Friday, December 19, 2014

Something I Read #9 — Jean Seznec

Something apropos to the time of the year appearing by happenstance in a book that has been long on my shelves and finally decided to read through: Jean Seznec's The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art (trans. Barbara F. Sessions, Princeton UP 1953, 1981; published under Bollingen Series XXXVIII). I'm not terribly far into the book, but I'm confident that if the title at all catches you you will enjoy the read.

It's a long excerpt; to keep it from being even longer I'm starting just a touch in the midst of things.

Such was the situation with which Christianity found itself confronted. In its intolerance of all the pagan cults, it is only natural that special hostility should have been shown to their most recent and lively embodiment – belief in powerful stellar divinities, with Helios as their king.

This hostility is in fact apparent from the very beginnings of Christianity: St. Paul reproaches the Galatians for continuing to observe "days and months and times and years" in the name of the "weak and beggarly elements" to which they desire again to be in bondage. Later, the apologists (here, incidentally, echoing the views of Philo of Alexandria) explain that it is a crime to deify the physical world – to worship the thing created instead of the creator. What seems to them particularly impious in the worship of the heavenly bodies, as well as a danger to morals, is that such worship implies a denial of all human liberty and can end only in a discouraging fatalism. At first sight, it would therefore seem that Christianity had nothing but cause to abhor pagan astrology and to oppose it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird

Posting something newly added to the Cabinet, here.


As is often the case, happenstance led me to read Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird: the timing of seeing it on some "top-50" variety lists followed by watching over an FB discussion on the book. I have to say I very much enjoyed it, plowing through it in but four days (which is quick for me, considering my fiction reading usually gathers the least attention). It is a literary work, one that works not in the mechanical ticking of standard narrative but within the symbolic realm of myth. I would not raise it to the highest level of literature, but I would solidly put it on the second tier. That probably means nothing to anyone but me, so let me say instead that I would love to teach the book, and I am very discriminatory about the books that I might bring into a classroom. I do not care about a work's popularity or social importance: I care only for its merits as a work of literature, as an attempt at art.

The syntax is mostly direct, generally avoiding complexity in semantic style. Where the work rises above the norm is in how it drifts from narrative to exposition without ever losing the framework of being within the mind of the child; in how the book sets itself within a mythic world and sustains it through the whole of the book, if the reader at all participates; it how in its depictions of violence and sex it never falls into monotony or banality; and in its philosophical aspects it never devolves into ideology. Plus, its primary theme – that of the individual – is one inevitably attractive to me. The book is unified, envisioned, and well executed. On the slip cover of my edition (the second) there's quips by Arthur Miller, Luis Buñuel, and Anaïs Nin. Let me offer the third:

. . . by the great beauty of its style it lifts the entire experience to the philosophic, mythological realms of knowledge.

I stand with that description.

What I want to do below is simply talk about the book, primarily as responses the primary themes you see as regards the book: the violence, the sex, its relationship to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and such. I've spent a bit of time just floating about the web, looking at reviews and commentaries, old and new. If there is one dominating theme it is how much I have found that seems to entirely misread the book; indeed, how often you see comments on the book that seem far more grounded in the history of the book rather than the book itself: that is, a history centered on its being declared a Holocaust text by the likes of Elie Wiesel.

That reading I wholly reject.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Something I Read #8 – Joseph Campbell

Three moments from The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), applicable not just to religion but also to literature and the arts.(There were two originally; I added a third a few hours later.)

Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference. No matter how attractive or impressive they may seem, they remain but convenient means, accommodated to the understanding. Hence the personality or personalities of God – whether represented in trinitarian, dualistic, or unitarian terms, in polytheistic, monotheistic, or henotheistic terms, pictorially or verbally, as documented fact or as apocalyptic vision – no one should attempt to read or interpret as the final thing. The problem of the theologian is to keep his symbol translucent, so that it may not block out the very light it is supposed to convey. “For then alone do we know God truly,” writes Saint Thomas Acquinas, “when we believe that He is far above all that man can possibly think or God.” And in the Kena Upanishad, in the same spirit: “To know is not to know; not to know is to know.” Mistaking a vehicle for its tenor may lead to the spilling not only of valueless ink, but of valuable blood. (236)


Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I'll Just Wait for the Greatest Hits

I have come to the recognition in the last couple of days that I no longer have for myself even one creative writer (prose or poetry) for whose next work I sit in eager anticipation.

