Wednesday, 31 January 2007
And then the weepings
start to wail
all over the pale green bodices
Yet why can I never agree with anything he may say about poetry itself? It is always strange when this occurs. I have recently read several articles from Davies containing quotes which I simply cannot fathom. Why, for example, does there exist in some L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing wierdly ingenuous claims regarding REALITY ITSELF. Ingenuous because of the movement’s apparent purposes. Weird because of its members’ manifest astuteness, subtlety, and perspicacity.
“If somebody has written some poems and you read some of them you can tell pretty much right away whether they concentrated on the poesie or the life” - Alan Davies.
Of course, you cannot. This is patently absurd.
(Ern Malley, meet Araki Yasusada).
This world is Real. Press the fruit to your lips. It squashes and becomes “else”, but does not for this cease to be Reality.
Who here is speaking?
It is only in hidings one’s construction in unconstruction that one can hope to build the spiraling referential Edifice.
Each one in his prison, and dissolution the Key. Slip through the bars.
"Actually, we are all Romantics!"
"I was surprised to hear this. But then I realised: it was true."
Monday, 29 January 2007
Poetry isn’t easy to come by. You have to write it like you owe a debt to the world. In that way poetry is how the world comes to be in you. – Alan Davies
I owe the world what debt? The debt of life or the debt of death? I owe those who have cared for me in the world a debt: but they have cared for me against this world. I don’t want the world to be in me: I want to see it in the true spectrum of a possible though denied radiance. Cf. Thomas Hobbes’, the description of Nature: bellum omnium contra omnes. War of all against all.
Poetry owes a debt to no one.
I owe a debt to those I love. Poetry, as a form of action, may, like the world, become an incarnation of this love.
There is no other debt possible.
If somebody has written some poems and you read some of them you can tell pretty much right away whether they concentrated on the poesie or the life. – Alan Davies
A position, couched in the lexic of reality and objecthood: nothing more dangerous or pernicious. Conferring such weight upon objective phenomena - weight which they neither need nor desire! - robbing not only art of relevance, but equally phenomena themselves. Have we forgotten our Shakespeares, Cervantes, Borges, Pirandellos? Our plays within plays? Our images within the image? Objects do not exist so that art may concentrate upon them. The shades of Las Meninas becoming the portrait of "ourtheir". One more pronoun, extending still experience. ("Still", in both senses: adjective and adverb . . .) Where behind the Arnolfinis we curve transported, distorted . . .
There is a face in every convex glass.
Have we forgotten Hamlet recounting the real crimes of Claudius to Claudius’ false face? The false crime more real in its representation than the real become un- ? Have we forgotten Dmitri Fyodorovich's internal Wurm? Our recent and unrecent wars . . .
Forgotten the fan of Mallarmé who for nobody beats?
For Pirandello, the child’s imagination is characterized by a lack of distinction between reality and dreams. Like little Russian dolls, within life there is a smaller dream, and then a smaller life still within that dream, und so weiter . . . In dreams begins responsibility, as said Yeats.
Tuesday, 23 January 2007
Friday, 19 January 2007
1) For around a year during undergrad I was a devoted Paterian. I finished the Studies in the History of the Renaissance late one night on a poorly lit train returning from the city to my parents’ house on the coast. I was so dazed and overwhelmed by what I found in that book, as perhaps only an adolescent can be. I spent the next year fighting with exaggerated vigour our English department’s New Historicists. (Also, I seem to remember being inexplicably unaware at the time that Oscar Wilde was gay).
2) At the same period I was rather addicted to Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Tennyson and faux 19th century soft-porn medieval romances . . . It was a strange, wonderful time . . .
3) I still think of Mallarmé as the birth not just of poetic, but of western cultural, modernity. When barely able to understand French I was entranced simply by the layout of Un Coup de Dès, which represented for me a visual beauty I had never thought possible in the written word.
4) I thought the sociology of literature evil until I read Pierre Bourdieu. Pierre Bourdieu was a wonderful individual.
5) I wrote a long essay on Coleridge’s reception of Schelling, the brothers Schlegel and the concept of Organic Form. I was fascinated by ways of thinking about works of art which started from a broadly formal basis and worked their way up. I think I can safely say that I became, and remain today, an Organicist.
Wednesday, 17 January 2007
What To Keep:
1) The Intentional Fallacy.
2) Ambiguity (tensions of meaning).
3) That the structure of a work should not be divorced from its meaning.
4) Close reading techniques (carefully applied).
1) The Affective Fallacy
2) The reluctance/refusal to admit that texts may mean opposite things at once.
3) The idea that texts are “self-contained”.
4) The idea that close reading techniques should lead to a dominant or primary mode of understanding for a text.
Monday, 15 January 2007
Eliot’s relationship to New Criticism is not, I think, as complex as some critics often make out. Eliot seemed to dislike in the New Critical project the prioritisation of particles of a text over its universal import (the Element instead of the Oeuvre). He liked, however, the aesthetic, rather than biographical or historical, priority, which the New Critics conferred upon texts. This is, I think, quite clear. What is less clear is why both groups failed to recognise the large common ground they had, taking this ground to be not a field, but a battlefield.
So, the story.
Eliot once famously called the New Critics “that lemon-squeezer school of criticism”. In response though to New Critical readings of The Waste Land, Eliot, rather than elaborating on this scepticism towards the prioritising of detail in poetic texts – the CSI approach – made a capital and historically important error. In Thoughts after Lambeth:
“When I wrote a poem called The Waste Land some of the more approving critics said that I had expressed the ‘disillusionment of a generation,’ which is nonsense. I may have expressed for them their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention."
It is that last phrase, and primarily that last word, which Eliot, if he had wanted his critique to be taken seriously by Richards and Co, should never have included. For, rather than attacking the lemon-squeezing aspect of the lemon-squeezers, Eliot accuses the school who elaborated the Intentional Fallacy of having “missed his intention.”
And this was a capital mistake. For the rest of the New Critics scoff, and Eliot’s real, more fundamental critique (that of lemon-squeezing), is masked by his blunder. Unhappily, Eliot unknowingly fuelled the New Critical fire, and led to the fact that no moderate New Critic could ever consider his other, more valid, reproach seriously.
Ironically, Eliot was probably les concerned about whether the New Critics had “missed his intention”, than whether they had missed the overall import of his poem. In this way, his “my intention” gaff seems to me just a rather unfortunate, though common, way of speaking in 1920’s lit crit, rather than indicative of a fundamental statement about poetics.
(Moreover, Eliot also unwittingly supports here the New Critics' Affective Fallacy (“that which consists in believing that the reader’s response is relevant to the meaning of a work”) by saying “I may have expressed for them their own illusion of being disillusioned etc. . .” It’s important to note today that pretty much all of us accept I think the basic tenets of the Intentional Fallacy, while hardly any of us I think accept those of the Affective Fallacy. The weird thing about the Affective Fallacy is that it actually goes against literary thoery from its very beginnings, against Aristotle (Catharsis), against Horace (To Please and Instruct). You don’t have to be Richard Fish to think that the removal of readers is really very reductive.)
But Eliot’s intuition was correct: New Criticism failed to properly take account of a poem such as The Waste Land, only not for the reason Eliot proposes. Rather, the New Critics presumed that The Waste Land was a text like Shakespeare’s: i.e. that it functions in the same way.
It obviously does not.
The problem, I think, was two-fold: firstly, The Waste Land was largely built around a system of extra-textual or meta-textual references, whereas New Criticism presumes that texts are aesthetically self-contained. This “aesthetic self-containment” was previously very useful in rejecting the pernicious influence of biographical reductionism which reigned before and just after the fin de siècle, but in turn led to a type of reductionism all of its own. Secondly, the New Critics presumed that even though a text may have sites full of ambiguity or tension of meaning, there are no sites without meaning, or with no intention to mean. (Here we must remember, I think, that New Criticism, despite its Empsonesque parlance of “ambiguities”, does in the end usually try to attribute to a text a sort of dominant “mode of understanding”, based on finite evidence).
