Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Size Matters

I’m still in the trenches of preparing syllabi (D-Day is tomorrow – er, later today, I guess) & therefore not at all available for extended blogging. Thank Goddess there’re so many distractions from paying work. Right now I’m finding it hard to line up dates & page numbers because the cranium’s abuzz with the idea of a longish essay/shortish monograph on part-to-whole relationships in modernist/late modernist long poems. Really a meditation on length, the length of the small things that make up the big thing. Sparked by noting how while The Cantos stretch out from 3-5 pages early on to 20 or more in the late bits, there’s a general homogeneity in duration – only rarely the blip of a canto longer or shorter than anything around it. (Relecting back on the books into which Homer & Virgil divided their epics – who’s responsible for the book divisions in Homer? are you out there, David W? – the very regular canto lengths in Dante, Milton’s decision to revise Paradise Lost from 10 to 12 by the simple expedient of chopping 2 long books in half…) Chapter & volume divisions in the Victorian novel, more often than not influenced by the exigencies of periodical publication & circulating library demands – a tradition blown to hell by the metastasizing chapters of Ulysses – which I read in turn as the key influence on Zukofsky’s decision to organize “A” as a series of heterogeneous formal experiments, rather than – as it began – a Marxist-inflected new world version of The Cantos. Then on to what – The Alphabet? Drafts? the solid text blocks of McCaffery’s Black Debt? the labyrinths of Sheppard’s Twentieth Century Blues? But for now back to the syllabi…
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Michael Bérubé has closed up shop. I’m glummish, even tho rejoycing at the 4-5 weekly hours that have been freed up…
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Hey, Bob, what if – and the syntax allows – Ron only meant Gjertrud S’s poetics were fascist, & not Geoffrey Hill’s? Just wondering…
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The night of the walking ellipses… (LZ habitually used only two dots for ellipses, one of the weirder orthographical things I’ve encountered since Ron Johnson’s habitual “Euridice.”)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Larry Eigner used to use two ellipses when cutting out letters within a word, like "L..Y E..R."

Forwhatitsworth..

Ben F

Archambeau said...

Mark,

Yeah, I pondered whether Ron was accusing Hill and Schnackenberg, or just Schnackenberg, of fascism. Since Ron's syntax was sloppy enough to leave it ambiguous, I went back to Knott. Since Knott's whole entry was kind of scattered and incoherent, I went back to his source in Smith. Smith makes the accusation against both poets.

Either way, though, Ron's wrong. I find it hard to believe he actually finds Knott's/Smith's arguments convincing. I hope he doesn't, because the arguments are deeply flawed. But the alternative is to believe that Ron just wanted to throw a handful of crap at poets who aren't part of his particular community -- and this is an even less pleasant version of Ron.

Bob

Anonymous said...

On the increasing length of The Cantos, see Hugh Kenner's essay on self-similarity, or fractals. It's the last essay in his collection Historical Fictions.

Jason

Mark Scroggins said...

Unfortunately, Bob, I think it's the latter -- I can't imagine RS shipping aboard with Smith's really dumbass Little-England anti-modernist argument. Ron just doesn't like GS as a traditional formalist, & probably hasn't read anything of Hill's since Mercian Hymns (if that far). (I suspect he didn't bother to follow up & actually read Laurie Smith's article.) Yes, feces-throwing time.

Jason--thanks for reminding me of that article. Now if I can ever get around to actually writing something.. (note Zukofskyan/Eignerian two dots..)

Ben--when I get a chance, I'll email you a photo or two from Philadelphia.

Alex Davis said...

Further RS's absurd comment on Hill, this quotation from a piece by GH in the Guardian (Saturday September 21, 2002) makes interesting reading:

"Depths of memory relate to depth of language in some way; and to speak of depth of language raises questions of accessibility. Some years ago I came across a note by the German philosopher Theodor Haecker (1889-1945). He writes that 'Tyrants always want a language and literature that is easily understood.' I think that legitimate difficulty (difficulty of course can be faked) is essentially democratic."

Henry Gould said...

Hill has written some of the most powerful poetry in English about WW 2 and the Holocaust. How anyone could call his work fascist is beyond me. But I read Ron's slippery comment as referring to Schnackenberg. In any case it's a ridiculous misuse of terminology.

Ray Davis said...

Condensare! Why waste that extra period or two when the essential message is "more than one"? Thrifty sorts, Zuk and Eigner, even when it came to excess..

With Hammer And Tong...The LetterShaper said...

I have much enjoyed my walk through your world today; as a poet and an avid reader, I found your site both enriching as well as enlightening...I thank you.