The last were probably Anne Carson, Umberto Eco*, and Carole Maso. And I will admit that this is in part due to that financial constraints prevent my full participation in any fandom (even, prevent my standing in the River of What's-Being-Published at all). But primarily it is because it has been so very long since I have been wowed by something literary – written by someone still alive, that is. Or, to bring the past names, perhaps I should say "wowed" by someone whose next work is being written with the intent to "wow" – literarily wow – yet again.

For that, I have come to a second realization: I more and more believe US literature is so overwhelmingly banal that it does not even know what it is to write great literature any more. It's efforts lie primarily in convincing us that the latest Don DeLillo (to pick a name out of the hat) is "great." When really it is at best good. Or, good enough.

What prompts this? I picked up Charlie Smith's Heroin because of a comment by an internet friend (as regards the recent NYTRB on Smith's new Selected), in truth not the first suggesting that I give Smith a look. And the book opened very well, with strong ideation and a use of free verse that justified itself as free verse.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Reading James Merrill

So for the past weeks I've been reading James Merrill's Collected through the random-spot method (and very casually) and now have started reading straight through. (Or, at least, started reading it broken up into books.)

I have read it quietly claimed that Merrill was the greatest US poet of the second half of the 20th – quietly claimed in that way that whispers "if you know what you're talking about, you few who do, you know this to be true." Yet I have no memory of ever having encountered him in a classroom. (I came to him through reading about the relationship between modernism and the occult, and so through The Changing Light at Sandover.)

It is an astounding body of work. And a body of work that in most every way rejects US poetry culture, so I am not surprised I hear little about him but in qualified statements (a.k.a. cultural criticism). It is also an astounding body of work in the sense that I have not been . . . . challenged by a book like this, perhaps ever. And I mean challenged in creative self-confidence, in the sense of "you think you are good; but, are you good enough to to stand beside this?" Curious how only certain authors can bring that particular challenge.

For challenged also in that he writes in a way I have always wanted to be able to write. So, a challenge of identity, that will have to be fended off. But fended off in the way that does not erase or sublate Merrill's work, but embraces it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Something I Read #7 – Coleridge

Actually, "something I re-read while typing notes and excerpts into the computer from something I read not to long ago." But that's a minor detail.

This from Biographia Literaria, from the second of "Satyrane's Letters," which are situated in between chapters 22 and 23 (pages 186-87 in the Engell and Bate Collected Works edition).

Hold! (methinks I hear the spokesman of the crowd reply, and we will listen to him. I am the plaintiff, and he is the defendant.)

DEFENDANT: Hold! are not our modern sentimental plays filled with the best Christian morality?

PLAINTIFF: Yes! just as much of it, and just that part of it which you can exercise without a single Christian virtue – without a single sacrifice that is really painful to you! – just as much as flatters you, sends you away pleased with your own hearts, and quite reconciled to your vices, which can never be thought very ill of, when they keep such good company, and walk hand in hand with so much compassion and generosity; adulation so loathsome, that you would spit in the man’s face who dared offer it to you in a private company, unless you interpreted it as insulting irony, you appropriate with infinite satisfaction, when you share the garbage with the whole stye, and gobble it out of a common trough. No [187] Caesar must pace your boards – no Antony, no royal Dane, no Orestes, no Andromache! –

D. No: or as few of them as possible. What plain citizen of London, or Hamburg, to do with your kings and queens, and your old school-boy Pagan heroes? Besides, every body knows the stories: and what curiosity can we feel ------

P. What, Sir, not for the manner? not for the delightful language of the poet? not for the situations, the action and reaction of the passions?

D. You are hasty, Sir! the only curiosity, we feel, is in the story: and how can we be anxious concerning the end of a play, or be surprized by it, when we know how it will turn out?