The situation is in many ways unfortunate, eminating from a sort of mutual misunderstanding on both sides. For, the New Critics could have latched on to things in The Waste Land which supported their anti-biographical tendencies (the penetration of literature by literature itself, the interaction of differing and largely unidentifiable personalities etc.), whereas they chose to first remark its many tensions and ambiguities, and then suggest that these ambiguities all contributed to a dominant mode of meaning: “the disillusionment of an age”.
In turn, Eliot could have ignored the lemon-squeezing aspect and concentrated on the fact that the New Critics would allow his poem to be read free of 19th century biographical reductionism: as a complex aesthetic object with a complex position towards ideas such as “personality”.
The New Critics probably didn’t quite know what to make of all the quotes and references to other literatures in The Waste Land, because for them, a text needed to be aesthetically self-contained, and this means sequestered at once from its author but ALSO, and capitally, from other texts. (Moreover, this is a fundamental paradox of New Criticism: a text is self-contained, and thus we need not refer to its author for an explanation of it as an aesthetic object, AND YET, nothing proves that a text is not directly or only of its author better than the presence within that text of quotes, collage, and references to other literatures, that is: the utter non-containment of a text!)
As Tim Peterson and Ben Friedlander noted with regard to Celan, this containment was for the New Critics crucial, and for us completely inoperable. It’s necessary to note however that the incredibly explicit literary inter-referentiality present in a poem like The Waste Land or The Cantos was very new at the time: the New Critics were simply not ready to deal with it.
As, for all their desire to forget authors and concentrate on texts, New Criticism still often lets us glimpse that under this aesthetic radicalism there lies a series of actually rather conventional ideas about what constitutes an author and his or her product. The 19th Century thus looms large in New Criticism, in just the same way as the poems of the dreaded Romantics loom in T.S’s “anti-romantic” poetics.
Friday, 12 January 2007
Numbers, numbers, numbers . . .
Monday, 8 January 2007
A reflection which, ironically, may in the end have directive effects.
(The face of Caliban within the looking-glass . . .)
Sunday, 7 January 2007
The second, below - generated by a somewhat overly provocative post - about material and materiality in poetry, and more specifically, the material of Flarf. I think this will maybe lead to a wider discussion about "material" or "content" in modern poetics, which is a question not a little ignored, I feel, but which has interested me for a long time.
Whether the old Aristotelian dichotomy still informs our thinking?
Whether praxis has come to hold a veritable hegemony over its "material"?
Whether "subject" or "material" are very outdated ideas?
Whether postmodernity, since Duchamp, has thrown out the millenia old distinction between "better" and "worse" artistic material?
Hopefully, a post soon.
Wednesday, 3 January 2007
Trying at the moment to make sense of the pages of my notebook kept during a stay in Pisa last year . . . Attempting to collate, though the passages seem foreign to me now. Such distance . . .
24th of April
The cold breeze through the window, and the smell of cooking food. Strange memory . . .
Chi qui soggiorno . . . A wind which sways a black mast, in some bay, and other things unlived. Teller of stories. This strange sea, darker than any I have seen, yet somehow within me: existing, most likely imagined, it is as an object seen through transparent paper, held up to a light.
Lanterns . . . A leaf is transparent. The mind throws its own light, making shadows.
Chi qui soggiorno acquista quello che . . .
Shadows of things unseen, as of those held, are crushed in the heart of the hand.
26th of April
I have found a place where the sunlight fills me. All these pages are bent. It was the light and not my body which bent them. Flowers– dandelions –drift across my vision. Your hair is tied in complex ways. You purse your lips.
A dandelion comes to rest upon your page.
Go on. Please. Read through it.