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1500-1750, 1750-1900, 1900 to the Present
Literary modernism, or modernist literature, has its origins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in Europe & North America. Modernism is characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional styles of poetry and verse. Modernists experimented with literary form and expression, adhering to Ezra Pound's maxim to "Make it new." The modernist literary movement was driven by a conscious desire to overturn traditional modes of representation and express the new sensibilities of their time. The horrors of the First World War saw the prevailing assumptions about society reassessed. Thinkers such as Sigmund Freud questioned the rationality of mankind. Among the figures thronging the storied streets and cafés of literary modernism are such familiar titans as: Joyce, Woolf, Pound, and Eliot, along with a host of other European luminaries. Theorists, critics and philosophers, both contemporaneous and contemporary, occupy many nooks and crannies, with Benjamin and Adorno from the Frankfurt School especially ubiquitous. I leave it to readers with the interest to learn more about Ezra Pound, the Frankfurt School, & other writers mentioned above.
Several groups more recently included in cartographies of modernism are also strongly in evidence: Anglophone writers from Africa, India, and the Caribbean, & African Americans associated with the Harlem Renaissance. This latter category serves as the primary representatives of modernist literary culture in the USA in some recent surveys. The journey in Ezra Pound's Cantos, a long, incomplete poem in 120 sections, each of which is a canto, was written between 1915 and 1962. This massive work occurs on two levels. One is a spiritual quest for transcendence, for the revelation of divine forces that lead to individual enlightenment; the other, an intellectual search for worldly wisdom, a vision of the Just City that leads to civic order and harmony. These goals, personal & public, are present throughout the poem; they also sustained the poet throughout his life. Pound was trying to capture all of reality within the confines of the poetic form. For more on Pound go to: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/ezra-pound For an overview of "literary modernism go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernist_literature
HISTORY OF MODERN LITERATURE
The history of literature in the Modern period in Europe begins with the Age of Enlightenment and the conclusion of the Baroque period in the 18th century, succeeding the Renaissance & Early Modern periods. In the classical literary cultures outside of Europe the Modern period begins later: in Ottoman Turkey with the Tanzimat reforms (1820s), and in Qajar Persia under Nasser al-Din Shah (1830s). The Modern period is also synonymous with: end of the Mughal era & the establishment of the British Raj (1850s) in India, with the Meiji restoration (1860s) in Japan, & with the New Culture Movement (1910s) in China. For more on this subject go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_modern_literature
JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
"What is comparative literature?" is a ceaselessly reiterated question that leaves many students of comparative literature perplexed & divided. Attempts at addressing this question have so far proven unsatisfactory; the answers provided are often deemed controversial or insufficient. The discipline of Comparative Literature, sometimes referred to as Global or World Literature, has expanded to take in its purview art history, philosophy and philosophical fictions, queer studies and ethnography, exile and diaspora studies, to name a few. Some essays and books have used this question, not so much to bring a clear answer, as to give a panorama of perspectives, thus reinforcing the impression of a blur across the entire fiield of comparative literature. The expanding horizon of comparative literary studies has resulted in a revision of the notions of culture and society. New and invented literary idioms have resulted in a redrawing of the boundaries of what some call the social imaginary & in an unsettling of whatever disciplinary complacency existed. Some fear that the discipline has become increasingly obscure and that this opacity might come from the discipline's tendency to embrace too much. All the literatures in all languages from all countries in the world, and even all forms of expression both intra- and para-literary is a bit of a mouthful for your average punter who prefers Faceook and TV, gardening & cooking to serious reading.
This sense, this problem, of grappling with the discipline's scope remains widespread among comparatists. From Susan Bassnett's polemical Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction in 1993, to the Comparative Literature in an Age of Globalization annual report of the American Comparative Literature Association in 2006, these concerns have been variably addressed & added to. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature & Culture is a peer-reviewed, full-text, open-access learned journal in the humanities and social sciences. It publishes new scholarship following tenets of the discipline of comparative literature and the field of cultural studies designated as "comparative cultural studies." Most of my personal reading in this broad and burgeoning field, a field I have only been examining for the last 25 years, 1991 to 2016, is from this journal. For a discussion of this subject go to: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2376&context=clcweb
Comparative literature is an academic field concerned with literature in at least two but often more linguistic, cultural or national groups. While most frequently practiced with works of different languages, comparative literature may also be performed on works of the same language if the works originate from different nations or cultures among which that language is spoken. Included in the range of inquiry are comparisons of different types of art; for example, a relationship of film to literature. The characteristically intercultural & transnational field of comparative literature also concerns itself with the relation between literature, broadly defined, & other spheres of human activity, including history, politics, philosophy, and science. I was a teacher of English Literature at matriculation level in 1991 when I first came across this field of comparative literature.
"National literature is now rather an unmeaning term; the epoch of World literature is at hand" said Goethe in 1827. The term "national literature," was in fact just beginning to come into its own in the early decades of the 19th century. This is as one would expect in that era of nationalism in which the notion that there should be a one-to-one mapping between cultures & polities was gaining ground rapidly. In the early decades of the nineteenth century the era of national literatures was being born rather than fading away. This in turn presented to the rest of the world a paradigm in which the classical and cosmopolitan past was not another country, but an inextricable part of the scene. European literature is and was but the first stage of a world literature which from the beginnings of the last two centuries will spread in ever-widening circles to a system which in the end will embrace the world. World literature is a living, growing organism, which can develop from the germ of European literature. I encourage readers with an interest in the subject of the emergence of world literature in the context of existing national literatures to go to these 3 links to broaden their understanding of comparative literature: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/view, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_literature, and http://www.brynmawr.edu/bmrcl/listing.html
A novel is a long prose narrative that describes fictional characters and events, usually in the form of a sequential story. The genre has historical roots in antiquity, in the fields of medieval and early modern romance, and in the tradition of the novella. The latter, an Italian word used to describe short stories, supplied the present generic English term in the 18th century. Further definition of the genre is historically difficult and complex. The construction of the narrative, the plot, the relation to reality, the characterization, and the use of language are usually discussed to show a novel's artistic merits. Most of these requirements were introduced to literary prose in the 16th and 17th centuries, in order to give fiction a justification outside the field of factual history. For a detailed discussion of the novel from its roots in history to the 21st century go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel For a video on the novelist Tolstoy go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lr6DYLBkyG0
The first novels I remember reading were during my high school years, 1958 to 1963: Thomas Hardy, Daniel Defoe, John Steinbeck, In the 25 years after graduating from high school(1963-1988), and before teaching matriculation English Literature in Western Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember reading: Aldous Huxley, Gore Vidal, D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell, Albert Camus, Khalil Gibran, Hermann Hesse, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, J. D. Salinger, and Xavier Herbert, among others now lost to memory. Later, when I was teaching English Literature to matriculation students in those late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember: Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, John Fowles, Graham Greene, William Faulkner, Randolph Stow, Patrick White, and Samuel Beckett. Most of my reading from the 1950s to this second decade of the 21st century is in the social sciences and the sciences, poetry, literary analysis and criticism. Novels have only occupied a peripheral portion in the lifespan of my reading, 1949 to 2016, and influences on my reading beginning as early as October 1943 nearly 72 years ago.
To literary formalists, Virginia Woolf was a groundbreaking stylist, a courageous experimenter who, along with James Joyce, fractured and remade the novel. The novel is now found in a myriad genres. Go to this link for a list of such genres: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel#Genres_of_the_novel For a u-tube item on Woolf and several other modern writers go to:
The great books are those books that are thought to constitute an essential foundation in the literature of Western culture. Specified sets of great books typically range from 100–150, though they differ according to purpose and context. For instance, some lists are built to be read by undergraduates in a college semester system (130 books, Torrey Honors Institute), some are compiled to be sold as a single set of volumes (500 books, Mortimer Adler), while some lists aim at a thorough literary criticism (2,400 books, Harold Bloom). For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_books
"Great books" are a nineteenth-century invention, a product of the Victorian cultural climate. The Victorian age was intellectually and spiritually intoxicated by the greatness of great books. That age was comforted by what F. D. Maurice, in his title lecture of a volume published in 1856, called "The Friendship of Books." Alexander Ireland referred to the "solace & companionship of books" in the subtitle of his Book-Lover's Enchiridion (1883). Ireland was obsessed with the dangerous proliferation of bad books, and his writing was awash in advice never to settle for or to indulge in the second-rate, much less to permit oneself to indulge in a surfeit of journalistic ephemera. Thoreau put it punningly, "Read not the Times. Read the Eternities." From this fascination with the virtue and power of books can be separated out agendas that, taken together, underlie our century's lingering, still often enraptured belief in "great" books, what they are and what they can do. These underlying agendas are: 1) the religious or spiritual; 2) the educational or utilitarian; and 3) the evaluative or judgmental.
It is evident that there is a very high degree of mutuality between them. Yet they are not identical. As in our modes of liberal education generally, we like to hope we are getting everything of value all together. But in so doing, we risk ending up with nothing very precise at all. Here in our imprecise understanding of "great books" lies another reason why our debates about liberal education have had so blurred a focus. The term "Great Books" often carries the upper case when it refers to courses called "Great Books" or "Great Works." Back in the mid-1990s, while I was living in Perth WA, a friend who never read any of his collection of Great Books, gave me his complete set. The collection was published in 1952 by Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. In the last 20 years, 1995 to 2015, I have benefitted greatly from this handsome and extensive collection. In Harold Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, "Great Books" are distinguished by their initial capitals, a mark of their nearly Biblical standing. For more on this theme go to: http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/6-1/html/carnochan.html
The Romantic period was an artistic, literary, & intellectual movement that originated in Europe in the half century from 1750 to 1800; in most areas it was at its peak in the period from 1800 to 1850. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social & political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, & the scientific-rationalization of nature. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, & literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, & while for much of the Romantic period it was associated with liberalism & radicalism, its long-term effect on the growth of nationalism was perhaps more significant. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism For an excellent u-tube item on the subject and other u-tube videos go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiRWBI0JTYQ&feature=em-subs_digest-vrecs
Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (RaVoN) is an international, open access journal devoted to British Nineteenth-Century Literature. The journal was founded as Romanticism on the Net in February 1996. It expanded its scope in August 2007 to include Victorian literature. RaVoN is currently published twice a year on the Projet Érudit platform, and receives funding from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. All 903 articles and reviews that have appeared in the past 19 years are available in open access on the Projet Érudit platform. Go to: http://ravonjournal.org/issue/
ROMANTIC FICTION: THE ROMANCE NOVEL
The romance novel or romantic novel is a literary genre. Sub-categories include: historical romance, contemporary romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and inspirational romance. Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." There are many subgenres of the romance novel including fantasy, historical, science fiction and paranormal. Some scholars see precursors to the genre fiction romance novels in literary fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Samuel Richardson's sentimental novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) and the novels of Jane Austen. The British company Mills & Boon began releasing escapist fiction for women in the 1930s. It is often claimed that the first truly American popular love romance was published in 1972. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_novel
The boom of narrative serialization in recent years has the potential to be somewhat of a game changer for the romance genre. The incorporation of serial dynamics into the romance form is not only pushing the genre’s traditional narrative boundaries but also opening up a new narrative space in which the genre is articulating its core romantic fantasy to previously unprecedented extents. These articulations are adding important new topics to the broader conversation that is taking place amongst the predominantly female members of the genre’s community. Whereas this conversation has long focused almost exclusively on how romantic love is developed, it is now transforming to include discussions of how romantic love is sustained. If I was a reader of romance novels, I'm sure this would be a useful adjunct to my own life in which more romance might go a long way in my marriage, now going into its fifth decade.
This sustaining of romance is an aspect of the grand narrative of romantic love that is often overlooked, or ignored, in our broader cultural conversations about love. Two analysts of the subject, Glen Wheldon and Stephen Thompson, recently observed that “the part of love that does not get depicted enough is the act of staying in love” says Linda Holmes in her “Pop Culture Happy Hour: Halftime Shows and Love Stories.” (Monkey, see National Public Radio, 8 February 2013, Web)
In the same vein, cultural critic Lisa Appignanesi has pointed out in her All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion(London: Virago, 2011) that “contemporary literature, like the media, is far richer in evocations of the battlefield of marriage, it routs, betrayals and humiliations than in portraits of loving, settled romantic states” (p.186). As a culture, we do not formulate many accounts, fictional or otherwise, of the “loving, settled states” of romantic love that are part of day-to-day life. Even in the popular romance novel, a genre known for its feel good character & exceedingly optimistic portrayal of romantic love, such depictions are relatively rare because the genre is traditionally pre-occupied with the narrative that precedes this state.
David Pollard, who has three degrees from the University of Sussex: English Literature, the History of Ideas and Philosophy, wrote the following:
“Romances are, in fact, subversive literature: They encourage women to be dissatisfied with inequality, to set higher expectations for themselves, and they show them ways to achieve those expectations, largely by taming men and, in a way, usurping their power. Romances are arguably the only art form of any kind that portrays women as equal partners with men.” The romance genre has been popularly derided and critically ignored even though more than 80 million people read them and over 20,000 unsolicited manuscripts come in years.