P. Your pardon, for having interrupted you! we no understand each other. You seek then, in a tragedy, which wise men of old held for the highest effort of human genius, the same gratification, as that you receive from a new novel, the last German romance, and other dainties of the day, which can be enjoyed but once. If you carry these feelings to the sister art of Painting, Michael Angelo’s Sistene Chapel, and the Scripture Gallery of Raphael, can expect no favour from you. You know all about them beforehand; and are, doubtless, more familiar with the subjects of those paintings, than with the tragic tales of the historic or heroic ages. There is consistency, therefore, in your preference of contemporary writers: for the great men of former times, those at least who were deemed great by our ancestors, sought so little to gratify this kind of curiosity, that they seemed to have regarded the story in a not much higher light, than the painter regards his canvass: as that on not by, which they were to display their appropriate excellence.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Something I Read #6 – Harold Bloom

— To note: three words in a phrase set off by dashes near the end, and a note at the end was added after first posting
— second note added 10/28/2014


From my observations of MFA world and the culture of pop-poetry that it has been participant in creating, and of articles written by members and defenders of that culture, it seems to me the contemporary culture of poetry is greatly flawed if not marked by an inability to discern between good and bad poetry (good and bad literature). Though, immediately I admit that it is undeniable that the terms "good" and "bad" are wholly insufficient if not misleading – which is why I try to avoid using them. Eliot in his essays makes the distinction between "sham" and "genuine" poetry: a distinction I have found very useful. In this essay, "The Breaking of Form"{FN], Bloom uses the distinction between "weak" and "strong" poetry (and "weak" and "strong" reading): taken from within the context of the essay, something I am also finding very useful.

[FN] The essay is found in Deconstruction and Criticism (Continuum, 1979). ------------------------------------

The essay falls back for grounding upon a group of Bloom's books (beginning with Anxiety of Influence), which I have either not read or not read any time recently, so I know I am not as fully engaged with ideas as can be had. But nonetheless it is proving an interesting read. Here are three, inter-related moments from early on, where he sets up and gives substance to the ideas of "weak" and "strong":

Whether one accepts a theory of language that teaches the dearth of meaning, as in Derrida and de Man, or that teaches its plenitude, as in Barfield and Ong, does not seem to me to matter. All I ask is that the theory of language be extreme and uncompromising enough. Theory of poetry, as I pursue it, is reconcilable with either extreme view of poetic language, though not with any views in between. Either the new poet fights to win freedom from dearth, or from plenitude, but if the antagonist be moderate, then the agon will not take place, and no fresh sublimity will be won. Only the agon is of the essence. (4-5)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review of 12 years a Slave

I posted this originally to the Poetry Daily Critique blog back in August to see the blog could handle expanding into letting film be part of the conversation, as cinema is (and for me has been) commonly a subject of study in theory. Once posted, though, it was obvious the blog could not handle the expansion. So I pulled the post off and held it until I had opened the Adversaria, here.

As with most long articles on this blog, it is also up on the Cabinet, here.


It should be obvious to anyone who has the films that 12 Years a Slave is, visually, heavily influenced by the style of Terrence Malick's recent work. It may, however, be but a kindness to us in that sentence the word influenced. The film nearly grunts for its effort to maintain the pacing, visuals, and general ambiance of Malick's work. It was not infrequent while watching 12 Years a Slave that I felt the want of the film to be like (or to become) The Thin Red Line.[FN] All the film needed in its visual reveries was the meditative voice-overs to complete the illusion (or transformation), which did arrive at the scene where Epps -- the primary slaveowning character of the film -- is looking over his worm infested field, a sequence that could not be more Malick and this time with the voice over, the only one in the film of which I have memory, about being visited by a plague.

[FN] It should be noted here that I have not yet seen To the Wonder, and I have only seen parts of Tree of Life. My focusing here on The Thin Red Line as stylistic source material is, however, not weakened by that want. I have watched The New World a couple of times, and it is to The Thin Red Line that 12 Years a Slave continuously pulls me. Indeed, the argument I present below does have an avenue for expansion through the shared themes of violence in the two films and how they are handled visually.

However, the dialog turns upon itself when Epps pulls away from any meditativeness and switches to the blunt, nearly non-sequitur casting of blame for the plague upon the "godless" slaves working the field. It is a statement that makes little sense within the context established thus far, which is why I found it so jarring. At the point, at that moment, the film makes it quite clear to anyone paying attention – though, in truth, if you were paying attention you recognized this far earlier, the plague sequence merely the most overt stating of the fact – that 12 Years a Slave is neither influenced by nor in creative engagement with Malick's style but merely mimicking it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The G.K. Chesterton Society and Nietzsche

Recently, an FB posting brought to my attention this video about G.K. Chesterton and his writings/thoughts on Nietzsche (here).

