Friday, March 18, 2011

Dennis Tedlock, "Ethnopoetics" [L2]

Tedlock, Dennis. “Ethnopoetics.” Electronic Poetry Center. Loss Pequeño Glazier and Charles Bernstein, 2010. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. [L2]

I like this short statement attempting to define ethnopoetics by one of it's founding practitioners very much. It lays down some of the motivating principles behind ethnopoetics as both theory and practice. First and foremost, Tedlock asserts that ethnopoetics is "a decentered poetics"---meaning that it doesn't work from the assumptions of canonicity. That is, it doesn't posit one poetry or poetics as greater/more important than all others; what it does posit is poetries as an always plural noun. In this view, no one poetry deserves to be emphasized over another; rather, many poetries are worth hearing and reading, just as there are many different peoples and cultures worth listening to. Hence Tedlock's assertion that "any poetics is always an ethnopoetics"—every poetics (poetry) is embedded in a particular cultural/traditional heritage and those heritages and their influence on each poet, poetry, and poetics is worth understanding.

Giving place for the work of culture as it's manifest in texts, especially texts in performance, is central to ethnopoetics. In fact, a real defining practice of ethnopoetics is teasing out the ways in which a culture is performed through and constitutes or gives shape to texts. The emphasis, then, is on bearing out the relationship between performances, texts, and the contexts out of which these performances and texts arise and upon which they construct meaning. The practitioner of ethnopoetics accomplishes this by transcribing a performance into a written record. Through this transcription, the practitioner seeks to score each aspect of the performance event—including gestures, intonations, silences, sound effects, etc.—such that this score can be used by others as a guide for re-performing, studying, and interpreting the performance in its live setting/context (or an approximation thereof). And ideally this is done while quenching the desire to be definitive.


Image source: Electronic Poetry Center