In the scenes of serialized romance narratives, “the act of staying in love” comes into full narrative focus. This manifestation provides the romance genre & its community with the opportunity to engage in a number of internal debates that are, unlike many other debates in our society, dominated by female voices. These debates pertain to the narrative possibilities, limits of the romance generic form itself as well as to the diverging ideological positions with regards to gender, sexuality, and female identity that can simultaneously be taken up within the genre. Notwithstanding the relatively wide range of these discussions, illustrated in this article by the only preliminary discussions of serialized romances by Nora Roberts & J.R. Ward, as a whole these debates remain consistently framed by the romance genre’s fundamental commitment to the ideology of romantic love itself. To read this entire article "Happily Ever After...and After:Serialization & the Popular Romance Novel" in Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture(Spring 2013, Volume 12, Issue 1) go to: http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/spring_2013/goris.htm
WORLD LITERATURE AND AUTHENTICITY
"The theme of authenticity in human relationships comes to the forefront of world literature in the nineteenth century". So said John Hatcher who is currently a professor and director of graduate studies in English literature at the University of South Florida in Tampa. In a lecture he gave in 1994, he continued: "I am thinking of authors such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, and of philosophers such as Kierkegaard. This theme seems to have emerged almost spontaneously in several different cultural milieux, as can be seen from the above short list of authors from Russia, Scandinavia, Europe, and America. This literature presents a certain analysis of the human condition that rests upon the following two theses. (1) The true meaning of human existence consists in the establishment of authentic relationships between & among human beings. Everything else which has a value, has a value only insofar as it contributes to authenticity in human relationships.
According to this view of the human condition, nothing else but the establishment of authentic interhuman relationships could possibly be the central meaning of human existence. (2) At the same time, the human condition is such that most people appear unable to sustain authentic relationships. For example, most people will, under certain circumstances, betray their friends and loved ones in order to save themselves. (1) The fundamentally internal nature of our relationship with God is affirmed by Shoghi Effendi in statements such as the following: “. .the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about & maintained by means of meditation & prayer...The Bahá’í Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character” (Directives 86–87). (2) The juxtaposition of Marxist materialism with the longing for transcendence may appear contradictory. However, this paradox is relieved when we recall that Marxism was not materialism in practice but, on the contrary, a collective sacrifice for a materialistic ideal. This interpretation of the Russian experience is borne out by the incredible material sacrifices that the Russians did in fact make in the name of Marxism during the Soviet period. For more of Hatcher's lecture go to: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/9.3-Hatcher.pdf
DISEASE AND MODERN WRITERS
In The Horror of Life by Roger Williams(Weidenfeld, 1980, 400 pages) five 19th-century French writers – Baudelaire, Jules de Goncourt, Flaubert, Maupassant and Alphonse Daudet – are discussed here because of their ‘unremitting pessimism and disgust toward life’. Roger Williams, a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Wyoming, has supped his full of horror. He opens with a modest disclaimer: he began this study ‘with the understanding that all five had been syphilitic, and with the suspicion that disease had blackened their outlook.’ This was a good, probing start. But ‘my medical inquiry soon revealed that four of the cases were far more complicated than anticipated.’ Diseases spread across each page – colic, rheumatism, cerebral haemorrhage, epilepsy, tertiary syphilis, hemiplegia. These five apparently permanent invalids, breezily described as ‘Flaubert and Company’, seemed to pick up whatever was going; it is surprising that they found time to write anything at all. I leave it to readers with the interest to find out more about them.
MORE ON HORROR IN LITERATURE
Howard Phillips Lovecraft(1890-1937), known as H.P. Lovecraft, was an American author who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror fiction. Virtually unknown and only published in pulp magazines before he died in poverty, he is now regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre. Horror, fantasy, and science fiction author Stephen King called Lovecraft "the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale." For more on Lovecraft go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft
Charles Baxter's "The Hideous Unknown of H.P. Lovecraft" is a review of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft(Liveright, 850 pages) in the 18/12/'14 issue of The New York Review of Books. The review begins: "For adolescents, something about horror never goes out of style. They often feel an excited disgust upon learning how things really are, and their disgust is merely a notch away from the more thoroughgoing pleasures of horror. It is the closest they can come to the sublime. Every teacher of creative writing in every American college and university is no doubt familiar with the tendency of young people, usually young men, to concoct gruesome narratives that take place in an edgily unspecified locale." Baxter continues:
"Mayhem, awkward sentences, paper-thin characterizations, and complicated weaponry vie for the reader’s attention. But always there are the aliens, organic or machinelike or both, and always the accompanying rage and revulsion. The authors of these horrific fictions sit in the back of the classroom avoiding eye contact, rarely speaking to anybody. Shabbily dressed, fidgety, tattooed, hysterically sullen, they are bored by realism & reality when not actively hostile to both. When asked about their reading, they will gamely mumble the usual list of names: Neal Stephenson, Stephen King, J.G. Ballard, and Philip K. Dick. But the name that I have heard most often mentioned in these litanies is that of H.P. Lovecraft, whom they revere. He is their spirit-guide." For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/18/hideous-unknown-hp-lovecraft/?insrc=toc
James Joyce(1882-1941) really needs his own section here. Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer's Odyssey are paralleled in an array of contrasting literary styles, perhaps most prominent among these the stream of consciousness technique he perfected. Other major works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake(1939). His complete oeuvre includes three books of poetry, a play, occasional journalism, and his published letters.For more on Joyce go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Joyce
THE HISTORICAL NOVEL: FICTION
Historical fiction tells a story that is set in the past. That setting is drawn from history, & often contains historical persons, but the main characters tend to be fictional. Writers of stories in this genre write and work in order to portray the manners and social conditions of the persons or time(s) presented in the story. They give due attention to period detail & fidelity to history, insofar as it aids their story. Historical fiction is found in: books, magazines, art, television programming, film, theater, video games and other media. For more on this subject go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_fiction
There is a tension established in each piece of historical fiction. In its simplest form, the tension is between the author who is located in the present & the historical character who lived in the past; there is also a tension between the historical individual and that fictionalized character. This genre draws attention to the desire, even the need, to retrace historical links. There is also the need to pursue origins, roots, to investigate, to understand, and to bridge the distance between the past, the then, and the now & between the subjects in play, in interaction. These novels, these pieces of historical fiction, reveal a responsibility towards history and towards literature. It is a responsibility that in our post-war and postcolonial world asks us to look to the past in order to be grounded in the present.
What these works of historical imagination show us is a certain type of recognition. It is a recognition that the reader can achieve during and after reading such a work. By holding an image of some depiction, some ideal, of a different future in a different historical time, he or she is made more able to acknowledge that their own responsibilities and choices are located in a particular, a different, historical moment & that they must respond to them. For it is only in the acknowledgement of one's own historical contingencies that one can recognize one's duty & responsibility towards the future, the present and the past, as well as towards generations past and to come, and towards those who are not "us."
Within the huge multiverse of prose fiction the historical novel has, almost by definition, been the most consistently political. It is no surprise that the genre should have occasioned what is still probably the best-known of all works of Marxist literary theory, Lukács’s The Historical Novel. This work of Lukac's published arguably in 1920, and in Russian exile in the 1930s, was first published in English in 1962 right at the start of my somewhat nomadic, pioneering-travelling, for the Canadian Baha'i community. In 1962 I was about to complete high school and enter a five year post-secondary school educational process that kept me busy, in a variety of ways, until 1988 when I ceased enrolling in external studies, distance learning, programs. Any personal reflection on the strange career of this literary form, historical fiction, has to begin there in 1962 with Lukacs, however far my reflections may then wander from him.
Built around the work of Sir Walter Scott(1771–1832), Lukács’s theory makes five principal claims. Firstly, that the classical form of the historical novel is an epic depicting a transformation of popular life through a set of representative human types whose lives are reshaped by sweeping social forces. Secondly, famous historical figures will feature among the dramatis personae, but their roles in the tale will be oblique or marginal. Thirdly, the narratives in historical fiction often centre on middling characters, of no great distinction, whose function is to offer an individual focus for the dramatic collision of opposing extremes between whom they stand, or more often waver. Fourthly, the stage for such novels is a tragic contest between declining and ascending forms of social life, in a vision of the past that honours the losers but upholds the historical necessity of the winners. Fifthly, the classic historical novel, inaugurated by Waverley, an 1814 historical novel by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), is an affirmation of human progress, in and through the conflicts that divide societies and the individuals within them.
When Sir Walter Scott died in 1832 he was the most famous novelist the world had ever known. Remarkably, Scott took up fiction in his middle age, after abandoning narrative poetry when he found himself eclipsed by Byron’s mega-celebrity & his greater poetic originality and vigour. Over a 20-year long career as a novelist he achieved phenomenal popularity and esteem, producing some twenty-five novels and collections of tales. His first novel, Waverley, appeared anonymously in 1814, when he was 42 years old, and sold out six editions in its first year. Having established what was then an entirely new literary form, a hybrid of history and fiction, now known as historical fiction, he wrote eight further novels set in Scotland and for the most part in the eighteenth century, and transformed attitudes to Scottish culture and history in the process.
Gore Vidal and David Malouf are two authors whose historical fiction I have read in my 65 reading years from 1950 to 2015. Once a reader is on the trail of historical fiction, the genre’s diversity has some real benefits: regardless of one’s mood or temperament, there’s always a mystery, western, romance, or a sweeping epic that can be found to fit one’s tastes. If finding historical fiction can be tricky, defining it is even trickier. For more on the subject of the historical novel and historical fiction go to: (i) Sarah L. Johnson's essay "Masters of the Past Twenty Classic Historical Novels & Their Legacy" at:http://www.bookmarksmagazine.com/historical-fiction-masters-past/sarah-l-johnson; and Perry Anderson's essay in the London Review of Books(Vol. 33, No 15, 28/7/'11) 'From Progress to Catastrophe' at this link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n15/perry-anderson/from-progress-to-catastrophe
Dorothy Parker(1893-1967) was an American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles. From a conflicted & unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in publications such as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist. Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a "wisecracker." Nevertheless, her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Parker
What are we to make today of this famous woman who, beginning almost a century ago, has fascinated generations with her wit, flair, talent, and near genius for self-destruction? For some, what registers most strongly is her central role in the legend of the Algonquin Round Table, with its campiness of wisecracks, quips, and put-downs—a part of her life she would come to repudiate. For others, it’s the descent into alcoholism, and the sad final years holed up in Manhattan’s Volney Hotel. Pick your myth.
As for her writing, it has evoked ridiculous exaggeration from her votaries, both her contemporaries and her biographers. Vincent Sheean: “Among contemporary artists, I would put her next to Hemingway and Bill Faulkner. She wasn’t Shakespeare, but what she was, was true.” John Keats in his biography of her, You Might as Well Live (1970): “She wrote poetry that was at least as good as the best of Millay and Housman. She wrote some stories that are easily as good as some of O’Hara and Hemingway.” This is praise that manages to be inflated and qualified at the same time. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/04/07/brilliant-troubled-dorothy-parker/
Hilary Mantel, Man Booker Prize-winning author of not one but two historical novels—Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies —is in conversation with Michael Cathcart as part of the 2015 Perth Writers Festival. Mantel is currently working on her third Tudor novel, and recently published a new collection of ten short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. To download the audio of her interview go to: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/22wolf-hall22-author-hilary-mantel-at-the-2015-perth-writers-/6254144
Historical fiction, a widely-read genre, continues to engender contradiction and controversy within the fields of literature and historiography. The following paper begins with a discussion of the differences and similarities between historical writing and the historical novel, focusing on the way these forms interpret and represent the past. It then examines the dilemma facing historians as they try to come to terms with the modern era and the growing competition from other modes of presenting history. Finally, it considers claims by Australian historians that so-called “fictive history” has been bestowed with historical authority to the detriment of traditional historiography.
Hayden White, a leading critic in the field of historiography, claims that the surge in popularity of historical fiction and the novel form in the 19th century caused historians to seek recognition of their field as a serious “science”. Historians believed that, to be scientific, historical studies had to cut ties with any form of artistic writing or imaginative literature, especially the romantic novel. German historian Leopold von Ranke anathematized the historical novel virtually from its first appearance in Scott’s Waverley in 1814. Hayden White argues that Ranke and others after him wrote history as narrative while eschewing the use of imagination and invention that were “exiled into the domain of ‘fiction’ ”. For more go to: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/372
In the field of literature there are hosts of non-influences. But many of these non-influences are of interest. Two of these non-influences are found below.
MASS CULTURE AND LITERATURE
I could place the following into the "Sociology: Cultural Anthropology" sub-section of my website. But this interview with Professor Nancy Bentley who holds a Ph.D. in American literature and culture from Harvard University and chairs the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania seemed relevant to both "Literature: Modern" and another part of my website on "Sociology: Culture." Readers with the interest can access that interview at the link below. Bentley has published two books: Frantic Panoramas: American Literature and Mass Culture 1870-1920 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) and The Ethnography of Manners (Cambridge University Press, 1995 and 2007).
Bentley is also the co-author of Volume Three of the Cambridge History of American Literature as well as the Bedford Cultural Edition of Charles Chesnutt's The Marrow of Tradition. She serves on the Editorial Board of PMLA, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, American Literary History(ALH), and Nineteenth-Century Literature. She has also received fellowships from Yale, Penn, Dartmouth, and Boston University, & been honored with the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. For this interview in Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture(Spring 2013, Volume 12, Issue 1) go to: http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/spring_2013/bentley.htm
Henry James(1843-1916), an Anglo-American writer who spent the bulk of his career in Britain, was regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was most fixated on the popular press: the tabloid papers, and the “flood of books” produced for mass sale. James complained that US culture, unlike Europe, was dominated by the commercial imperative of publicity – the constant push to display, to sell, and to court the masses. He linked this “pestilent modern fashion of publicity” with mass education, what he called America’s “newspapered democracy.” There was, therefore, an anti-populist strain to his fixation. He admitted to feeling “lettered anguish” at these changes in society. James recognized what the sociologist Jürgen Habermas has described as “the disintegration of the public in the sphere of letters.” This disintegration began during the life of Henry James. This was a process whereby market-driven publicity began to crowd out the kind of public discussions & reasoned debates conducted in “high literacy” publications. Long before Habermas, then, James worried about the way the mass press could manipulate public opinion for private ends.
James realized that the omnivorous nature of publicity was dissolving the boundary between high art & popular culture, thus putting literary value up for grabs. Once writers, readers, and presses conspired to make literature a mere “article of commerce,” there is no way to define the literary as such. As he put it, “all this depends on what we take it into our heads to call literature.” Yet this same insight that, finally, literature is simply whatever we call literature also gave James a measure of hope. It certainly gave him a far-reaching sense of what the future of literature might turn out to be. He wrote a fantastic essay called “The Question of the Opportunities” in which he meditated on how mass culture, for all that it was destroying, was also sure to offer newkinds of literary value, new sorts of cultural forms and communities. He grasped, for instance, that the public sphere was becoming less like a single open forum & more like a chessboard, with many different “publics” created from different sorts of appeal and access. And he also anticipated that, given such “colossal” mass production, the sheer volume would give rise to exciting new kinds of art that would burst through narrow rules and restrictive conventions. In that sense, James predicted both the achievements of high modernism and our current explosion of new media. For more on this topic go to: http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/spring_2013/bentley.htm
The lives of those involved in literary work: novelists, playwrights, essayists, inter alia, often have more cultural reality than what they write. The world of cinema has found that the best subject hasn’t really been the books, the plays and the essays that writers write, but the people who write them. This has especially become normality in the last two decades: the personalization of everything is now total in cyberspace. This is even more true on the individual Web pages like my own. Such pages are personalized based on the characteristics, the personality and interests, of the individual, the creator, the author, of the website. Personalization implies that the changes that do take place are based on the evolving interests and activities, autobiography and web design skills, of the person who puts the site together. The term customization is often used since it allows the writer, as an editor, to tailor his or her pages to better suit their reading and editing style. Customisation affects only how pages look in one's web browser, not the reading or editing experience of other editors. Personalization is often based on user attributes such as department, functional area, or role. The term customization in this context refers to the ability of users to modify the page layout or specify what content should be displayed. For more on this subject go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personalization
1. RUSSIAN LITERATURE
Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia, or its émigrés, and to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part of what was historically Rus', Russia or the Soviet Union. The roots of Russian literature can be traced to the Middle Ages, when epics & chronicles in Old Russian were composed. By the Age of Enlightenment, literature had grown in importance, and from the early 1830s, Russian literature underwent an astounding golden age in poetry, prose, and drama. After the Revolution of 1917, Russian literature split into Soviet & white émigré parts. While the Soviet Union assured universal literacy & a highly developed book printing industry, it also enforced ideological censorship.
Alexander Pushkin(1799-1837) was a Russian author of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet, & the founder of modern Russian literature. For more of an overview of Pushkin go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pushkin For Clive James delightful essay on Pushkin go to: http://www.clivejames.com/pushkin For two interesting overviews of Nobokov(1899-1977) go to: https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/j/johnson-blues.html and: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Nabokov For more of an overview of Russian literature go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_literature
The history of the Russian people is fraught with sufferings, privations, and injustices. In the years before 1861, when Tsar Alexander II finally liberated the serfs from bondage, fully ninety percent of the population of Russia was in servitude. The other ten percent consisted primarily of intellectuals and aristocrats, mostly living in either Moscow or St. Petersburg. Within a generation of the liberation of the serfs, the Bolshevik revolution effectively reenslaved the entire population, a condition from which Russia is just now barely emerging. There never has been in Russia a middle class comparable to that of the modern nation-states of Europe and North America. This history has forged in the Russian national psyche a quality of stoic endurance & survivalism that has few equals elsewhere: Russians generally do not expect life to be easy or fair, nor do they have illusions that lovers are always faithful or that friends never betray. Yet, their art and literature consistently picture authentic human relations as the meaning and goal of existence.
Thus, the “classical” Russian view of the human condition is that we are condemned to the noble pursuit of an impossible goal. In this worldview, the meaning of life consists not in external success, which is largely considered to be impossible in any case, but rather, in the nobility and dignity with which we accept & respond to the sufferings & the injustices of life. In this view nothing in the material world is permanent. Permanence can only be obtained from that which transcends purely material limitations in some way—primarily art, literature, music, and dance. The truly wise do not waste efforts in a futile attempt to remodel the material world, because any material transformation will, sooner or later, regress and degenerate. Moreover, the material world is so unpredictable that we can never be certain of achieving any goal, no matter how intensely we pursue it. Society is thus not viewed as an arena where the individual acts freely in the pursuit of individual goals.
The fundamental expression of human freedom lies not in the pursuit of success but in the care with which one chooses one’s friends, who are perceived as comrades-in-arms in the struggle against the sufferings of life. In other words, the Russian solution to the dilemma of authenticity is to focus primarily on the process by which authenticity is pursued, over which we do have some significant degree of control, rather than on the results of the process (the degree of success we actually obtain), over which we have very little control. While being satisfactory on one level, this solution is profoundly unsatisfactory on another, & it gives rise to what we may call a thirst for absolutes—a longing that has become a significant characteristic of the Russian psyche. The thesis of John Hatcher who holds a B.A. and M.A. in English literature from Vanderbilt University, a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Georgia, and is currently a professor and director of graduate studies in English literature at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is as folows: "it is this thirst for absolutes that created the conditions for the Russian people to accept the absolutist doctrine of Communism, which seeks to establish an absolutely egalitarian society, and thus to establish authentic relations by social decree rather than through cumulative individual effort.
A widely published poet and distinguished lecturer, Hatcher is author of numerous books on literature, philosophy, Baha'i theology and scripture, including: Close Connections; From the Auroral Darkness: The Life and Poetry of Robert E. Hayden; A Sense of History: The Poetry of John Hatcher; The Ocean of His Words: A Reader's Guide to the Art of Baha'u'llah; and The Purpose of Physical Reality; The Kingdom of Names. He and his family live on a farm near Plant City, Florida. For more of this lecture entitled: "Love, Power, and Justice" by William S. Hatcher published in the Journal of Bahá’í Studies(V 9, N 3, 1994) go to: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/9.3-Hatcher.pdf
The launching of Sputnik I in October 1957 had an immediate impact upon American Russian studies. It may be true that political revolutions do not immediately produce literary change, as Pushkin noted, and neither do scientific and technical revolutions. But American awareness that Russian space technology had "overtaken and outdistanced" American efforts made Russian a "critical language." Massive government and private support made it possible for the Russian language to be widely taught in American colleges & universities by the mid-1960s, greatly increasing the number of students, graduate students, teachers, and faculties of Russian. Meanwhile, the immense popularity of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago & Nabokov's Lolita, both American best-sellers in 1958, and the no less striking impact of Solzhenitsyn's novels and Bulgakov's Master and Margarita a few years later built upon the prestige already enjoyed by the great nineteenth-century writers. The trials of Joseph Brodsky, Andrei Siniavsky, and Iurii Daniil stimulated interest in Russian literature, as did well-publicized tours by young Russian poets, such as Evgenii Evtushenko & Andrei Voznesensky. Students fascinated with this new literature could now study it in the Russian language. For more on the history and future of Russian literature go to: http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/6-1/html/todd.html
Part 4: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Just as I was about to retire from a teaching career of 32 years in classrooms as a teacher and lecturer, and another 18 as a student, a new collection of essays by Constantin Ponomareff appeared.1 In my 50 years in classrooms as a student and teacher, 1949 to 1999, I had neither the time nor the inclination to read Russian literature. I have tried to remedy this in these years of my retirement, but the wide compass of my intellectual and literary interests has thusfar kept me away from Russian fiction. I do enjoy essays which analyse this vast tract of modern literature and this book of essays is one example.
In 1979 Ponomareff published his The Silenced Vision. This collection of essays attempted to get a sense of the European literary response to totalitarianism by analysing the works of Hans Erich Nossack, Boris Pasternak, Wolfgang Borchert, Chingiz Aitmatov and Gunter Grass. In 1987, there was On the Dark Side of Russian Literature: 1710-1910, which surveyed the "moral discomfort and spiritual unease among the major Russian writers" (p. 235), showing the way humanity became increasingly superfluous in the Russian creative imagination from Kantemir and Lomonosov to Bely and Blok. The 1997 collection of twelve essays, as indicated by its subtitle, addressed the problems underlying or belying humanity as evidenced in selected texts of modem literature.
From the 1970s to the 1990s my life and time was fully occupied with responsibilities associated with my job and family, my community life and leisure-time interests, my work in the Baha’i community and my health problems. Those three collections of essays did not stand a chance of getting read, for many reasons, even though I usually got through at least 6 to 10 books a week on average, books related to my teaching work or just personal interest. By the first decade of the 21st century, though, I was able to access reading material in cyberspace that was simply unavailable in previous decades. This review by Susan Ingram in that fine collection of writing The Canadian Slavonic Papers was just one item of the new wealth of material which became available to people like me who had retired from the demands and time constraints of: job, family and community.
Ponomareff’s third collection of essays in 1997 was divided into three parts. The first part consisted of two essays devoted to Russian authors. "The Hole in Humankind: Inner and Outer Space in Russian Literature" and "The Impoverished Self in Modern Russian Literature: From Pushkin to Bunin" both documented the "increasing impoverishment of life on the part of Russian literary characters" (p. 18). The first essay took Pushkin's Little Tragedies, Gogol's Dead Souls, Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, as well as Bely's Petersburg and collection of poems Ashes, took them all as examples that demonstrated a general withdrawal from Russian life precipitated by increasing contact with European rationalist culture.
In the second essay, characters from Pushkin's Little Tragedies are again mobilized and followed by Gogol's Akaky Akakievich, Lermontov's Pechorin, Dostoevsky's underground man, Turgenev's Bazarov, Dostoevsky's Raskol'nikov, characters from Chekov's short stories, Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych, and Bunin's gentleman from San Francisco. This depressing parade of individuals was aimed at exposing the inner poverty manifest in the modern age. Ponomareff concluded his presentation with citations from the American existential philosopher William Barrett.
The second section was devoted to Nietzsche. In the first essay, "Nietzsche: Self as History in the Genealogy of Morals," Ponomareff suggested that "Nietzsche may have been reliving in more intellectual terms the physical and physiological ravages of his own disease within" (p. 35) He reads Nietzsche’s work as a "perhaps therapeutic exteriorization or projection of inner self" (p. 35). In the second, "At the Source of the Self: Truth out of Appalling Depths," he moved from syphilis to child-abuse and drew on Alice Miller's The Untouched Key: Tracing Childhood Trauma in Creativity and Destructiveness as a possible explanation of Nietzsche's destructive tendencies.
In "Nietzsche and Dostoevsky" Ponomareff looked at Nietzsche's attraction to Dostoevsky and recounted their affinities. The last essay, "Nietzsche as Homo Ludens," approached the theme of play in Nietzsche's writing and offered perhaps the best illustration of Ponomoreff's theoretical proclivities. He preferred to link Nietzsche's love of masks with Bakhtin's carnival, carefully bypassing any of the substantial body of deconstructive, feminist and postfeminist works relevant to the topic.
The third section consisted of six essays on "the 20th century," from Blok and Rilke, Mayakovsky and Celan, to Camus, Nabokov and Anne Hebert, with a way station in the form of a survey of canonical, post-war German literature (Boll, Grass, Christa Wolf, et al). All the essays in this collection offered stenographic yet convincing arguments in support of the overarching thesis that the unifying element in modern writing "is its capacity to reflect spiritual crisis in society and initiate a process of healing" (p. 1). Ponomareff is a comparatist in the tradition of George Steiner. His respect before the text is palpable, his readings assiduous, and his intent pedagogic, in the communicatively positive sense of the word. Just as the writers whose work he analyses, Ponomareff is able "to exploit his sense of displacement and exile for creative and spiritual survival" (p. 130).
Citing Hannah Arendt's contention, he claims that "alienation and rootlessness, if we only understand them aright, make it easier to live in our time" (p. 130). They are the driving-force behind, and the challenge of, modern literature. –Ron Price with thanks to 1 “Spiritual Geography of Modern Writing: Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation and Transcendence,” in The Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 1998, Susan Ingram, and Constantin V. Ponomareff, The Spiritual Geography of Modern Writing: Essays on Dehumanization, Human Isolation and Transcendence, B. V. Rodopi edition, 1997.
I will add below, as a sort of appendix, a prose-poem I wrote after watching a TV series entitled The Art of Russia. This prose-poem will give, at least for me and, hopefully, for some readers, a degree of personal context for the above commentary on those 3 collections of essays.
RUSSIA AND ME: A Retrospective Through Art
On the first day of April 2012, just after April Fools’ Day ended as it does at noon, after I had been retired from the world of jobs for a dozen years, I was able to develop my study of Russia. I had taken an interest in Russia from the 1960s while at university. I had even applied for a job there in my first years as a teacher sometime around 1970, before serving as an international pioneer instead---in Australia for the Canadian Baha’i community. Inevitably, in my role as a student or as a teacher of history and sociology, literature and psychology, some aspect of Russia came into the curricula over that half-century from, say 1955 to 2005 when I was either working at FT, PT and casual jobs, or teaching at primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.
On 1 April, a Sunday afternoon, I chanced to watch a BBC Four program entitled The Art of Russia.1 This series on Russian art was first shown on the BBC in December 2009, and in Australia the series has been shown twice in the years and months to March 2013. This is a revised edition of a prose-poem. It was written after watching part of the series again in February and March 2013.2
Andrew Michael Graham-Dixon(1960--), the British art historian was the presenter. He has been the chief art critic of The Independent newspaper where he remained until 1998. As of 2005 he has been the chief art critic of The Sunday Telegraph. I first took the history of art seriously in 1974 when I taught a subject entitled ‘The Sociology of Art’ to technical college students in Launceston Tasmania. After nearly 40 years of reading about art and its history, I have found that this field occupies one of the several epicentres of my academic interests as I head into my 70s in a few months’ time, and old-age, the years over 80, if I last that long.-Ron Price with thanks to 1ABC1TV, 3:00-3:55 p.m. 1 April 2012; and 2Art Of Russia: Out Of The Forest, ABC1TV, 24/2/’13 and 2&3/3/’13, 11:30-12:20 p.m.Section 3:
Your roots of art were in Byzantium1
and your story, like so many stories,
is a long one….Thank you, Michael,
for your TV work since ’92, when I
was beginning to eye my retirement
from more than fifty years of jobs &
student life so that I could spend my
life in places other than classrooms!!
It is programs like this that now enrich
these evening years, these years of late
adulthood(60-80) and old age(80+), if
I last that long….My classroom is now
the world which pours into my study---
daily. I had three children, too, Michael…...
but I don’t live in London…..rather…..
at the ends of the earth in Tasmania…...
the last stop on the way to Antarctica…
if you take a western-Pacific rim-route.
I thank you for that incredible story of
the art of Russia: magnificence indeed!
1 Very few students in our modern world have any idea where and what Byzantium was. Like so much of knowledge, this field of history and art will not help students negotiate the mine-fields of marriage, jobs, and the many tests that come their way from cradle to grave. They will survive without ever knowing anything about Byzantium, or the long history of Russia and its civilization both before westernization and after--beginning in the 18th century, and the throwing-out of 1000 years of royal rule in the early 20th century.
Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 657 BC and named after their king Byzas. The city was later renamed Nova Roma by Constantine the Great, but popularly called Constantinople and briefly became the imperial residence of the classical Roman Empire. Subsequently, the city was---for more than a thousand years---the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking Roman Empire of late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks becoming the capital of their empire, in 1453. The name of the city was officially changed to Istanbul in 1930 following the establishment of modern Turkey. As I say, though, this won’t help you get a job or negotiate the slings and arrows of your life-narrative.
30/4/’12 to 30/9/’15
2. AUSTRALIAN LITERATURE
The following sub-section on Australian literature is included because I have lived most of my life Downunder & have been strongly influenced by Australian culture. Australian literature is the written or literary work produced in this country or by the people of the Commonwealth of Australia and its preceding colonies. During its early Western history, Australia was a collection of British colonies, therefore, its literary tradition begins with, & is linked to, the broader tradition of English literature. The publication of The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature by William Wilde, Joy Hooton & Barry Andrews in 1986( Oxford, 750 pages)followed closely on Professor Leonie Kramer’s Oxford History of Australian Literature with its two supplementary anthologies(OUP, 1981, 500 pages). These two works mark not only a new development in the standing enjoyed by Australian writing in the world, but they also mark a radical change in the point of view from which literature written in the English language must henceforth be treated. Dame Leonie Judith Kramer(1924-) is an Australian academic, educator and professor. This change of attitude, which was inevitable and has been slowly imposing itself over the present century, is still not well understood. It has scarcely yet been accepted.
This attitudinal shift arises from the fact that English is now a literary language in some forty countries all over the world. In some it is the main or the only literary vehicle for writers. In others such as: India, Canada, Malaysia and South Africa it competes with one or more other languages. In still others, like Nigeria, it is a secondary language, but it provides the only outlet for educated writers since the many native tongues do not provide an adequate reading public. In all these countries the English language serves, and is embedded in, very different social and cultural backgrounds which are unfamiliar to speakers & writers from other areas. Major writers in all these areas are known to readers throughout the English-speaking world and now constitute the current body of English literature proper.
The editors of the last couple of volumes of the famous Oxford History of English Literature were forced to recognise this aspect of the English-speaking world, just as they had had to recognise, in earlier volumes devoted to the 17th & 18th centuries, that the major writers of Scotland, Ireland and Wales were an integral part of ‘English’ literature. The older view that all branches of the process outside the British Isles formed minor, and probably inferior, offshoots to the main stem must now be given up. This is also due to the fact that the literature of the United States now takes at least equal status with that emanating from England, Scotland, Ireland & Wales. It is arguable that the term ‘English Literature’ ought to be replaced by ‘Literature in English’. It would at least avoid confusion in describing its field & would bypass implications of dependence or inferiority.
The Oxford Companion to English Literature was first published in 1932. It was edited by the retired diplomat Sir Paul Harvey (1869–1948), and was the earliest of the Oxford Companions to appear. The work, which has been periodically updated, includes biographies of prominent historical and leading contemporary writers in the English language, entries on major works, "allusions which may be encountered", significant publications and literary clubs. Writers in other languages are included when they have had an impact on the anglophone world. Harvey's entries concerning Sir Walter Scott, much admired by Drabble in the introduction to the fifth edition, had to be reduced for reasons of space, in the sixth edition. For more on this work go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Oxford_Companion_to_English_Literature
The writing produced in Great Britain beginning, by sensible and insenible degrees, in the last half of the 20th century, has gradually come to enjoy no special prestige. That writing is simply one among many branches of a subject defined merely by the language in which it is written. This process is similar to the way in which Latin literature ceased in time to have any geographical meaning. For more of this review by A.D. Hope of The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v08/n15/ad-hope/ad-hope-reflects-on-the-advent-of-an-australian-literature For more of a general review of Australian literature go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_literature
3. CANADIAN LITERATURE
Having spent the first 26 years of my life in Canada and received my education and socialization in that country, I felt it essential to provide a brief survey of Canadian literature. Canadian literature is literature originating from Canada. Some criticism of Canadian literature has focused on nationalistic and regional themes, although this is only a small portion of Canadian Literary criticism. Critics against such thematic criticism in Canadian literature, such as Frank Davey, have argued that a focus on theme diminishes the appreciation of complexity of the literature produced in the country, and creates the impression that Canadian literature is sociologically-oriented. While Canadian literature, like the literature of every nation state, is influenced by its socio-political contexts, Canadian writers have produced a variety of genres. Influences on Canadian writers are broad, both geographically and historically. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_literature
Margaret Eleanor Atwood(1939-) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Awardseveral times, winning twice. There are many Canadian writers, contemporary and famous one's in Canada's history. I leave it to readers with the interest to follow-up, to Google, this subject. I have written the following inspired to some extent by Atwood, her work and her life. "Then You Are Them," by Fredric Jameson is a review in the LRB(10/9/'09) of Atwood's 2009 book The Year of the Flood (Bloomsbury, 450 pages, 2009) at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n17/fredric-jameson/then-you-are-them
Margaret Atwood is best known for her work as a novelist; she has also published fifteen books of poetry. Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales which have been interests of hers from an early age. Atwood has published short stories in Tamarack Review, Alphabet, Harper's, CBC Anthology, Ms., Saturday Night, and many other magazines. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works. She said in an interview in 1978: “I began writing at the age of 5, but there was a dark period between the ages of 8 and 16 when I didn't write. I started again at 16. And have no idea why, but it was suddenly the only thing I wanted to do.” My life-narrative with writing was very different from Atwood’s. I did not have the feeling that writing was “the only thing I wanted to do” until 1992, and insensibly and increasingly until I retired from teaching in 1999. By then I was 55. Atwood also made the comment that in North America people have “a somewhat romantic notion about what an author is. They think of "writing" not as something you do, but as something you are. The writer is seen as "expressing" herself; therefore, her books must be autobiographical. If the book were seen as something made, like a pot, we probably wouldn't have this difficulty.” As a North American, and until the age of 25 a resident of Canada, I held some of this romantic view. As a person who has lived more than half his life in the Antipodes I see my writing a little like a pot or a room full of pots.
Atwood went on to say: “My parents were great readers. They didn't encourage me to become a writer, exactly, but they gave me a more important kind of support; that is, they expected me to make use of my intelligence and abilities. But they did not pressure me in any particular direction. My mother was rather exceptional in this respect from what I can tell from the experiences of other young people my own age. Remember that all this was taking place in the 1950's, when marriage was seen as the only desirable goal and parents pushed their kids this way and that.” This could very well describe my parents. My mother, like Atwood’s, was a very lively person who would rather read poetry than scrub floors. My father scrubbed a lot of floors & did many things in life I scarcely appreciated back then. -Ron Price with thanks to Margaret Atwood in “Margaret Atwood: Poet,” Joyce Carol Oats, New York Times on the Web, May 21st 1978.
I am absolutely dependent on the details
of the material world to make a space
for my prose-poetry to move around in.
It's dangerous to lift a statement out of
context, out of my poem, and take it as
my view, the poet’s view. The cultural
attitudes in poems are not invented by
poets; they’re reflections of something
the poet sees in the society around him.
Yeats once said that solitary imagination
makes and unmakes mankind and even
the world itself, for does not the 'eye alter
all'?.......Poetry is one of those things that
can't ever be quite pinned down, but still
I do a lot of pinning….I’ve been pinning
for years, and I’ll be pinning for years.1
1 Much of this prose-poem is taken from this interview published in The New York Times seven months before I left Ballarat for Tasmania.
28/5/’06 to 14/7/’15.
B. ATWOOD, LUTHER, AND ME
Margaret Atwood(1939- ) was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in 2001. She is also a founder of the Writers' Trust of Canada, a non-profit literary organization that seeks to encourage Canada's writing community. Among innumerable contributions to Canadian literature, she was a founding trustee of the Griffin Poetry Prize. She graduated from high school in Toronto the year I entered my last year of primary school in 1957. I was living, at the time, in Burlington just 30 miles away. We are both war-babies, or members of what some social scientists call the silent generation. Atwood was always about 5 years ahead of me since she was born at the start of the war, while I was born toward its end.
Considered by one generational descriptor as “cautious, unimaginative and withdrawn,” members of our generation, the war-babies, grew up in the late 1940s and 1950s at a time of social conformity and, “looking for a type of rebirth.”1 They needed a cause. Both Atwood and I only fit into some aspects of this generation descriptor. We both needed a cause. For me it became the Baha’i Faith. Atwood is one of Canada’s most successful writers with more than a dozen volumes of poetry and 20 volumes of prose to her credit. Her activism involves this writing and the environment.
Atwood got her M.A. in 1962 in literature, the same year I finished my last year of hometown baseball, entered my last year of high school and began my travelling-pioneering for the Canadian Baha’i community in the small town of Dundas Ontario. As my teaching career developed from primary, to secondary, to post-secondary levels, and as I travelled and worked from town to town in both Canada and Australia, in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, Atwood published book after book. She was catapulted to celebrity status in 1972, the first year I left Canada and began living in Australia as an international pioneer from Canada, the year I helped establish the first locally elected Baha’i assembly in the steel-port city of Whyalla South Australia, and in western and central Australia outside of the capital cities.
