Post Your Opinion
Rebutal Critical Responsibilities
by Steve Mccaffery

'Serafin has produced ... a propagandist screed and demonstrated a lack Of competence' in reading North of Intention In "Colonial Mentalities" (November) Bruce Serafin focused upon Steve McCaffery's North of Intention as an example of the deficiencies of avant?garde literary criticism. Books in Canada invited McCaffery to reply to Serafin's article. IT'S EVIDENT that Bruce Serafin does not wish to engage North of Intention on the solid level of its content. Because of an obsessive resistance to style, he prevents a genuine intellectual communication from taking place. There is an unqualified embargo on all my thoughts and proposals and then an attendant charge against me of having "no feeling for the communicative side of prose." I find it difficult to take seriously an opinion that insults its readers this way, and is in addition committed to so many fundamental violations of pertinence, integrity, and a downright honest response to the text. How does one reply to a critic who ignores the book's integral refutations of his claims and who demonstrates in his writing that he has truly not read the book on which he's commenting? My own "opinion!' is that Mr. Serafin has produced, at best, a propagandist screed and demonstrated a lack of competence to read the work before him. I'm accused of promoting the interest and cultural legitimation of a coterie of peers. This allegation is made without substantiation, and by means of a blatant suppression of the counter? evidence that's ready to hand. To support his claim that I invest in the use of a collegial "we," Serafin cites the openings of two of my essays. On the strength of these quotations he advances the following observation: "It will be seen from these quotations that McCaffery tends to use the collegial 'we."' This observation is based on a gross distortion of the actual case. My use of the collegial "we" is more exceptional than typical. In fact, Serafin exhausts his entire range of possible evidence in the only two citations available to him. The reality of the matter is that only two essays of the 21 in the collection start this way. As regards my allegedly "heroic defence" of colleagues, there is a similar fustian and evasion of empirical facts. It is nonsense to claim that these essays promote "colleagues." The late bp Nichol was my close friend for 20 years, but, ironically, that fact long prevented me from writing about his work in the questioning way I did. To reach the conclusion that Fred Wah's work is being promoted or legitimated in the essay on his "Pictograms from the Interior of B.C." shows blinkered judgement on Serafin's part. Indeed, the essay seeks to question the cultural presuppositions on which Wah's book is built. Throughout North of Intention the point is constantly argued that criticism's responsibility is neither to promote nor depreciate writers, but to open up a literary text to reflective scrutiny. In keeping with this belief, these essays argue against the cult of the author and the author's privileged placement "above' the reader as a kind of dispenser of meaning, insight, and "truths," and strive to demonstrate that the meanings of a work are incommensurable and always in excess of its author's own intentions. It's also argued that my style and methodology are "structuralist." This claim is disproved by the actual contents of the book, and the reader need only consult the opening paragraph of "Writing as a General Economy" for clear substantiation. There, I both avoid the collegial "we" and take an open stance in opposition to structuralist method. Serafin further detects a "mimicry" of contemporary European critical style and ideas; of my having forsaken "the particular genius" (whatever that phrase actually means) of my own language to write in a "kind of pastiche of their styles." Again, I suggest readers turn to North of Intention and check for themselves the refuting evidence. "Lyric's Larynx" is set in verse lines and mixes historical facts with aphoristic statements. "Blood. Rust. Capital. Bloodstream" and "Seven Part Theory" can be described as "critical fictions," while "(Immanent) (Critique)" is a playful parody of the style and format of Jacques Derrida's Glas. It should be obvious to any discerning reader that these four pieces, if not totally subverting the stylistic authority of the rest of the book, certainly problematize any uncritical reception of its language. There is a motivated skepticism in the language and style I use, and a deliberate destabilization of the propositionally serious by a playful deployment of both thinking and its written form. Why else would such radically different and subversive pieces be published together, if not to relativize the authoritativeness of the one against the parody of the other? In Serafin's response he chooses to portray me as "utterly passive in the face of their authority." ("They" being the likes of Barthes, Lacan, and Derrida.) And the dialectical application of style and language in the book's total effect passes entirely unnoticed. I might pardon a shallow reading that misses (conveniently) the formal evidence that calls that reading into doubt but, again, the weight of statistical evidence against his erroneous claims renders his accusations without foundation. In a book of 226 pages there are but 26 references to Derrida, 13 to Lacan, and 10 each to Kristeva and Barthes. This hardly seems convincing evidence of a mind co?opted by European ideas. Mr. Serafin's hallucinatory and inflammatory constructs would be laughable if they were not so insulting in their insubstantial pretensions. I think the least that North of Intention deserves is a serious and comprehensive reading as a body of content. I'm similarly accused of using jargon. Well, what is jargon? It is the necessary vocabulary of a skill determined by factors of linguistic economy that intersect with the exigencies of specific expertise. Serafin uses the word with all its negative connotations, as an oppositional slogan that overrides with cloth?eyed vulgarity the fact that jargon is a precise and instrumental use of proper terms and phrases vital to the efficient operations of a discrete community of users. In reality there is no "jargon"; only jargons sufficient to as many disciplines as require their own precise terminology. Serafin exhibits xenophobia in his ahistoric call back to native and national values. (The absurdity of this admonishment is further emphasized if we recall our own bilingual context here in Canada.) The possibility that various aspects of European thinking may have a fruitful and novel application to writing in Canada is denied at the outset in Serafin's bigoted and reactionary thinking. It's my belief that Serafin's opinion self?destructs through the patent negativity of his methodology, the inaccuracy of his allegations, and the incoherence of his own proposals. This methodology is easy to describe: it is a practice in which all difference and plurality is reduced to a false unity by means of a vacuous word or phrase calculated to incite a collective, hysterical investment. To appeal, as he does, to "the common reader" is to appeal to nothing but a judgemental and falsifying term that involves the promotion of a pseudo?consensual essence that does not exist in reality. In a blunter phrase, it is a hollow slogan that insults the heterogeneity of individuals. Who has the right to generalize on quotidian habit? Likewise "the literary avant?garde" and Plath's wretched "zoo of the new" insult by their basal inhumanity, their vulgar classification, and their cavalier contempt for historical context, change, and process. Let me close with a brief, but apposite, quotation from T. S. Eliot, written in 1929, which to my mind offers a more pleasingly concise argument than Mr. Serafin's "Opinion": The present age has been, rather, uncritical, and partly for economic causes. The "critic" has been chiefly the reviewer, that is to say, the hurried amateur wage?slave. I am aware of the danger that the types of criticism in which I am interested may become too professional and technical. What I hope for is the collaboration of critics of various special training, and perhaps the pooling and sorting of their contributions by men who will be neither specialists nor amateurs.

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