Before I continue, let me give you the necessary preamble of biases. I have read most of Nietzsche's works, and most of those more than once. He is one of my more familiar companions to my explorations. As for Chesterton, because of FB I have seen some passing references to him and to the G.K. Chesterton Society; but, I cannot say (up until these last days) that I have ever read anything by him, or knew anything about him beyond that he was Catholic, that he was the author of the Father Brown stories, and that he had written some other works which people have considered valuable enough that it merited forming a G.K. Chesterton Society. And if you are reading that as an underhand jab at the Society you are reading it wrong; I am speaking only my complete ignorance about the man. This video, then, was my first real introduction to Chesterton.

Also, understand that my intent here is to approach that video and Chesterton's comments on Nietzsche from the outside, as an external observer of Chesterton, Ahlquist, and the culture of Chestertonism. I will refrain from speaking directly out of Nietzsche, from taking up the argument from the opposing side. That is until the very end, where I will not be able to resist pulling in Nietzsche for one moment, as a kind of flourish when I bring this to a close. I am not here going to try to defend Nietzsche against Chesterton. My want here is to take the video in a somewhat different direction.


The video is an excerpt from an episode of G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, a series about Chesterton that was (is?) broadcast on EWTN (Eternal World Television Network), a global, Catholic network. (If I have come upon EWTN previously, I do not remember the event.) The YouTube page tells me it is from season 6, so apparently this is a popular show on EWTN. (Imdb tells me it was first broadcast in 2000.) I believe the series is produced by the G.K. Chesterson Society, under the oversight of Dale Ahlquist (who speaks in the excerpt), the president and co-founder of the G.K. Chesterson Society. The series is, as I understand it, a presentation of the writings and thought of Chesterton, one which frequently dramatizes the engagements, as here.

If I have it right, Chesterton only wrote about Nietzsche in passing in various works. He never wrote an essay specifically about Nietzsche. What we have here in this video excerpt are some of those various moments gathered together. Likewise, most of what is spoken here by the Nietzsche character, when broken down into its separate elements, can be found to be fairly close to what you would find in his books, or at least (and this is what really matters) they are echoes enough of familiar phrases of Nietzsche.

But the use the words of Nietzsche is pretty much where the clip's relationship to Nietzsche and his writings ends.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Something I Read #5 — Sontag, "Against Interpretation"

I've been doing a bit grab-off-the-shelf, spot reading, and today opened to Sontag's "Against Interpretation" in an anthology of criticism/theory. (It is a repeatedly anthologized piece, and with reason. And I have the book, yes, but it is apparently somewhere in a box.)

This is not a famous moment; but, a worthwhile moment.

[. . .] Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the empty night street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought. ("Never trust the teller, trust the tale," said Lawrence.) Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen,


If I were to chose one text . . . . well that's an absurdity, as I could begin a quip about Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy with the same words. But there is a truth in the phrase in that if I were making a class on literary/theory criticism, I would be faced with that question: "If I were to chose a handful of texts, necessary in their importance but also sufficient to the purposes of the class . . . . ." Now, the opening question "If I were to chose one text . . . ." is mostly synchronic, and there is within the deciding for the class the diachronic play of "this semester I will do X, but next semester I will change the list a touch and do Y" which extends the list beyond any one class. But I digress.

In considering the class of texts that are those very few that should be read by everyone with interest in writing or reading literature as literature, this is one of the most insistent. In truth, every time I have returned to it I am myself reconvinced of its value. Not as a text that carries important theoretic arguments or such, but in that it is a text which demands with every re-reading that you question just how you approach literature and the arts, and condemns what is the dominant currents in literature and the art – both in criticism and in writing – even now, five decades later. Perhaps, even more so now, what with the rise of social criticism, which is nothing if not the forcing of interpretation upon texts to the detriment of the experience – the art – of the text itself.

That is, to the detriment of the erotics of the text. But also to the detriment of the psychical and intellectual sophistication of the culture of art and literature in the U.S.


Note: I have a essay about "Against Interpretation" which is in a cue of things to brought to the Cabinet. Perhaps I might move it to the front for processing.

Monday, September 29, 2014

New to the Cabinet: Vampires and Eroticism

Just added to the cabinet, an essay once presented at a conference, one of my favorites: "The Emergence of the Occult from within the Culture of the Occult, or, When a Vampire is Just Trying to Get Laid."

It's an exploration of three Hammer horror films from the 70s: Lust for a Vampire, The Vampire Lovers, and Twins of Evil, primarily via de Sade and Bataille. It is definitely a meeting of cinema and theory, but a fun one. (Very well received at the conference.)


Here's a preview:


My playground today is the Karnstein trilogy, the trio of vampire movies produced by Hammer studios in '70 and '71: The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire, and Twins of Evil. They are all based to one degree or another on Le Fanu's novella "Carmilla," though they can not at all be said to be in any sequence, or even of the same narrative world. They are famous among the Hammer films as being at the vanguard of the studio's move into nudity and more explicit sexuality, the first two films marked especially for their lesbian content, the third for featuring as the title characters Playboy's first twin playmates. In fact, sexuality dominates the thematics of the three films to the point of their being far more about desire than horror: not solely within the narrative proper, but also in the film as engaged by the viewer. Yet much of the body of that thematics – both visual and ideational – would hardly fall under the heading of the erudite. Segments of the films are easily described as soft-core porn; and it is not surprising how many reviews of the films – irrespective of their overall opinions on quality — will speak of an "immature approach" to the sexuality, or "scenes that exist only for the titillation of the male audience,"[FN1] or even "adolescent masturbatory fantasy."[FN2] One online reviewer renamed the second film Lust for Knockers.[FN3] All fairly, and all with ample reason: for example, Vampire Lovers includes a scene of a towel clad and topless Ingrid Pitt chasing a half-undressed, soon-to-be victim around a bed in girlish, slumber party giddiness; and Lust for a Vampire features a running shot tracking through the rooms of a finishing school while the young women attendees are dressing for bed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Something I Read #4 — de Man, "Lyric and Modernity"

A follow-up on the previous post: the closing lines from the next essay in the de Man's Blindness and Insight, "Lyric and Modernity":

The question of modernity reveals the paradoxical nature of a structure that makes lyric poetry into an enigma which never stops asking for the unreachable answer to its own riddle. To claim [. . .] that modernity is a form of obscurity is to call the oldest, most ingrained characteristics of poetry modern. To claim that the loss of representation is modern is to make us again aware of an allegorical element in the lyric that had never ceased to be present, but that is itself necessarily dependent on the existence of an earlier allegory and so is the negation of modernity. The worst mystification is to believe that one an move from representation to allegory, or vice versa, as one moves from the old to the new, from father to son, from history to modernity. Allegory can only blindly repeat its earlier model, without final understanding, the way Celan repeats quotations from Höldernin that assert their own incomprehensibility. The less we understand a poet, the more he is compulsively misinterpreted and oversimplified and made to say the opposite of what he actually said, the better the chances are that he is truly modern; that is, different from what we – mistakenly – think we are ourselves. This would make Baudelaire into a truly modern French poet, Hölderlin into a truly modern German poet, and Wordsworth and Yeats into truly modern English poets.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Something I Read #3 — de Man, "Literary History and Literary Modernity"

Was doing a bit of random, off-the-shelf reading and came across this moment. These are the closing sentences to Paul de Man's essay "Literary History and Literary Modernity," found in Blindness and Insight. It makes an interesting counterpoint to some historiographic essays by Arnaldo Momigliano being read (and quipped) by an FB friend, essays which (at least to my viewing) approach history from the opposing side, out of the idea of history as constituted of discoverable truths.