Her book: Survival provided for Canadians like myself a wonderful insight into Canadian literature and into our very sense of identity.(2)-Ron Price with thanks to (1)M. Nowak and D.T. Miller, The Fifties: The Way We Really Were, Doubleday & Co. Inc., N.Y. 1977, p.18; and (2)Joyce Carol Oates, “Margaret Atwood’s Tale,” The New York Review of Books, 2 November 2006.
Yes, Margaret Atwood, I liked
your characterization and your
leitmotifs of Canadians about a
sense of survival….not triumph
or victory, like the Americans,
and not about those who made it….
but those who made-it-back……
I made it back, Margaret, from a
Baffin Island crash: ‘here I stand’
as Martin Luther said about half a
millennium ago at the outset of a
1 Luther is sometimes quoted as saying: "Here I stand. I can do no other". Recent scholars consider the evidence for these words to be unreliable, since they were inserted before "May God help me" only in later versions of the speech and not recorded in witness accounts of the proceedings. -Richard Marius, Luther, Quartet, London, 1975, p.155.
8/1/’12 to 26/5/’13.
C. MY STORY IS DIFFERENT, MARGARET
The writer, the poet, is an observer, a witness, and such observations are the air they breathe. The poem, the writing, is a vehicle, for their human responsibility. It is a form of testament, a form of eye-witness account, an I-witnessing. The overall opus can often be said to comprise one story. For Margaret Atwood it is what she calls the story of the disaster which is the world.(1) For Ron Price it is what he calls Pioneering Over Five Epochs. Ron Price with thanks to (1) Margaret Atwood in Women Writers: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Hill Rigney, Barnes and Noble Books, Totowa, NJ, 1987, p.17.
Yes, Margaret, there is pain, tragedy,
disaster, fatigue, fear and loathing in
this Age of Transition, & this eve of
destruction, in which I’ve played my
part. I’ve told it as I’ve seen it in all
these poems, Margaret, in this border
country, this half light, and this new
generation of dawnbreaking, in this
burgeoning world of the dazzling &
the chaotic, in this waiting world, the
not-yet-arrived, the not here yet, the
dream and the reality, the beginnings,
chrysalis, the endless repitition, & the
hearing of the story and its meaning
again and again until it has dried out
your soul inside of despair’s bleached
skull, as Roger White put it long ago.
Of course, there’s a flip-side, Margaret;
one of vision, of hope, where one can
just about taste the fragrances, rich &
deep, with meaning. And now, a place
where the light of the countenance of God1
shines before me like a beakon in the night.
1 Baha’u’llah, The Tablet of Carmel.
D. FULFILLING HIS TRUST
Margaret Atwood, Canadian author, explained how she wrote a series of poems that became The Journals of Susanna Moodie:(1) “They came as separate poems and I had no idea when I began that I was going to end up with a book of that size. It wasn’t planned that way. I wrote twelve at first and stopped and thought, you know, this is just short of a long short poem, twelve short poems, that’s it. And then I started writing more of them but I didn’t know where it was going. I don’t write books of poetry as books. I don’t write them like novels.”(2)
My poetry was similar to Atwood’s in terms of the process of writing. My pieces too “came as separate poems and I had no idea when I began that I was going to end up with a book” or books of poems the size or the extent to which I now have. “It wasn’t planned that way;” I wrote some 200 poems until the age of 47; of these I kept about 170. That’s about 5 poems a year from adolescence, the age of 13, to 47--35 years—or a poem every 75 days. Not exactly prolific. “And then I started writing more of them” in 1992. “But I didn’t know where it was going.” In the years 1992 to 2005 I wrote some 6000 poems. “I don’t write books of poetry as books. I don’t write them like novels.” I write a batch of about 100 and put them in a plastic binding and give them to some Baha’i group.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Oxford UP, Toronto, 1970; and (2) Margaret Atwood in Graeme Gibson, Eleven Canadian Novelists, Anansi, Toronto, 1972, p.164.
This is no novel but there’s
a central character, a story,
a set of ideas, a philosophy,
a serendipitous arrangement,
sequentially ordered with pattern
and images in a clear, an especially
modern sensibility, millions of words.
There’s a darker side to this persona,
this self in society and its exploration
is part of the trip, the journey through
a complex society and a new religion,
a series of coming to terms with people,
jobs, self, religion, the land, change---
as a tempest sweeps the face of the earth
in unpredictable, unprecedented ways.
After seeing little meaning in my world
around me at the start of my pioneering
journey in ’62, slowly, a union, vision,
past, present and future fell before my eyes,
insinuating, unobtrusive, with wonder,
awe, the foundation of the poetic me1
in a poem that is never finished and
helps me fulfill in my life His trust.2
1 D. H. Lawrence quoted in The Psychic Mariner: A Reading of the Poems of D.H. Lawrence, Tom Marshall, Heinemann, London, 1970, p.3. 2 Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, p.1
September 18th 2005
E. MORE TRUSTWORTHY?
Yesterday, while reading in the Launceston library I read some of a biography of Margaret Atwood. On the front page, the words "Never trust biographies" shouts out at you. Too many events in a man's life are invisible, as unknown to others as our dreams. The autobiographer, on the other hand, can tell of these invisible events and of HIS dreams and, to that extent, autobiographies are potentially more trustworthy. My autobiography, spread over several genres, certainly tells of this invisible world, as best I can. It is my hope that it provides, not only a more trustworthy document but one that is a pleasure to read. -Ron Price with thanks to Anne Michaels in Margaret Atwood: A Biography, Nathalie Cooke, Ecw Press, Toronto, 1998, p.5
We need to feel we understand
the world we live in, making
sense of these our days with
a persuasive portrait of who
we are as people and what
our lives are or should be about---
can it be recorded here?
Is this philosophico-religious
vision of reality, with answers
and values to live by. This need,
for some, is a cry of anguish.1
With others there seems to be
no cry at all.
1 Ayn Rand's philosophy
7 November 2001
Price’s poetic meanderings, his immersion in the process of defining his journey, is partly his way of discovering his past, his childhood, his ancestral roots, his psycho-history; partly his way of defining his identity, his complex personality, his many selves and what composed them; partly his way of giving form and substance to a religious conviction that had, in one way or another, consumed his life and given it meaning; and partly his way of giving expression to the relativity and multiplicity of truth’s many-coloured glass. -Ron Price with thanks to Margaret Atwood in Women Writers: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Hill Rigney, Barnes and Noble Books, Totowa, NJ, 1987.
Yes, Margaret, they defy classification:
men, women, ideas: gray, complicated,
multidimensional, like everything else.
Yet, we classify the ambiguous, the
inexact, the passionate waters, the
incorrigibly murky rivers of our days.
We strive for precision with our
fastidiousness and our disposition
to overcome the casual. With our
logic, our science and our desire
to sanitize our art we assault ambiguity
and create universal definitions.
In the end, though, we are left
with the subtle, the allusive, the
figurative, the nuances, the ironic,
the ambivalent, the handmaiden
of mysticism, a savoring of mystery:
ambiguity, the promoter of community
in our quest for meaning, our quest
beyond the univocal into a thousand
faces, a thousand voices, a thousand eyes.
13 February 1999
G. KEEPING IT IN
The novelists Iris Murdoch and Margaret Atwood say that people need secrets. They are a right and proper part of being human. The world today is obsessed with not having secrets, with letting it all hang out, with telling it all. These novelists argue that someone with no secrets is an impossibility(1). Beginning, perhaps, with St. Augustine, but certainly with the diarist Samuel Pepys in 1659-1669,(2) we find men and women who loved themselves and from a fullness of their knowledge they felt a love for others. They were curious about the world; with their eyes and ears wide open they observed the world. With a genuine and sometimes superficial gregariousness Pepys hid his secret, self-obsessed, hermetic existence, the place where he wrote for himself in such a delightfully frank way with a special zest to tell it all and with fresh observational details and a less than deep analysis. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Helen Elliott, "The Sting in the Tale," The Australian: The Review, 3 March 2001, pp.4-5 and (2) Robert Louis Stevenson, "Modern History Sourcebook," Samuel Pepys, 1886.
You can't tell it all:
that's plain to see.
Not everything can
It's better to keep it in
sometimes, the wise course,
the sensible middle,
a question of timing,
suited to the ears,
the sane line.
I've said this before.
I don't tell it all;
I keep some back,
just about all the time,
in poems and in life.
3 March 2001
The English novel is an important part of English literature. This article focuses on novels, written in English, by novelists who were born or have spent a significant part of their lives in England, or Scotland, or Wales, Northern Ireland, or Ireland before 1922. However, given the nature of the subject, this guideline has been applied with common sense, and reference is made to novels in other languages or novelists who are not primarily British where appropriate. For more on English novels go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_novel One English novelist, among the many, of personal interest was Aldous Huxley.
Aldous Leonard Huxley(1894-1963) was an English writer & a prominent member of the Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World, set in a dystopian London, The Doors of Perception, which recalls experiences when taking a psychedelic drug, and a wide-ranging output of essays. I read both these books at some time in my young adulthood, 20 to 40, 1964 to 1984. Huxley believed that mankind could and should aspire to a higher state than the one it was stuck in which, for want of a better term, and seemingly the best of all possible words was the liberal democratic society we have in the West. Many have believed, and do believe, in the necessity for a globally federated planet, not so much as ethically superior, but a practical(or impractical) necessity. The one thing that is most difficult for a free society to achieve is spiritual unity. Necessity may be the mother of invention in the decades and centuries ahead. For a fine essay on Huxley go to: http://www.clivejames.com/aldous-huxley
Literary influences came, and now come, into my life from both the social sciences and the humanities, as well as the physical, biological & applied sciences. Since my retirement from FT, PT and most volunteer work by 2006, the influences on what I write come from: the physical, biological and applied sciences much more than they did during my life as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator. Readers will find below the influences that come from literature since the end of the Middle Ages, & the beginning with the Renaissance & Reformation. For this writer, "modern" literature is the literature that arose as the Middle Ages waned, to use a term by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga(1872-1945), one of the founders of modern cultural history. Huizinga had an aesthetic approach to history, where art and spectacle played an important part. His most famous work is The Autumn of the Middle Ages, or The Waning of the Middle Ages, published in 1919. Huizinga reinterpreted the later Middle Ages as a period of pessimism and decadence rather than rebirth.
A. From The Renaissance and Reformation: 1400-1600
JACOB BURKHARDT: Influence I
When I speak of literary influences going back to 1400, and the waning of the Middle Ages, I draw on the humanities and social sciences, but not on the sciences mentioned above. The historian Jacob Burkhardt(1818-1897) was a historian of art and culture, and an influential figure in the historiography of each field. He is known as one of the major progenitors of cultural history. He published The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy in 1878. He says in his introduction that his book was an examination of "a civilization which is the mother of our own, and whose influence is still at work among us." Burkhardt went on to say in that introduction: "it is unavoidable that individual judgement and feeling should tell every moment both on the writer and on the reader. In the wide ocean upon which we venture, the possible ways and directions are many; and the same studies which have served for this work might easily, in other hands, not only receive a wholly different treatment and application, but lead also to essentially different conclusions." I include Burkhardt in the period 1400 to 1600 because his book, for which he is famous, was about that period in history.
What Burkhardt writes about influences in the above is also true of what I write here about influences on my own work. I could write of many more influences than I have below. I begin with Burkhardt whose literary context was historical and whose influence on my life and ideas began at the beginning of my traveling-pioneering life for the Canadian Baha'i community in 1964. I was at that time in an honours history and philosophy program at McMaster University in Ontario Canada. "A new fact appears in history," Burkhardt writes, "the State as the outcome of reflection and calculation, the State as a work of art. This new life displays itself in a hundred forms, both in the republican and in the despotic States, and determines their inward constitution, no less than their foreign policy." I remember well reading this book in the last months before my father died in May 1965, in the last months before I left home for the wide-wide world, travelling to over 100 towns in the decades of my life from my twenties to my fifties before retiring in 1999 and settling-down to the life of a writer and author, poet and publisher, among other literary roles.
FRANCIS BACON: Influence II
A second influence from the years 1400 to 1600 is one, Francis Bacon(1561-1626). Bacon was an English philosopher and essayist, statesman and lawyer, scientist and historian, jurist and author, theorist of experimental inquiry and prophet of organised scientific research. The Baconian hypothesis of Shakespearean authorship, was first proposed in the mid-19th century. This hypothesis contends that Sir Francis Bacon wrote some, or all, of the plays conventionally attributed to William Shakespeare. This hypothesis is in opposition to the scholarly consensus that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the author. Francis Bacon combined soaring intellectual ambition with a relentless quest for worldly advancement. The scholar who sought to reclassify the whole of human knowledge and lay the foundations for the systematic conquest of nature was also the careerist who desperately sought public office, working his way up to become James the 1’s lord chancellor, only to be brought down by his political opponents on a charge of corruption. The Oxford Francis Bacon Vol. I: Early Writings 1584-96 edited by Alan Stewart, with Harriet Knight (2012) is one of many good places to begin to understand Bacon.
