Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Obligatory haiku rant (or, proving my point below)
Literarily speaking, very few things get me more riled up than some idiot slapping seventeen syllables together in a 5-7-5 pattern and calling it a "haiku". (I will confess to engaging in this pastime in my weaker moments, but I'm attributing it to "youthful indiscretion." And unlike certain members of Congress, I actually was young when this happened.) There are two reasons why this annoys me:

a) It's not a haiku. A haiku, properly speaking, is not just 5-7-5; it also needs to contain a seasonal element (loosely speaking; I know this definition isn't precise). I think the part that grates on me about this is the blatant cultural insensitivity; it's as if people are saying "oh, here's this cool Japanese thing; I'll use it without bothering to actually learn anything about it," in a way that embodies the worst ugly-American stereotypes. Obviously, I'm overprojecting in this, since I'm sure that that doesn't represent a whole bunch of people who do this, but the fact that it is (almost certainly) happening some of the time does annoy me. It's not the whole story, though; I still eat "burritos" (actually, burritos are a singularly bad example for this point, come to think of it, since they're allegedly not even authentic to begin with -- perhaps I should say "tacos" -- but anyway, you get the point) without feeling that they're an example of horrible American cultural imperialism (although it certainly could be argued that they are; I defend myself against such thoughts by comforting myself with the fact that at least I'm aware of the fact that these are hardly an authentic rendition of Mexican cuisine).

Now, it is true that you can argue that the seasonal motif is something which isn't necessary in modern haiku, or haiku in English. This is, to some extent, true. But given that every instance of the type of haiku I'm complaining about slavishly adheres to the 5-7-5 pattern -- which is indisputably something more worth changing if you're actually trying to "translate" the haiku form into English rather than just carrying it over directly -- it's pretty clear that their authors haven't actually thought about those issues, so I'm hardly going to give them a free pass on that score.

b) It's bad art. The haiku form, because of its constricted nature, requires a fair amount of effort to produce a good work of art. Unfortunately, to the average person focused on cramming whatever they want to say into this arbitrary seventeen-syllable form (and I say "arbitrary" quite deliberately, because while it is by no means actually arbitrary, from the perspective of the person I'm criticizing here, it might as well be), producing something pleasant artistically is the last thing on their minds. The result is something which is not any more worthwhile than if the author hadn't gone to all that bother to put it in 17 syllables, and which is often quite a bit worse, given the circumlocutions, peculiar word choices, awkward word breaks, and other devices people use to fit their thoughts into the 5-7-5 Procrustean bed. I suppose, as long as I'm wildly generalizing, I'll speculate that people like this are exactly the kind of people who go to a Jackson Pollock exhibit and say "What's the big deal? My 4-year-old could do that!" Haiku is their way to be the metaphorical 4-year-old in the art world; the rules are so simple (or so they think) that they can produce art just by following them. Of course, what they produce isn't really art, just as if they toddled into the garage with fingerpaint, they wouldn't get Blue Poles Number 11, either. That is to say, there is more to art than just following the rules, no matter how simple they may seem to be, and disregarding this fact is ultimately just going to produce something annoying.

Anyway, you might think that this rant might be inspired by TMQ's haiku feature. It's not, actually; while this particular feature has been annoying me since pretty much its inception, my irritation at improper haiku extends well before then. This does seem to be a particularly egregious example, but rest assured that this is always something I'll notice, regardless of its origins.

No comments: