Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hugh Kenner

Hugh Kenner [Big Other]

from Hugh Kenner's The Stoic Comedians: Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett:

The Stoic is one who considers, with neither panic nor indifference, that the field of possibilities available to him is large perhaps, or small perhaps, but closed. Whether because of the invariable habits of the gods, the invariable properties of matter, or the invariable limits within which logic and mathematics deploy their forms, he can hope for nothing that adequate method could not foresee. He need not despair, but the most fortunate resolution of any predicament will draw its elements still from a known set, and so will ideally occasion him no surprise. The analogies that underlie his thinking are physical, not biological: things are chosen, shuffled, combined; all motion rearranges a limited supply of energy. He has been typically, at typical points in history, an ethical theorist weighing duty against preference without extravagant expectations, a hero aware that in defying the gods he yet fulfills their will, a gambler calculating odds, a proponent of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and in our time a novelist filling four hundred empty pages with combinations of twenty-six different letters.

It has taken us several centuries to realize how the Gutenberg Revolution transformed literary composition into a potentially Stoical act. So long as writing was the graph of speech, its highly stylized limitations, its nuances synthesized from discrete particles, were tacitly allowed for. Tones, gestures, live inflections, meeting eyes, these catalysts for the continuum of dialogue the reader learns unconsciously to supply. Not only was reading for many centuries an operation always performed with the voice, not merely the eye, but writing, even writing for the press, was controlled by the presupposition that these words here chosen would ideally be animated by speech. "Verie devout asses they were. . . ." — five words of Nashe's, and we know that we hear a voice. But by 1926, I. A. Richards found it necessary to labor the point that tone ("the attitude of the speaker to the audience") was one of the components of meaning, for the meaning of printed words had by that time come apart into components which the skilled reader has learned to put back together; and by mid-century a chief occupation of the college classroom had become the effort to persuade eighteen-year-olds, skilled consumers of print for two-thirds of their lives, that there were any kinds of meaning latent in language except the ones a grammar and dictionary will lock together.

I wonder, by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, will we lov'd? were we not wean'd till then?

A student who finds whose lines clotted has no difficulty with the following:

On newstands, the new Sunday paper had a clean, uncluttered look (six columns to the page instead of the customary eight), and it was certainly easy to carry home (8 oz. v. the 4 lb. 2 oz. of The New York Times).

Yet the latter passage is virtually impossible to read aloud. It has moved from research  through typewriter to printing press without the intervention of the human voice. I copied it, of course, from the issue of Time that happened to be lying nearest me: the entire issue, ninety-two pages of it, a dense mosaic of factuality behind each atom of which is alleged to stand a researcher's guarantee that justification can be produced on demand. Time, the exhalation of the linotype machine, does not talk, it compresses. Its very neologisms (cinemactor, Americandidly) carry their wit to the eye alone. In its immense success we behold several million readers a week absorbing information from the printed page by solely visual means, deciphering with ease and speed a mode of language over which, for the first time on so vast a scale, speech has no control at all.

This means that we have grown accustomed at last not only to silent reading, but to reading matter that itself implies nothing but silence. We are skilled in a wholly typographic culture, and this is perhaps the distinguishing skill of twentieth-century man.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Anne Carson

from Anne Carson's Plainwater:

I: Do you dream . . .

M: No I dream of headlights soaking through the fog on a cold spring night

I: Now it is you who is angry

M: I’m not angry I am a liar only now I begin to understand what my dishonesty is what abhorrence is the closer I get there is no hope for a person of my sort I can’t give you facts I can’t distill my history into this or that home truth and go plunging ahead composing miniature versions of the cosmos to fill the slots in your question and answer period it’s not that I don’t pity you it’s not that I don’t understand your human face is smiling at me for some reason it’s not that I don’t know there is an act of interpretation demanded now by which we could all move to the limits of the logic inherent in this activity and peer over the edge but everytime I start in everytime I everytime you see I would have to tell the whole story all over again or else lie so I just lie who are they who are the storytellers who can put an end to stories

Saturday, August 16, 2014

fell of dark, not day

When Robin Williams killed himself, I felt kinship & deep sadness because I’ve wanted to kill myself — depression causes that. When I learned he’d been diagnosed with Parkinsons, I felt sad in a different way. Parkinsons is an awful, body- & mind-disabling disease. I wouldn’t want to endure it either. I too would do my best to kill myself in the early stages, before the disease progressed to the point where I would not be able.