Bacon's life begins in the first half-century after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, if one takes that beginning as Martin Luther and 1517. Bacon makes the following interesting observation in his Essays, published in the 1590s, when he was in his 30s, and writing at the same time Shakespeare was writing his Sonnets. Bacon, writing about his friends, made the point that it his hope that others will "draw a veil" over the "frequently unsavoury career" which he had struggled through. I found this comment of personal value because, so often in life, one has to draw a veil over the unsavoury aspects of another person, to say nothing of the unsavory aspects of one's own life. One could call this 'the sin-covering-eye' which is so essential in any community worth its name.
My mother for example writing, or perhaps it was talking, about my father a decade after he passed away, expressed her appreciation for him in spite of the tests and difficulties in their relationship. Was this love? I like to think it was; in the long run, now that they have both passed away, and after nearly 40 years, I see them as loving people, loving each other, although their relationship tested both of them to the limits many times. Relationships are complex entities, and I deal with the subject of this complexity in the psychology sub-sections of this website.
Like David Williamson(1942- ), one of Australia's best-known playwrights, who has also written screenplays and teleplays, I too worried about my father's treatment of my mother. In good times, though, I felt warm toward my father. Now, more than 50 years after his passing, I understand him, at least more than I did in 1965 when he died. It's difficult, perhaps impossible, for sons to write about their fathers without revealing a good deal about themselves. Even though my life is unlike my father's in so many ways, so full of academic, of bookish, life, the power of his character, the portrait I have drawn so easily after living with him in our family home for 21 years, gives to me a very rich and simple link with a crucial person in my life-narrative.
Bacon remained extremely influential by means of his literary works, especially as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method during the scientific revolution. Bacon has been called the creator of empiricism. His works established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method or, simply, the scientific method. For more on Bacon and his scientific method go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novum_Organum
THE INFLUENCE OF ONE'S FATHER
To continue the theme I began in the above paragraphs, I will say a few words about the Argentinian short-story writer, essayist, poet & translator, Jorge Louis Borges(1899-1986). Borges once wrote that "to an extent, the death of the father is a natural prerequisite to attainment of Selfhood." That natural prerequisite began to come into play in my life in 1965 when I was half-way through my 4 year post-secondary school education and training, the same year I left the parental nest for the wide-wide-world.
"Borges' work," wrote one commentator, "embraces the character of unreality in all literature; it was an unreality that, among other things, kept my reading, for the most part, in areas outside the novel." I found these words in a book by Francis Bacon, Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon, Lisa Jardine, Alan Stewart(Gollancz, 1998, p.524). My reading, as well, has been kept outside the novel most of my life. I estimate that I have looked at printed matter for at least 4 hours on average every day since my late childhood in the mid-1950s, some 60 years. But novels have only come into my purview for short periods of time. For more on Borges go to: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2015/jul/28/alan-pauls-history-of-money/ and to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jorge_Luis_Borges
"The mould of a man's fortune, is in his own hands. Faber quisque fortunae suae', reiterates Bacon in the essay `Of Fortune'. "However", he continued and I paraphrase: "it cannot be denied that outward accidents conduce much to fortune: wealth and poverty, lack of opportunity and opportunity, birth, death and marriage." Of all the events in Francis Bacon's colourful career, the one which did most to shape the fortunes of himself and his brother Anthony, the two surviving children of Sir Nicholas Bacon by his second marriage, was their father's sudden and unexpected death in 1579. Bacon was only 18. My father died when I was 20. For more on this subject go to:http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/j/jardine-hostage.html and to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bacon
B. From the 'Early Modern' Period 1600-1844'
JOHN KEATS: Influence I
DIMINISHED TONES AND FLATTENED EDGES
John Keats said that when he went into a room full of people he was in a very short time annihiated. This was partly why he could say he had no identity. Poetry was for him, as it was for all the romantic and post-romantic poets, largely a self-referential body of work which responded to monuments of its own magnificence as much as to personal experience.-In Australian Poetry: Romanticism and Negativity, Paul Kane, Cambridge UP, 1996, pp. 119-140.
I get the distinct feeling I have been away for awhile,
that I have disappeared in another,
that I have become this to that person
and that to this person,
the transmitter, the blender,
the manager of words.
I have been a hundred thousand people now,
a tincture of this and a touch of that
and now I want to be me;
in the deepest solitude
I want to reach the other;
with yearning’s keenest note
I want to reexperience past moments
of pause and epiphany,
to renovate and redeem
the diminished tones,
the flattened edges of existence:
with books, with nature,
with the sweetness of my own melody.
Kindling my own soul
with the dance of language,
His and mine and others;
exploring my vision
I will regenerate
through poetry’s powers,
seize the meaning of the moment
with intense imagination
and translate, as best I can,
into words that otherness
which is my soul.
I will see things afresh
in this new cosmology
and speak for others
through my world
of emotion and mind.
6 March 1999
In the 7 November 2013 edition of the New York Review of Books Richard Holmes has written a review entitled "John Keats Lives!" It is a review of two new books on Keats: The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George by Denise Gigante, and John Keats: A New Life by Nicholas Roe. Forty years ago in 1973, Holmes spent a week working at a small wooden table on a tiny ironwork balcony in Rome. The balcony was directly above the Spanish Steps. The apartment was on the second floor of 26 Piazza di Spagna. It was the apartment where John Keats died at 11 o’clock at night on February 23, 1821, with the famous injunction to his faithful companion, the painter Joseph Severn. “Severn—Severn—lift me up for I am dying—I shall die easy—don’t be frightened—thank God it has come.” For more on Keats go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Keats
SHAKESPEARE: Influence II
The Journal Animus, Vol. 15 had a series of articles about Shakespeare in 2011. Animus is an online journal which is one of the 100s of online journals now freely available; that is they are free. I open this section on Shakespeare with an article by John Baxter entitled: "George Whalley and a Way of Thinking About Shakespeare." The article opens as follows: "One of the benefits of studying or teaching Shakespeare, in addition to the endless fascination of the primary material, is the extraordinary quality of at least some of the secondary literature. Commentary grows at an alarming rate, and much of it is uneven to be sure. But a significant number of writers who were, or became, major authors in their own right honed their thinking in their attempts to come to grips with Shakespeare. In the English tradition figures such as Dr. Johnson or Samuel Taylor Coleridge come to mind. I mention the above because much of my pleasure in relation to Shakespeare comes from reading this secondary literature.
Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616, went largely unremarked by all but a few of his immediate contemporaries. There was no global shudder when his mortal remains were laid to rest in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. No one proposed that he be interred in Westminster Abbey near Chaucer or Spenser (where his fellow playwright Francis Beaumont was buried in the same year and where Ben Jonson would be buried some years later). No notice of Shakespeare’s passing was taken in the diplomatic correspondence of the time or in the newsletters that circulated on the Continent; no rush of Latin obsequies lamented the “vanishing of his breath,” as classical elegies would have it; no tributes were paid to his genius by his distinguished European contemporaries. Shakespeare’s passing was an entirely local English event, and even locally it seems scarcely to have been noted.http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/04/21/how-shakespeare-lives-now/ The death of the famous actor Richard Burbage in 1619 excited an immediate and far more widespread outburst of grief. England had clearly lost a great man. “He’s gone,” lamented at once an anonymous elegist,
and, with him, what a world are dead,
Which he revived, to be revivèd so
No more: young Hamlet, old Hieronimo,
Kind Lear, the grievèd Moor, and more beside
That lived in him have now for ever died.
William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was so stricken by the actor’s death that months later he could not bring himself to go to the playhouse “so soon after the loss of my acquaintance Burbage.” It was this death that was publicly marked by him and by his contemporaries, far more than the vanishing of the scribbler who had penned the words that Burbage had so memorably brought alive. For more articles from this same issue of Animus go to:http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/ For more on George Whalley go to this link: http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%2015/3_Baxter.pdf
Whalley was an eminent man of letters in Canada until his death in 1983. The website now dedicated to his work describes him as “a scholar, poet, naval officer and secret intelligence agent during World War II, CBC broadcaster, musician, biographer, and translator.” He taught at Queen’s University for a matter of some thirty years, 1950-80, from my early childhood to my young adulthood. Shakespeare did not come into my serious reading until the early 1990s when I taught English Literature to matriculation students for their entrance examinations to university in Western Australia.
For our immediate purposes here the most important things to note about his career are his lifelong interest in the poetry and criticism of Coleridge and his sustained engagement with Aristotle’s Poetics. The former is manifest in his biography of Coleridge and Sara Hutchinson, published in 1955, and in his editorial work on Coleridge’s Marginalia for the Princeton edition of Coleridge’s collected works (1980-2001). The latter issued in the posthumous publication of his edition of the Poetics, including translation and commentary (1997). For more go to:http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%2015/3_Baxter.pdf
THE PLAY OF FEELING AND REFLECTION
In Shakespeare's Sonnets the poet struggles to overcome existential exhaustion, & a sense of spiritual strangulation that goes far beyond amorous disappointment. Part of this exhaustion is a lust which turns into an addict's remorse and revulsion. This lust is a kind of humiliation which he would happily not have to contend with. The poet's weaknesses betray him: his lust, a fatigue that has come with age, his passions, depression. There is a sense that he is recording his life as he writes the poems, as events change, as the undercurrent of time alters, as he assembles his themes in a cycle, a majestic cumulative vision. But all is not lost, amidst these problems, this suffering, there is a dignity, a certain endurance, a high-mindedness, a love "which alters not with his brief hours." We see in these 154 sonnets "the play of feeling and reflection in things seen and felt....what every human being is forever doing in his inmost thoughts and responses."(1) -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Madeline Clark, "The Eternal Self in Shakespeare's Sonnets," The Internet, 29 September 2001.
It was this same exhaustion
that gave rise to this poetic(1)
with all its force in that holy year,
that auspicious juncture in the
history of this Cause back in '92.
I struggle, too, William,
a battle not unlike your own.
I have become, like you:
shy of involvement,
as I try to write
in these several epochs
of a dark heart of an age of transition
when a tempest blew,
a quickening wind
and a new Order began
to slowly radiate and crystallize.(3)
(1) In the winter of 1992 I began to write a great deal of poetry, having exhausted myself on several fronts.
(2) Anthony Burgess, The Listener, April 23, 1964.
(3) The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1992.
1/10/'01 to 30/7/'14.
It is not surprising that this new collection of essays about 'Shakespeare-On-Film' has appeared. The editors, Mark Thornton Burnett & Ramona Wray, introduce the book Shakespeare, Film, Fin de Siècle(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000. 250 pages) by describing what seems to be an increasing number of films of Shakespeare's plays; indeed this book itself reflects the current vogue in the subject, arriving after a recent spate of collections, including Anthony Davies & Stanley Wells's Shakespeare and the Moving Image,1994, Lynda Boose & Richard Burt's Shakespeare: The Movie, 1997, Robert Shaughnessy's Shakespeare on Film: A Casebook, 1998, and anticipating Russell Jackson's Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, 2000. It seems that the Shakespeare on screen industry belongs as much to Eng. Lit. as it does to Hollywood. However, as Richard Burt, in the last chapter of the volume, succinctly puts it, there seems to be a growing gap between Shakespeare films and Shakespeare scholarship: "mass culture narratives rely on dated scholarship: they view the writings as timeless monuments, as literary texts in which Shakespeare was working toward a final draft, rather than as thriving, continuing sites of cultural production and revision".
For more on this subject go to "Shakespeare on Screen" in Early Modern Literary Studies(V6,N1, Special Issue 5, May, 2000): https://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/06-1/cartrev.htm .....For a review by Stanley Wells "Shakespeare and the Struggle for Power" in The New York Review of Books(19/3/'15) of a new book: Making Make-Believe Real: Politics as Theater in Shakespeare’s Time by Garry Wills(Yale University Press, 400 pages) go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/mar/19/shakespeare-and-struggle-power/?insrc=toc ....Stephen Greenblatt's lecture on Shakespeare given in Tehran in 2015 is discussed in The New York Review of Books(3/4/'15) at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/apr/02/shakespeare-in-tehran/
BEN JONSON: Influence III
Ben Jonson(1572-1637) was one of the most versatile and productive of all English men of letters. Twenty-five years ago, on 25/2/'89, Caryn James reviewed a new biography of Jonson in The New YorkTimes: Ben Jonson A Life by David Riggs(400 pages, Harvard University Press). At the time, I was 45 and had just started lecturing at what is now a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia. My reading life in English literature had been sparse indeed. I have made up for this dearth in the last 25 years, but only to a limited extent. As a generalist, as I often say at this website, my reading has been over a wide range of disciplines but not really deep in any one.