The need to revise the foundations of literary history may seem like a desperately vast undertaking; the task appears even more disquieting if we contend that literary history could in fact be paradigmatic for history in general, since man himself, like literature, can be defined as an entity capable of putting his own mode of being into question. The task may well be less sizable, however, than it seems at first. All the directives we have formulated [previously in the essay] as guidelines for a literary history are more or less taken for granted when we are engaged in the much more humble task of reading and understanding a literary text. To become good literary historians, we must remember that what we usually call literary history has little or nothing to do with literature and that what we call literary interpretation – provided only it is good interpretation – is in fact literary history. If we extend this notion beyond literature, it merely confirms that the bases for historical knowledge are not empirical facts but written texts, even if these texts masquerade in the guise of wars or revolutions.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: The Vorrh by B. Catling

This is something from the reviews in the Cabinet, also an Amazon review, which repost here because this book deserves all the word of mouth that can be had.


Link to publishing site.

In his forward to The Vorrh, Alan Moore (author of Watchmen and V for Vendetta) writes the following:

"By definition, surely every fantasy should be unique and individual, the product of a single vision and a single mind, with all of that mind's idiosyncracies informing every atom of the narrative. A genre that has been reduced by lazy stylization to a narrow lexicon of signifiers . . . wizards, warriors, dwarves and dragons . . . is a genre with no room for Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, arguably the earliest picaresque questing fantasy, for David Lindsey's Voyage to Arcturus with its constantly morphing vistas and transmogrifying characters, for Mervin Peake's extraordinary Ghormanghast books or for Michael Moorcock's cut-silk Gloriana. It is certainly a genre insufficient to contain the vegetable eternities of Catling's Vorrh."

The key word there is "insufficient." It is a word of attack and accusation against the admirers of fantasy.

It is a common complaint of the patrons of the genre that fantasy gets little respect within literary circles. It is works like The Vorrh that speak why such recognition is not offered because it is mostly undeserved. For The Vorrh stands head and shoulders — even navel and knees — above the common fare of fantasy. It reveals in its literary writing and its symbolic imagination just how banal, repetitive, poorly written, and indubitably un-literary most of the fantasy scene actually is, and how indefensible most fantasy works actually are. Indeed, this book, just as with Alan Moore's words, is itself attack and accusation against the admirers of fantasy. For this is a book that fantasy enthusiasts should be holding up at con panels to popular writers with an accusation of "why are you not writing works like this?" It is a book that they should be thrusting before the publishers and bookstores saying "We want more of this."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Something I Read #2 — Coleridge, Lectures on Shakespeare

This is found in Coleridge on Shakespeare:The Text of the Lectures of 1811-12, edited by R.A. Foakes (1971; pg. 41). It is from the diary of John Payne Collier, who shorthand notes are the only original source for Coleridge's lectures. This moment in the diary is from his description of an evening where Coleridge was one of the guests of his father. The diary date is Monday, 21 October 1811, four years before he writes the Biographia Literaria.

In religion Coleridge is completely an enthusiast, and maintains that it must be founded upon moral feeling, and not upon reason: it must be built on the passions, and not on the understandings of mankind. In his ind, the moment you began to reason, that moment you ceased to be religious. For this reason he denied that Unitarians had no religion: theirs was a theory: he had been brought up to the Church, but he did not reason upon it: he could not do it: if any person asked him why he believed in the existence of a God, his answer was because he ought: but he would not attempt to prove the existence of God, as many did from his works: no: if he acknowledged a Creator every feeling of his heart, every being in his works, were in harmony and vibrated with the notion: if he did not acknowledge a God, all was confusion and disorder. he therefore believed in God because he ought, and could give no other reason; nor would he seek for any.

Two ideas stand to the front. First, how it describes the unity of morality and poetry (and the third, philosophy), grounded not upon a priori or Christian historicism or dogma, but upon the foundation of the individual psyche in direct experience with the cosmos.

Second, how much the language describes the Jungian archetype that underlies the divine, the psychical ground for understanding that direct experience with the cosmos.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Reading of Philip Larkin's "An Arundel Tomb"

Something new to the Cabinet, a reworked post from the Jot.

The poem can be found here.


I am only a casual reader of Larkin, which is to say I have never done any academic work on him. (Though, my first introduction was in the classroom.) At this point I only possessed the first edition of the Thwaite Collected, which did not organize the poems by the books published (something I think always an error in a collected). The second edition is in the post, however, and I look forward to being able to read The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows as they were meant to be read.

