Friday, July 31, 2009

various; Susan Stewart: Red Rover

We leave Sunday for several days in God’s Country – Tennessee, my home state – & when we get back we’ll be spending most of the last week of the “vacation” on Fire Island. I hope that there I’ll be able to get some actual writing done. Heaven knows I’ve read enough over the last month, but I’ve made little headway at the various projects that have been piling up on my desktop. So maybe I’ll get at least one of them behind me before classes begin again.
Been re-reading Dante, this time in Allen Mandelbaum’s translation, which seems sturdy & idiomatic enough. (Alas, the Everyman single-volume Comedy I just bought has no Italian text, but who can afford those Bollingen volumes, anyway?) I don’t know Dante anywhere near as well as I know Milton & Homer (not even to speak of Pound & Zukofsky), but I’m always surprised by how familiar the famous lines & set pieces of the Inferno are. An astonishingly good essay by William Arrowsmith, “Ruskin’s Fireflies” (in the John Dixon Hunt/Faith Holland collection, The Ruskin Polygon) reminds me of how absolutely saturated Ruskin was in Dante – probably as saturated as any major English-language writer except Eliot.
Why, alas, did I waste an hour of my life reading Philip Roth’s The Breast? What a nasty, shallow, prurient little book. The difference between Joyce & Roth: Joyce would have imagined the situation of The Breast, bunged it into a hilariously funny page-&-a-half of the “Circe” chapter, & then moved on; Roth wrote a novella (& then 2 prequels). Is P. Roth any relation to Samuel R., the man who first pirated Ulysses in the US (& who ran an English for Immigrants outfit that employed LZ for a while)?
Red Rover, Susan Stewart (U of Chicago P, 2008)

More spare than the poems of Columbarium and The Forest, less of the lush lyricism of those volumes. The contemporary seems to nag the poet, a humming distraction or a moral quandary continually pulling her away from a contemplation of first things – either the immediate data of the natural world, or the spiritual, martial, & erotic matter of the middle ages & classical antiquity.



Don Share said...

Good to see Arrowsmith, my old teacher, mentioned, who wrote so brilliantly about the "mind of Europe" (tho' is known more for his translations)...

Archambeau said...

Alone among my colleagues, I regard Roth as an odious shit. I mean, I kind of liked Goodbye, Columbus and The Professor of Desire. I've never read Portnoy's Complaint. But more recent stuff seems bitter, bigoted, hateful, and impossibly self-regarding. The Human Stain is one of only three books I set aside, took with me up to the wilderness, set up on a log and actually shot with my dad's old Smith & Wesson .38. Maybe that's a kind of compliment, really.

(The others? One was a copy of my doctoral dissertation, and the other is a secret).


Norman Finkelstein said...

I remain an ardent supporter of Roth, though I admit The Breast is not one of his better works. Among my favs: Portnoy's Complaint (I've read it 10 times and still laugh out loud--it may simply be the funniest novel I've ever read), The Counterlife (maybe his best and surely one of his most audacious in every respect) and Operation Shylock. He began as a brilliant "ethnic" writer, full of verve and chutzpah, but at a certain point (somewhere in the Zuckerman novels) he became something much bigger. American Pastoral tells us as much about...well, I hate to use the term, but the mid-20th century American Dream as any other novel of that type. Yes, he can be self-indulgent and nasty, but at his best, he has a huge intelligence and a brilliant style.