: I couldn't stand the thought of a repeat viewing. When Django Unchained premiered, I worried that perhaps I had lost my connection with Tarantino's craftsmanship and would despise it as well, but I was pleasantly surprised when Django proved to be at turns hilarious, haunting, and heroic. 

What, then, was the difference between Basterds and Django? I can't even say. The former simply felt wrong to me, just as Dickinson's poems always have. 

The reading, listening, and viewing experiences are, for the most part, deeply subjective. This is the easiest way to explain my quandary. Yet I continue to find myself shocked when people I meet profess their undying love for Emily Dickinson. What is the difference between us? It's nothing more than a matter of personal preference.


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