Of course, I didn’t know Robin Williams, so I don’t know whether he killed himself because he chose not to live a diminished life or because he was depressed to the point where he could no longer ask for help. I hope it was the former. I hope I can kill myself before some awful disease diminishes me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mark Wunderlich

Mark Wunderlich [twitter]

from Mark Wunderlich's The Earth Avails:

Coyote with Mange

Oh, Unreadable One, why
have you done this to your dumb creature?
Why have you chosen to punish the coyote

rummaging for chicken bones in the dung heap,
shucked the fur from his tail
and fashioned it into a scabby cane?

Why have you denuded his face,
tufted it, so that when he turns he looks
like a slow child unhinging his face in a smile?

The coyote shambles, crow-hops, keeps his head low,
and without fur, his now visible pizzle
is a sad red protuberance,

his hind legs the backward image
of a bandy-legged grandfather, stripped.
Why have you unhoused this wretch

from his one aesthetic virtue,
taken from him that which kept him
from burning in the sun like a man?

Why have you pushed him from his world into mine,
stopped him there and turned his ear
toward my warning shout?

fox with mange in Argentina

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guy Davenport

Guy Davenport [New Directions]

from "E. E. Cummings?" in Guy Davenport's The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays:

That the poet speaks for people who cannot speak, that he makes sentences for people to say, is as outmoded a concept in pedagogy as whacking the behind for laziness and insolence. The poet, poor fellow, has become a Personality, and the only authority for his raving is that he stands in his shoes. That pair of shoes over there: in them stands a man who for lack of Personality might be famous as the poet.

One can think of statements that seem to explain so wry a misunderstanding of the poet as an issuer of personal pronunciamentos. Behavioral psychology, squirted into the ears of students from Head Start through the Ph.D., can account for no action not grounded in self-advancement; it follows that the poet as a voice for other people is suspect. He must be expressing himself, don't you see? Poor Whitman. He wrote a corpus of poems for an entire nation, to give them a tongue to unstop their inarticulateness. He wrote in their dialect, incorporating the nerve of their rhetoric and the rhythms of the Bible from which their literacy came. He wrote two elegies for Lincoln, one for grownups ("When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd") and one for school children ("O Captain! My Captain!"). He tried to understand the voiceless American and to speak for him, and as much as any poet has ever succeeded, he did. Yet he has been idiotically deposed from the fulcrum he so carefully selected. He wrote not a single personal poem and yet every word is taught to students as the self-expression of an elate disc jockey who made his scene with a poetry book, Way Back Yonder (but still pertinent, as he used symbols and sometimes undercut with irony).

Thus the editors of Time have no trouble doing an article on the most significant American poet. Marianne Moore? Louis Zukofsky? Ezra Pound? Robert Kelly? Ronald Johnson? Robert Duncan? Naw. Robert Lowell. Mr. Lowell has, indeed, worked hard at being a poet. He has been severe in his output, and knows, with Brahms, that writing is all too easy. What's hard is to throw most of what you've written in the trash-basket. He has been smart and modern in metric and diction. And he has been bleak, agonized, and serious, terribly serious. He seems to have always had a headache. He is respected at Bennington. Mr. Pound (as Time does not seem to know) has read from his poems at Spoleto. And Time has singled him out as the significant poet.

And he is, if we define poetry as essentially self-expression. And if Mr. Lowell's response to the world were as eloquent as, say, Stan Laurel's or François Villon's or Mahalia Jackson's — that is, if there were some juice or even some mud between the toes — the report from his inwards might instruct us in grief and support us when we're doleful. One need not diminish Mr. Lowell's excellence to say what's out of joint in Time's report on current American poetry; but since they set him up as representative, it is necessary to say with some firmness that he is not. He is a thoughtful, serious, melancholy academic poet; if he is representative of anything beyond himself, it is of a broody school of professor-poets whose quiet, meticulous verse is perhaps the lineal and long-winded descendant of the cross-stitch sampler.

Poets, Time says, are moony-minded, seeing camels and bunny rabbits in clouds. (Shiver and snuggle up, dear reader, Time is going to walk right up to a poet, give him an Ed Sullivan hug, and get him to express himself about his self-expression.) Shelly, by golly, saw a cloud as a cloud, but never mind. "Poets," Mr. Lowell says, "are a more accepted part of society." Mr. Lowell is a Harvard professor, and would no doubt, if he taught physiology, explain to his students that the tongue is an admirable and useful organ, and that society is almost reconciled to its being part of the body. When Ezra Pound ("the father of modern poetry," says Time) became a more accepted part of society, after thirteen years in the pokey where society put him in a moment of rejection, he was detained momentarily by reporters asking the usual silly questions. "Ovid had it a lot worse," he said, and while they were looking at each other's notepads to see how to spell Ovid, he clapped his hat on his head, and walked off to take a ship to Italy.