Saturday, June 25, 2005

Charles Bukowski and Ciceronian Latin

That burst of Pound day before yesterday in response to Bob Archambeau's little informal “contest,” itself in response to a densely thoughtful e-mail from the redoubtable John Peck (need I add that more people should be reading him?). Peck, thinking around Bob’s/George Steiner’s notion of “contingent” difficult, is thinking about the ways in which poets’ – specifically, Pound’s and Olson’s – very syntax manifests the manner in which their poetic subjectivities are involved in the historical materials they manipulate. I want to chew this over a bit more; for the nonce, I’ll indulge in a bit of collegial puffery, and point to what I think is a really brilliant article by a colleague of mine, John Leeds’s “Against the Vernacular: Ciceronian Formalism and the Problem of the Individual” (Texas Studies in Literature and Language 46.1 [Spring 2004]: 107-148). John’s contention is that different languages – his particular examples are various early modern Scottish historical chronicles in both Scots and Latin – present the subject itself in different relations to the field of power and social relations. A bit of a tangent to what Peck’s talking about, but very provocative indeed, and drawing upon a refreshingly wide range of knowledges: Renaissance humanism, Frankfurt School critical theory, the Ciceronian tradition of Latin prose.

After an initial burst of peevish Narnian self-defense (how could Donald Davie pick on JRR Tolkien?!), Eric thinks carefully about the whole notion of “sheep & goats” in literature. I must note that I put the post up in response to another one of those young people who assaulted me with that “you are such an elitist” spiel – a bit of peevishness on my own part, but my attraction to Davie’s passage no doubt has something to do with my own lingering Puritanism. It’s a chancy thing: I’m well aware how problematic it is to teach one’s own tastes – one’s own sense of who’s sheepish – especially to undergraduates. My usual strategy, at least since I’ve passed that “certain age,” is to teach nothing that I don’t really like, or at least find interesting/provocative. That way I don’t have to argue that Djuna Barnes is “better” than Hemingway, since EH isn’t on the syllabus! Gets harder at the graduate level, esp. in creative writing courses, when one so often encounters students hard at work on projects with which one has very little aesthetic sympathy. Does one play along, say “here’s how you can make those poems sound more like the Charles Bukowski-thing you’re trying to do” while inside you’re thinking “this isn’t bloody worth doing”? or does one try to push that Charles Bukowski into a more Louis Zukofsky direction, subtly or overtly? or does one just shut up and let the other members of the workshop do the talking? (I can’t bring myself to that last option…)

I suspect much of what impressed Davie about Leavis’s and Winters’s sheep/goating had to do with the much-attested personal magnetism and force of the two guys: ie, those were the days when one could just waltz into a classroom and say “Famous Poet X really sucked,” and carry it off on the strength of one’s ethos.

Incoming (big new remainder store just opened in Ft. Lauderdale!):
Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism
John Lydon, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
Bill Martin, Avant Rock: Experimental Music from The Beatles to Björk
WG Sebald, After Nature
WG Sebald, Austerlitz
John Cage, Writer: Selected Texts, ed. Richard Kostelanetz
Terry Eagleton, After Theory
Christopher Ricks, Dylan’s Visions of Sin
Anthony Hecht, Collected Later Poems
Michael Holroyd, Works on Paper: The Craft of Biography and Autobiography

On the earbuds:
Björk, Post
Radiohead, OK Computer and Kid A

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