For me, while Larkin gives an air of the conversational in his poetry – a quip on the back cover reads "Larkin is our most accomplished and memorable poet of the common places of experience" – it is false to think Larkin was a kind of English version of James Wright. Larkin's poetry usually carries a density, a subtlety, an intellectuality that Wright's work rarely achieves. Larkin's poetry is controlled poetry (in the very positive sense of the word). Unlike much New Formalist poetry I see, he never (ok. never say never, so, rarely) uses a word for the sake of the rhyme or rhythm alone. (Which is the usual case for competent UK poets writing in verse, something to which the New Formalists haven't seem to caught on yet). I do not think it is for nothing that he sometimes reads to me like a UK Wallace Stevens. Both would chose the archaic word that works both aurally and ideationally over the more common or contemporary word that does not work as well ideationally. Which, personally, is rather a requisite of writing poetry: all of English language (all of language) is always in play, with the only deciding fact being the right word/phrase/line/stanza for the work as a whole.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Something I Read #1 — Wheeler, Sources, Processes and Methods

From: Kathleen Wheeler's Sources, Processes and Methods in Coleridge's Biographia Literaria (Cambridge UP, 1980).

In the specific application of art to this demand for reflection and self-consciousness in the subject, the formulation is a demand for control by the artist over his material. 'Selbst-beherrschung durch Selbstbeschränking' [self-control through self-limiting] is the first reflective act for the artist in relation to his material. This self-consciousness we can relate to the more general conception above of the perceiver or subject in relation to the world. The artist must be in control of his material so that he does not embody his own unconscious limitations, his prejudices, customs, and habitual responses, all the things which constitute his ego, into his 'material' or into the works of art. If he fails to restrict this tendency of the ego to image itself into everything it does and knows, his art will be limited and lacking in universality. But this conscious process is permeated by another process which we might refer to as instinct, or the energy of the infinite and the 'unconscious'. Genius is the interpenetration of the 'Absicht' by the 'Instinkt': 'In jedem guten Gedicht muss alles Absicht, un alles Instinkt seyn' ['In every good poem everything must be intention and instinct.']

(First translation mine, using the language of the book.)

In every good poem everything must be intention and instinct: the opposite of the diaretics of contemporary poetry culture.

Movie Night #1: 300: Rise of an Empire and Only Lovers Left Alive

300: Rise of an Empire: I have great faith in Zack Snyder as a director. I believe he has the potential for greatness, and Watchmen is a first claim to that status. The first 300 was limited by the script: it could only go so far, and he did go that far. I've only seen it once, but I believe Man of Steel is far better than people give it credit for. Now, Rise of an Empire was directed by Noam Murrow, but Snyder enjoys part of the writing and producing credits. And it is very difficult not to see the second as following the path of the first. Which is why that first paragraph, and now we can set Mr. Snyder aside, and consider the movie its own. Except not wholly, for there is also a parallel between Rise and Sucker Punch: they both begin to fall apart at some point in the film. (I love Sucker Punch, but it did get away from Snyder.)

I was quite impressed with Rise up to the sex scene. The writing was tight, the dialogue very well written, with no small poetic flourish and a willingness to resist being dumbed down to the level of your average comic-movie viewer. The one thing I could not stand was the 3D effects. Working 3D into the film just for the sake of having things come at the audience is clumsy film making. Good 3D will never have a point where the audience goes "the reason they did that was to take advantage of the 3D." (I point you to Monsters vs. Aliens, and the commentary thereon.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A First Post for a New Endeavor

Which is really to say a post that serves also as a test post while I fiddle with details. Though, I do not at all consider the current format the final format. It is still very embryonic, just enough for me to start playing with the content. (Really. Look at that lame header.)

As opposed to my other blog, The Poetry Daily Critique, this blog is meant for something of play. It will permit me to write on topics that do not fit within the PDC, write posts that cannot bear any length, and permit me also to post just for the sake of sharing found things. (Secretly, it is also something of a site for exploration, and a venue to keep me off of Facebook, of which I am really becoming tired. Most of the time I posted to facebook the context was but excuse to play at writing; with this blog, hopefully, I will have a different outlet.)

Yes, some few of your may know that I used to have a second blog, "The Poetical Works of Alfred Tennyson Uploaded" was its wieldy name. I killed it for three, related reasons:

  1. It never had a solidly defined or capably energized purpose to begin with (outside of exploring blogger).