In his own day, Jonson was as famous as his friendly rival, Shakespeare. Ben Jonson was perhaps the most distinctive authorial signature in the English Renaissance. The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries to the early 17th century, say, 1485 to 1640. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that is usually regarded as beginning in Italy in the late 14th century. Like most of northern Europe, England saw little of these developments until more than a century later. The beginning of the English Renaissance is often taken, as a convenience, to be 1485, when the Battle of Bosworth Field ended the Wars of the Roses and inaugurated the Tudor Dynasty. Renaissance style and ideas, however, were slow to penetrate England, and the Elizabethan era in the second half of the 16th century is usually regarded as the height of the English Renaissance.
Jonson was a man who orchestrated his career with incomparable ingenuity. A bricklayer's apprentice and a failed actor, Jonson was imprisoned three times before he was 35: twice for writing plays offensive to the crown, once for murder. His convictions bred a rooted dislike for the emerging Protestant cult of sincerity. From Jonson's standpoint, anyone who claimed to speak directly from the heart was bound to be a hypocrite. He was also one of the most colorful figures of his time, as many-sided and complex a character as, later, were Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. A slightly younger contemporary, friend, and rival of Shakespeare, he wrote in a far wider range of genres. He is best known today for a handful of lyrics, most famously those beginning “Drink to me only with thine eyes” and “Have you seen but a white lily grow?” He is also famous for the two great satirical comedies Volpone (circa 1605) and The Alchemist (1610).
He also wrote a couple of ambitious Roman tragedies, a pastoral play, numerous court masques and other formal entertainments, epigrams and other poems of many different kinds, both secular and religious. He made many translations, wrote an English grammar, and an illuminating commonplace book known as Timber, or Discoveries. His racy conversations with the Scottish poet and landowner William Drummond of Hawthornden during an extended visit to Scotland were respectfully recorded by his host and provide a rich fund of literary and other gossip.
Jonson was a scholar & a product (like William Shakespeare) of a grammar school education that he received at Westminster School in London. Here he grew up; he was also an autodidact who acquired at least a working knowledge of French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Italian. He went on reading and learning throughout his life and was awarded honorary degrees. For more on Jonson go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Jonson
SAMUEL JOHNSON: INFLUENCE IV
"Most literary criticism is ephemeral", wrote Colin Burrow, a senior research fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. "It's too good for wrapping up chips but not worth binding, keeping, annotating or editing," Burrow continued; "very little English literary criticism has lasted as long or worn as well as Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. It shaped the canon of English poetry and set the terms for critical discussion of Donne, Milton, Dryden, Swift and Pope over at least two centuries." For several reviews of Johnson go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/search?q=Samuel+Johnson
On the eve of Johnson’s 300th birthday in 2009, celebrated six years ago, two new biographies: Peter Martin’s Samuel Johnson: A Biography and Jeffrey Meyers’s Samuel Johnson: The Struggle, remind us how rich was Johnson's biographer James Boswell’s raw material. Both authors contrast Johnson’s abject youth with his adult fame, his physical awkwardness with his conversational fluency, his self-diagnosed “indolence” with his superhuman literary output. Both feature a politically correct hero who opposed slavery, protected animals & encouraged women writers. Both give short shrift to political issues that might bore 21st-century readers, such as Johnson’s Jacobite sympathies. Some issues might indeed repel some readers, such as his attacks on republicanism and religious dissent.
No one who had ever seen Samuel Johnson in his infancy, as the 19th century novelist Jane Austen might have put it, would have predicted that he would interest a biographer. The son of an obscure provincial bookseller, Johnson was precociously learned but otherwise a late bloomer. After leaving Oxford without a degree and marrying a widow 20 years older than himself, he tried, disastrously, to start a school. Ungainly, scrofulous, & afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, Johnson provided the same easy target for schoolboys that he later would for caricaturists.
According to Boswell’s summary of the testimony of one of the few pupils who showed up, the future actor David Garrick, “his oddities of manner and uncouth gesticulations” made him “the subject of merriment. . . . The young rogues used to listen at the door of his bed-chamber, and peep through the keyhole, that they might turn into ridicule his tumultuous and awkward fondness for Mrs. Johnson.” It was not the last time that his sexual tastes would become a subject for speculation. For more of this review of these two biographies go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/books/review/Price-t.html?pagewanted=all
JAMES BOSWELL: INFLUENCE V
James Boswell(1740-1795) was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson, which the modern Johnsonian critic Harold Bloom has claimed is the greatest biography written in the English language. Being a writer and author, a diarist with a long history of writing mini-biogrpahies and currently working on three major biographical works at this link:http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Babi.html ---the name of James Boswell has come to be of particular interest especially in these early years of the 21st century. The surname Boswell has passed into the English language as a term, a term using the following words: Boswell, Boswellian, Boswellism---for a constant companion and observer. The term is especially used for someone who records their observations in print. In A Scandal in Bohemia, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes affectionately says of Dr. Watson, who narrates the tales, "I am lost without my Boswell."
In his mid-to-late teens Boswell suffered a serious depression and nervous illness, He, like I at a similar period in my life, overcame or grew out of this illness. His first diaries and correspondence come from the 1760s and have been compiled into two books Boswell in Holland and Boswell on the Grand Tour. My first diaries come from my 40s and 50s and an introduction to them can be found at:http://www.my-diary.org/read/d/465760 For more on Boswell go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Boswell
1. JOHN MILTON: STILL A NON-INFLUENCE
In a review of three new books about the life and work of the poet John Milton(1608-1674), readers like myself are encouraged to begin their study of Milton with the retrospective volume of Poems which I have cited below. Why begin here, you might ask? The answer given by Colin Burrow is that these poems show not Milton the turgid scholar, or Milton the sage and serious defender of republican learning, or Milton the achieved polymath, or Milton the heretical crank. This book and these poems show Milton in the making. In this volume you can hear the swirl of literary influences running through his mind, says Burrow. At this point Milton is willing to ravish the senses rather than simply to suspect them. In Young Milton, William Poole describes the 1645 volume as ‘a curious cacophony of radical and conservative voices, anxious to promote both his precocity and prophecy’. That seems exactly right, writes Burrow. In this volume potentiality exceeds certainty, and that is what makes the book 'exciting'. It is also one of the most vivid witnesses to the processes of deliberation and interior dialogue by which poets become poets.
Such are the views of Colin Burrow, Senior Research Fellow at Cambridge University. Burrow was a Senior Lecturer (1987-2003), and then Reader in Renaissance and Comparative Literature (2003-6). Then he became a Fellow (now Emeritus) at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, from 1987 to 2006. As I head into my 70s in July 2014, I have still not had a good bite of the literary cherry that is the oeuvre of this famous poet. John Milton(1608-1674) was an English poet, polemicist, man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell.
Milton wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). For a review of three books which only came onto the market in the last two years go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n05/colin-burrow/shall-i-go-on The review appears in the London Review of Books, Vol. 35 No. 5, March 2013. "Shall I go on?" is the title of this review by Colin Burrow.
Burrow reviews: (i) The Complete Works of John Milton. Vol. VIII: De Doctrina Christiana edited by John Hale and J. Donald Cullington(Oxford, 1300 pages, 2012); (ii) Young Milton: The Emerging Author, 1620-42 edited by Edward Jones(Oxford, 350 pages, 2012), and (iii) The Complete Works of John Milton, Vol. III: The Shorter Poems edited by Barbara Lewalski and Estelle Haan(Oxford, 350 pages, 2012). Milton belonged to the first generation of English poets who could have owned collected editions of the works of: Chaucer, Spenser, Jonson and Shakespeare. He wrote a dedicatory poem for the Second Folio of Shakespeare’s works. For poets learning their craft in the 1620s and 1630s, distinct poetic styles were associated with names on the spines of big books. For more on Milton go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Milton
2. JANE AUSTEN: SADLY, ANOTHER NON-INFLUENCE
Although the term was coined decades after her death, Jane Austen was and is nothing if not a celebrity. Her novels, which sharply and cleverly depict British society in the beginning of the nineteenth century, continue to resonate with audiences around the world and remain as fresh, relevant, and insightful as they were when they were written. Austen's unique ability to examine and scrutinize human thoughts, feelings, and interactions has made her a Hollywood favorite, and numerous film and television adaptations have been based on her novels. In addition, recent years have seen an ever-growing trend of productions that reference and interact with Austen's texts and characters. Back in the early 1990s Austen's Emma was on the curriculum but, tried as I might, I could not appreciate the writing of an author who has been loved by millions in the last 200 years. It seems that the major challenge facing filmmakers adapting Austen to the screen is the demand to bring her universal topics into a relevant, modern, and also commercially appealing context. I had the same challenge as a teacher of Austen's work.
Emeritus Professor of English, Jocelyn Harris, who has had more than a little experience teaching Jane Austen among other writers, argues that successful cinematic versions of novels cannot be a translation, but must be an imitation that "copies the essence of the text but at a distance." Harris claims that it is the difference, rather than the sameness, between the source and the "remake" that needs to be highlighted. Selling Jane Austen to a modern audience in film, or students in a classroom, is a tricky job.
Austen's novels continue to be read and adored by millions around the world, and historically accurate film adaptations of her works continue to find success. But teachers like myself, as well as screenwriters & filmmakers, who want to bring Austen into the lives of others have a tough job. I did not just want my students to be mere readers, mere spectators, but I wanted them to be participants who could care and relate to the characters. Amy Heckerling understood where Jane Austen was coming from and adapted her spirit of cultural critique into pop culture with a familiar, contemporary environment and a heroine that takes us on an ironic and hilarious journey of disillusionment and self-discovery. For a u-tube item on Austen go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIYiThAyY8s&feature=em-subs_digest
Cinematic techniques help Clueless push Austen's storyline and its essence further, both as a social satire of our times and as a quest for a better self. We root for Cher as we do for Emma, but ultimately it is the modern heroine that garners more appreciation since the film, unlike the novel, is able to place us inside her head as she transforms. Claims regarding Cher's conservatism and adherence to old-fashioned, male dominated values are to be examined, as I have discussed, within the context of Cher's social environment, popularity status and in light of the final destination on her journey -- which is undeniably a positive and an inspirational one. For more of an excellent essay "Make Me Over: Emma's Social Rules of Engagement: Revisited & Revised in Amy Heckerling's Clueless" in Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (Fall 2013, Volume 12, Issue 2) go to: http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2013/contents.htm
3. MIGUEL DE CERVANTES: TO BE READ ONE DAY
Don Quixote, fully titled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It follows the adventures of a nameless hidalgo (at the end of Part II given the name Alonso Quixano) who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote's rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it is, and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story. The story implements various themes, such as intertextuality, realism, metatheatre, and literary representation. Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered one of the most influential works of literature from the Spanish Golden Age & the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature and one of the earliestcanonical novels, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, such as the Bokklubben World Library collection which citesDon Quixote as authors' choice for the "best literary work ever written". For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Quixote
The history of literature in the Modern period in Europe begins, in yet another sense of the modern, with the Age of Enlightenment & the conclusion of the Baroque period in the 18th century, succeeding the Renaissance & Early Modern periods. In the classical literary cultures outside of Europe, as I mentioned above, the Modern period begins later, in Ottoman Turkey with the Tanzimat reforms (1820s), in Qajar Persia under Nasser al-Din Shah (1830s), the century is also synonymous with end of the Mughal era and the establishment of the British Raj (1850s) in India, in Japan with the Meiji restoration (1860s), in China with the New Culture Movement (1910s). For a detailed outline of the following contents, the following stages, of modern literature go to this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_modern_literature
1 18th century
2 19th century
2.1 The early part of the century
2.2 The middle of the century
2.3 The late 19th century
3 20th century
3.1.1 Modernist poetry
3.1.2 Modernist prose
3.2 Structuralism, Deconstruction, Poststructuralism, Postmodernism and Post-Colonialism
3.3 Hypertext fiction
5 By region
THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY
For an excellent overview of the entire 19th century in poetry go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:19th-century_poets
Ever since P. B. Shelley and William Hazlitt labeled the romantic poet “the spirit of the age,” we’ve liked to pose narratives of poetic history in terms of influential, often competing titans. This has been true from the assorted Ages of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton all the way up through Hugh Kenner’s Pound Era and Harold Bloom’s declaration of the “Age of Ashbery.” It’s also a convention, at least for some, that a book called The Age of Auden seems clearly to participate in this label of "Ages." It’s an admittedly artificial, simplifying device through which the inconvenient sprawl of history can be domesticated by some scholarly rage for order. And there are plenty of other useful ways we might organize our critical accounts of poetry’s past—around scenes or networks, around cultural or technological turning points, around ideas rather than people. These 'people', and these contexts, are almost invariably male.
To define the post-WW2 moment as “The Age of Auden” is not, from my point of view, to reject or ignore the indisputable Stevensian, or Poundian, legacy in American poetry. It is, rather, to offer a corrective to familiar critical narratives that take the Pound/Stevens binary to be the essential dialectic in the development of postwar poetry. It’s also a renewed engagement with an old debate about the role of émigré artists like Auden in mid-century American culture. For more on this theme go to: "The Anxiety of Ages: Stevens and Auden," by Aidan Wasley in the Wallace Stevens Journal, Volume 37, Number 2, Fall 2013.
