Monday 3 April 2023

Focussing on the feeling in the flow: how to avoid critiquing 'Highway 61 Revisited'.

 I go on and on being amazed by 'Highway 61 Revisited'. How could someone that young have produced such images, feelings, sounds, cadences, ideas...? It's also taught me to swerve away from trying to analyse each word-use, each image, each sequence in terms of meaning but instead to focus on the feeling in the flow. This is very hard to describe in language but in a way it's a response on the edge of language anyway. So if Dylan sings, 'When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Easter Time too' (me) don't have to work out whether Dylan is really lost or why it's Easter and where is Juarez. That's too specific and 'referential'. Instead you can just 'sit in' the emotion of the line...After all he hands it to 'you' if 'you' want to take it. `it doesn't matter if you (me) hasn't ever been lost in the rain in Juarez. He's just saying imagine if you are, be in a daydream where you could be and think about that feels like.

This runs totally counter to all that literary criticism that I (we) have been taught how to do, and indeed what I teach. That's why it's hard to describe this kind of response. I am over-tutored to do the other thing. I'm not saying all literature is like this - far from it, but it seems to me that there are various people who have tried to write poems, songs and fiction (or passages in fiction) like this, where what's uppermost is a feeling rather than what I'm calling 'referential' writing. I suspect that other writers like this are some of TS Eliot's early stuff, or Dylan Thomas.
Interestingly, I've heard Joan Baez describe how Dylan was at this time, manically reading and writing, writing and reading, just getting stuff down on the page. But of course, it's not all random. Far from it. Dylan was lucky to have in his head a vast bank of songs from the blues, Woody Guthrie, country music, as well as the literary stuff he was reading. So he could combine the 'feeling writing' of the modernists with the musical phrasing of these people.
Anyway, I'm listening over and over again to the tracks, not in order to extract more meaning from them but in order to not extract more meaning from them! But to try and sit in the lines (and it's a very 'line' oriented way of writing), letting one long line after another roll on. It's a fascinating thing to do and totally against the way I have listened or read most of the time.
After all, he asks us 'how does it feel to be on your own?'. He doesn't say, work out what that means. He asks us to think about how we feel.