Right now I'm working on a large essay-review, an attempt at coming to terms with a long and very complicated recent book of poetry. And it's a very, very difficult book, maybe one of the hardest I've ever read. So part of my essay is going to be an extended thinking-through of the issue of difficulty in poetry.
I wrote a few sentences on it this afternoon, and looked up a few things, and then I realized, I've been writing this passage, this essay, ever since I started my dissertation a million years ago! And God help me, I'm still writing it. I found quotations and passages I can still stand by in a discarded early chapter of the dissertation (on Mallarmé); I found useful materials in the dissertation itself (which became my first real book).
Zukofsky says somewhere that every writer writes a single work her or his entire life, plays variations on a tiny number of themes. I suppose that's true on some level. And I can think of all kinds of smart critics whose work can be not so much summed up as exemplified in one or two concepts: Empson = ambiguity; Ricks = allusion; Bloom = Oedipal struggle. That's not fair, I know, but it's not particularly inaccurate, either.
I'd always hoped to be not a hedgehog but a fox, darting from subject to subject, concept to concept. But I seem to be aging into a one-note calliope; or perhaps I'm just aging to the point where I recognize the themes my thinking has been circling around all along.