I am currently engaged on a project to read Kierkegaard as a thinker of immanence. In my more pretentious moments I’ve described this as a kind of ‘creative misprision’, since it obviously goes against the grain of dominant readings of Kierkegaard as a champion of transcendence. Reading Kierkegaard ‘badly’ is a deliberate way of trying to unearth some of the buried logic of his texts.
However, the more I think about this idea of creative misprision, and its relation (in Harold Bloom’s original formulation) with ‘strong reading’, the more questionable it becomes, for reasons indirectly related to Anthony’s post.
For Bloom, the truly creative ‘strong’ poets are not slavish followers of tradition, but nor do they work in a vacuum. Their relationship to their poetic forebears is one of defensive resistance. This allows them to interpret their precursors by misinterpreting them, misreading them to allow new meanings and formal possibilities to emerge. To be ‘strong’, therefore, is to be both defensive and creative, and so to wrest the possibility of making meaning from the hands of one’s precursors.
Should we therefore welcome strong readings as inherently liberating and deterritorialising? The problem, as I see it, is one of power relationships.
To explain what I mean, let me move the terrain away from literary readings. One of the most well-known slogans used in opposition to rape culture is ‘no means no’. In the case of a woman refusing consent to sex, this slogan demands a literal interpretation. Men are simply in no justifiable position to second guess and say (to quote the execrable Robin Thicke) ‘I know you want it’.
The reason for this is not of course that it is logically impossible for ‘no’ to mean something other than ‘no’, but because such exchanges happen in a context of patriarchy, where what women ‘mean’ (both what they say and what they are) is dictated to them. Here, the literal reading is the liberating one (or at least the one that does not stand in the way of women’s self-liberation), because it means refusing the male desire to know what women mean.
The language of the ‘strong’ reading is becoming more suspicious in my eyes at least, because it evokes a discourse of mastery and overpowering, rather than creative mutuality. In the hands of oppressed minorities, this can work as justified resistance. In the hands of privileged dudes, it is only justifiable if it serves a resistance led by oppressed minorities.
Incidentally, this is one reason I react so negatively to the accelerationism that Daniel discusses. This is for rather different reasons than he gives. I don’t necessarily have a problem with projects of futurity and conversion as such. However, accelerationism strikes me as a project which, in the guise of futurism, actually affirms the logic of the wretched present, in which the self-mastery of the neoliberal, implicitly masculine subject is precisely the problem.