Monday, June 20, 2005

mas mystery

Consummatum est. I’ve finished the Williams corpus. Still some signs of life in Journey to Love and The Desert Music, but it’s pretty clear that the Pulitzer Prize that went to Pictures from Brueghel was more of a belated career acknowledgment than a mark of anything successful about that last collection.

Father’s Day celebrations subsiding. Got myself a brand spankin’ new rice steamer, something I’d been coveting for years. Any blogfolk find themselves in Palm Beach County anytime soon, give a holler and I’ll whip up a vindaloo or some black beans and rice.

With all the talk about “difficulty” in poetry, this struck me from The Infallible Oscar’s “The Critic as Artist”: “the critic will be an interpreter, if he chooses. He can pass from his synthetic impression of the work of art as a whole, to an analysis or exposition of the work itself, and in this lower sphere, as I hold it to be, there are many delightful things to be said and done. Yet his object will not always be to explain the work of art. He may seek rather to deepen its mystery, to raise round it, and round its maker, that mist of wonder which is dear to both gods and worshippers alike.”

Some Mallarmé-channeling going on there. At twenty, SM wrote a piece on poetry called “Hérésies artistiques. – L’Art pour tous”: “Whatever is sacred, whatever is to remain sacred, must be clothed in mystery. All religions take shelter behind arcana which they unveil only to the predestined. Art has its own mysteries.”

All as footnote to somebody’s post or comment on difficulty and “mystery.” Mystery – in that almost Roman Catholic-mass sense – was crucial to my own attraction to poetry. In complex ways, but leading into a “comfort level” with indeterminacy or contigency of whatever damn thing much like that described by Eric’s friend R (Friday) (is that RZ?).

I do like Eric’s move of shifting categories of difficulty from George Steiner’s taxonomy of difficulties – which is what goes I suspect mostly in the head of academics writing essays – to a set of “difficult to [what]”s:

when we say "difficult" we should always add a verb: "difficult to..." Difficult to what? "Difficult to explicate" is quite different from "difficult to appreciate." "Difficult to read for more than a few lines without losing interest" is different from "difficult to talk about animatedly in an exciting theoretical or historical context." "Difficult to understand" isn't always the same as "difficult to enjoy" or "difficult to lose yourself in" or "hard to find yourself haunted by."

I find explicating Bruce Andrews excruciatingly tedious, but read his work with a continuous, line-by-line excitement. And am more often than not haunted by Susan Howe, even at her most impenetrable.

Bob, do I see a full-blown defense of what one friend called “late modernist” poetry forthcoming? Back to the Mauberley Line? I could name names, I think, though I’d throw one in that you might not be planning to adduce: LZ. And one might ask why you consign Muriel Rukeyser to the “scenic mode”? However successful or unsuccessful one finds it, “Book of the Dead” is pretty much as damned modernist a poem as one could ask for.

On the earbuds:
French Frith Kaiser Thompson, Invisible Means
Killing Joke, Killing Joke (1993)


d said...

I have a recipe for authentic cuban-style black beans that I would be willing to trade for a bit of rice!

Josh Hanson said...

What about "Asphodel?" I think that poem is brilliant as anything he ever did.

Mark Scroggins said...

Josh--I'm a big fan of "Asphodel," too -- but it's from Journey to Love (1955), and the collection I'm badmouthing is Pictures from Brueghel (1962) rather than the entirety of the New Directions Pictures from B and Other Poems, wch includes PfB, The Desert Music, & J to L. (And even then, I guess the straightforwardness of "Asphodel" pales for me beside the volcanic movement of Kora in Hell or Spring and All.)

D--sure! Bring a bowl around anytime...

Jonathan said...

Compare WCW's Icarus poem from the title sequence of that book to Auden's famous "Musée des Beax Arts," on the same painting. You'll find that Williams surpasses Auden by a mile. "About suffering they were never wrong, the old masters." I'm not saying there's not weak work in PFB but even some weak work by Williams often surpasses what almost anyone else can do. On the other hand that "The descent beckons / as the ascent beckons" poem is overrated for sure.