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This review is taken from PN Review 205, Volume 38 Number 5, May - June 2012.

Merely Reading? MARJORIE PERLOFF, Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century (Chicago).

Marjorie Perloff is concerned with how we read.

In a discussion of the intriguing work of Yoko Tawada, Perloff notes a significant transcription error in Internet versions of a Goethe poem (changing a pronoun's gender) and writes, 'so careless are our usual reading habits...'. This might seem overwrought - it was a typo - but it also seems warranted: Perloff's remarkably attentive readings shed light, linguistic and historical, on all sorts of texts. But at key moments in Unoriginal Genius she uses her forensic skills - and sometimes her own mistakes of transcription and omission - to distort what's in front of her.

In 'One-Way Street', Walter Benjamin writes: 'The power of a country road is different when one is walking along it from when one is flying over it by airplane. In the same way, the power of a text is different when it is read from when it is copied out... Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text.' Intent on building her case for 'a new poetry, more conceptual than directly expressive', Perloff writes that Benjamin's comment is 'uncanny' in its anticipation of the new writing, 'now that the Internet has made copyists ... of us all'.

This is absurd. Benjamin is interested in the analogue experience of what he knew as 'copying'. That's ...


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