Danny Ambalu 06/04/12
Interpreting the Un-Interpretable
In Poulet’s A Phenomenology of Reading, he asserts that in a sense the reader, by reading and thinking about a text, creates the text. When the reader reads a text, his consciousness unites with the consciousness of the author, and their ideas combine and transform the text from a “dead object”, or objective words on a page, into a living, dynamic work. In other words, Poulet gives the reader license to provide his own reasonable interpretation of a text, because the reader is the author’s partner in creating the text. This is especially true with regards to John Ashbery’s “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”, where a straightforward explanation of the poem is almost impossible. Therefore, in accordance with Poulet’s literary theory, I would like to unite my consciousness with Ashbery’s and provide my own interpretation of the poem: the poem is not meant to be understood.
Upon reading the ...view middle of the document...
Perhaps the poem is sending the reader the following message: certain things are not meant to be understood. (This is reminiscent of Oedipus Rex, where Oedipus searches for Total Knowledge against the warnings of the other characters, resulting in devastating consequences.) The poem hints at this through its consistent use of seemingly random, non-sequitor dialogue. In the first stanza, the poem begins by describing a coded message, but jumps to the Sea Hag reclining on a couch without mentioning who received the message or what it has to do with the Sea Hag sitting on a couch. In the following stanza, Wimpy says “no pleasant/Inspiration plunge us now to the stars (lines 11-12)”, which is his way of asking if this is all there is to life, but then, seemingly out of the blue, he says “For this is my country (ibid.)”. The note on Swee’pea’s bib also lacks a clear connection to the rest of the poem.
There are other hints to the poem’s conscious lack of intelligibility as well. The poem begins with a coded message, which can be interpreted to refer to the entire poem, not just the phrase in quotes. It also says that the phrase is the first of several coded messages without ever mentioning what the other ones are, leaving the reader in the dark and implying once more that the entire poem is an undecoded, or rather undecodable, message. The tangram mentioned in the first stanza may be symbolic of the poem as a whole being a puzzle, and the characters’ constant scratching, as if they were having difficulty understanding something, may be the poem’s way of hinting at the futility of attempting to decipher it. Even the Sea Hag’s use of Spanish in the first stanza is another throwaway hint saying “Don’t try to understand. It’s hopeless.”
To recap, my interpretation of Ashbery’s poem is the futility of interpretation. The moral of the poem is that some things are simply not meant to be understood. Whether my interpretation is that intended by the author is uncertain. However, even if it is not, it is a valid interpretation according to Poulet, because I am Ashbery’s partner in creating the poem. Accordingly, I have now united my consciousness with that of Ashbery, and I believe Poulet would be proud.