P.B. SHELLEY and RICHARD HOLMES
Richard Holmes(1945-) is a British author & academic best known for his biographical studies of major figures of British and French Romanticism. "A Quest for the Real Coleridge" by Richard Holmes is an article in The New York Review of Books on 18/12/'14. Holmes wrote a biography of Shelley, some 800 pages, published in 1974. Holmes's major works of Romantic biography include: Shelley: The Pursuit which won him the Somerset Maugham Award in 1974; Coleridge: Early Visions, which won him the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year Prize (now the Costa Book Awards); Coleridge: Darker Reflections(1998), the second and final volume of his Coleridge biography which won the Duff Cooper Prize & the Heinemann Award; and Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage, concerning the friendship between eighteenth-century British literary figures Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage, which won the James Tait Black Prize.
Holmes writes: "By the time I had finished my eight-hundred-page biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1974, I was nearly thirty. I had traveled in France, Switzerland, and Italy in search of my fiery, footloose poet. I felt like a veteran after a long campaign in the field. I felt grizzled, anecdotal, displaced. Moreover I had returned with two conclusions about writing biography that were certainly not taught in academia. The first conclusion was what I called 'the footsteps principle'.
I had come to believe that the serious biographer must physically pursue his subject through the past. Mere archives were not enough. He must go to all the places where the subject had ever lived or worked, or traveled or dreamed. Not just the birthplace, or the blue-plaque place, but the temporary places, the passing places, the lost places, the dream places." For more of this commentary on the subject of biography by a famous biographer go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/18/quest-real-coleridge/?insrc=toc
None of these biographies had been on my radar, not in 1974 & not in 1998. During those years I taught some 90 different syllabi in post-secondary universities and colleges. I had been, and I still am, a generalist. During those years, that quarter of a century, I had never been able to get my teeth into any one subject. Unlike the PhD scholar who comes to know more and more about less and less, I had come to know less and less about more and more. Even now, as I go through my 70s, I am still the generalist I was all those years, as well as in the quarter century before 1974 going back to 1949. Due to my wide-ranging interests I have had to make extensive use of book reviews and commentaries, like the one above.
MARY SHELLEY AND FRANKENSTEIN
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley(1797-1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. For more on Shelley go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Shelley The following article in the Journal of Baha'i Studies (V. 9, N. 4, 1999) describes Mary Shelley’s depiction of a complex spiritual malaise in Frankenstein (1818). Shelley connects this malaise with Bahá’u’lláh’s definition in His Kitáb-i-Íqán of the oppression experienced at the end of a reigning spiritual dispensation by the soul who seeks God but does not know where to look. The article examines the spiritual oppression of the over-ambitious Victor Frankenstein, who strives for godlike power, and the oppression of his self-denigrating creature, whose sense of monstrous difference prevents him from finding his place in the world, The article also explores the influence of Shelley’s novel on two well-known contemporary critics, Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva, whose theories describe contemporary versions of the spiritual responses of Victor & his creature. Finally, the article uses the above analyses to cast a fresh light on the new emphasis on the feminine and maternal qualities of the Manifestation in the Bahá’í Revelation. For more go to: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/9.4-Sternberg-Perrakis.pdf
Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon(Hutchinson, 650 pages) has now been reviewed in several places. "There were high hopes for the son of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, the grandson of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, but the boy told his mother that all he wanted was a quiet life and a sailing boat. She wasn’t wholly disappointed at his failure to distinguish himself. When it was suggested at school that he needed to learn to think for himself, Mary Shelley said: ‘Oh God, teach him to think like other people!’This is a review in the London Review of Books(8/10/15). I leave it to readers to read more about this book.
Victor Hugo(1802-1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. He is considered one of the greatest and best known French writers. In France, Hugo's literary fame comes first from his poetry but also rests upon his novels and his dramatic achievements. Among many volumes of poetry, Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles stand particularly high in critical esteem. Outside France, his best-known works are the acclaimed novels Les Misérables, 1862, and Notre-Dame de Paris, 1831 (known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame). He also produced more than 4,000 drawings, which have since been admired for their beauty, and earned widespread respect as a campaigner for social causes such as the abolition ofthe death penalty. For more on Hugo go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Hugo#Published_during_Hugo.27s_lifetime
Gustave Flaubert(1821-1880) was an influential French writer widely considered one of the greatest novelists in Western literature. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), for his Correspondence(1830-1880), and for a scrupulous devotion to his style & aesthetics. My interest in Flaubert began when I learned of his zealous, his religious, devotion to his work; it was a model, in some ways, of artistic dedication. I have never been, nor will I ever be, in his literary league for several reasons. His industriousness, perhaps obsessiveness, made him work 18 hours a day on his writing. His passion for finding "le mot juste" has been an inspiration to those eager to apprentice themselves to the demanding muse of fiction. That is not an apprenticeship I took-up. The inner landscape of his conflicted soul and, as he got older, his permanent desire to be dead interested me, having had to deal with the death wish as part of my bi-polar disorder for more than 50 years. His quiet introspection, which often went on for days, became of special interest to me as I headed through my 70s after 15 years of an early retirement and taking a sea-change. I had tired of the workaday world by 1999, by the age of 55 after a 50 years student-and-employment life: 1949 to 1999. My death wish was not an obsession nor was the subject of death as it apparently was to the great German writer Thomas Mann. This was due, in part and probably significantly, to the medications I took by my 60s for bipolar disorder.
‘What a bitch of a thing prose is!’ Flaubert complained in a letter to Louise Colet while at work on Madame Bovary. ‘It is never finished; there is always something to be done over.’ He was fanatical in his search for a style that, as he put it in another letter, was as ‘rhythmic as verse, precise as the language of the sciences, undulant, deep-voiced as a cello, tipped with a flame’. Of the three books that Gustave Flaubert was able to write only after a lengthy cohabitation with his sources, Bouvard et Pécuchet is, for many, the most approachable. The other two are exhibition pieces, admirable for their form but keeping their distance, full as they are of the rare knowledge he had come to by his reading. A great deal of my writing is also the result of my reading, another reason for my interest in Flaubert.
In La Tentation de Saint Antoine, the desert-dwelling anchorite of that name – an antisocial paragon to whom Flaubert felt sufficiently drawn to go on writing and rewriting the book for thirty years – endures a punishing series of night-time intrusions from various biblical, classical and other phantasmal interlocutors, until the sun comes up and the saint can go back to his solitary prayers. In Salammbô, a novel set in Carthage in the third century BC, Flaubert re-creates the décor of the city, its mores and its bloody goings-on so attentively that the setting comes to seem the main reason for the book’s existence. When the great critic of the day, Sainte-Beuve, faulted it for historical implausibilities, he received a surprisingly temperate ticking-off from its author, who quoted the scholarly authorities he had relied on to demonstrate that he knew more and better about Hamilcar’s home-town than did his dilettante critic.
"How do you write the life of someone for whom Life meant nothing and Art everything?" writes Christopher Prendergast in his review of Flaubert: A Life by Geoffrey Wall in the London Review of Books in 2001. For a review of Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert(translated by Mark Polizzotti, Dalkey Archive, 300 pages, 2006), and Flaubert: A Life by Frederick Brown(Heinemann, 650 pages, 2006) go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n17/john-sturrock/how-stupid-people-are For more on Flaubert go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n17/john-sturrock/how-stupid-people-are, and to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Flaubert
Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis(Penguin, 350 pages, 2010) was reviewed in The New York Times on 30/11/'10. The review begins: "Poor Emma Bovary. She will never escape the tyranny of her desires, never avoid the anguish into which her romantic conceits deliver her, never claim the oblivion she sought from what is perhaps the most excruciating slow suicide ever written. Her place in the literary canon is assured; she cannot be eclipsed by another tragic heroine. Instead, each day she will be resurrected by countless readers who will agonize over the misery she brings herself and everyone around her and wonder at Flaubert’s ability to, godlike, summon life from words on a page." The review continues:
The power of “Madame Bovary” stems from Flaubert’s determination to render each object of his scrutiny exactly as it looks, or sounds or smells or feels or tastes. Not his talent to do so, that would not have been enough, but his determination, which he never relaxed. “Madame Bovary” advanced slowly, as slowly as it would have to have, given an author who held himself accountable to each word, that it be the right word, of which there could be only one. “A good sentence in prose,” he wrote, “should be like a good line in poetry, unchangeable.” For more go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/books/review/Harrison-t.html?pagewanted=all
THE MODERN SENSIBILITY
Matthew Arnold(1822-1888) was the first Professor of Poetry at Oxford to deliver his lectures in English. His 1867 poem "Dover Beach" depicted a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have receded. It is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first, example of the modern sensibility. Some consider Arnold to be the bridge between Romanticism and Modernism in literature. His use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era, while his skeptical and pessimistic perspective was typical of the Modern era. The rationalistic tendency of certain of his writings gave offence to many readers, and the sufficiency of his equipment in scholarship for dealing with some of the subjects which he handled was called in question, but he undoubtedly exercised a stimulating influence on his time. The mood of Arnold’s poetry tends to be of plaintive reflection, and he is restrained in expressing emotion. He felt that poetry should be the 'criticism of life' and express a philosophy. Arnold's philosophy is that true happiness comes from within, and that people should seek within themselves for good, while being resigned in acceptance of outward things and avoiding the pointless turmoil of the world. There is much in Arnold's approach to poetry that is also mine.
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement in the arts, its set of cultural tendencies and associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th & early 20th centuries. In particular the development of modern industrial societies & the rapid growth of cities, followed by the horror of World War I, were among the factors that shaped Modernism. Related terms are: modern, modernist, contemporary, and postmodern.
In art, Modernism explicitly rejects the ideology of realism, & makes use of the works of the past, through the application of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody in new forms. Modernism also rejects the lingering certainty of Enlightenment thinking, as well as the idea of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator. In general, the term modernism encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the "traditional" forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world.
The poet Ezra Pound's 1934 injunction to "Make it new!" was paradigmatic of the movement's approach towards the obsolete. Another paradigmatic exhortation was articulated by philosopher and composer Theodor Adorno, who, in the 1940s, challenged conventional surface coherence, and appearance of harmony typical of the rationality of Enlightenment thinking. A salient characteristic of modernism is self-consciousness. This self-consciousness often led to experiments with form; it also led to work that drew attention to the processes and materials used, as well as to the further tendency of abstraction. For more discussion on modernism go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernism
MODERN, CONTEMPORARY, AND POSTMODERN LITERATURE
Although these terms: modern, contemporary and postmodern---are most applicable to Western literary history, the rise of globalization since, say, the 1960s, has allowed European literary ideas to spread into non-Western cultures fairly rapidly. The result is that Asian and African literatures can be included into these divisions with only minor qualifications. In some aspects of literature in the last half-century, 1963 to 2013, such as in Postcolonial literature, writers from non-Western cultures have been at the forefront of literary development.
Technological advances during the 20th century allowed cheaper production of books, resulting in a significant rise in production of popular literature and trivial literature, comparable to the development in music. The division of "popular literature" and "high literature" in the 20th century is by no means absolute, and various genres such as detective-fiction or science-fiction fluctuate between the two. Largely ignored by mainstream literary criticism for the most of the century, these genres developed their own establishments and critical awards; these include the Nebula Award (since 1965), the British Fantasy Award (since 1971), or the Mythopoeic Awards (since 1971).
Towards the end of the 20th century, electronic literature developed as a genre due to the development of hypertext and later the world wide web. The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded annually throughout the century, with the exception of: 1914, 1918, 1935 and 1940–1943), the first laureate (1901) being Sully Prudhomme. The New York Times Best Seller list has been published since 1942. I encourage readers to Google to their hearts' content if they want to get more detailed overviews of literature in the last century to century-and-a-half, say, 1863 to 2014.
VIRGINIA WOOLF AND MODERNISM
Part of the dominant centre of modernist fiction is epistemological. Modernist novels ask epistemological questions such as: How can I interpret this world of which I am a part? And what am I in it? The search for answers to this type of question, which is part of the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, is one of the hallmarks of modernism. For the modernists, the center: the Christocentric, Eurocentric, western-centered---Centre---notoriously did not hold. For those born, arguably, from the 1950s onward, whoever and whatever the generations we are discussing are, there is no recollection of a center and nothing to miss, let alone mourn.
Virginia Woolf(1882-1941) was an English writer and one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. Hers was a worn-out world, a world that “hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, / nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain.”(1) There was, though, a seemingly inexhaustible energy available in artistic creation that worked, for her, as a transfusion of life-blood. It was in and through art that Woolf found solace, solace from modern life. She was able to stave-off despair in a life that was too fast and too alienating, for her. In the end, though, that energy dried-up and she committed suicide. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach.” Mathew Arnold, editors Miriam Allott and Robert H. Super, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1986 in Benjamin D. Carson, Darkness Beyond the Lighthouse: Virginia Woolf, Charles Baudelaire, and Literary Modernism, Nebula, Vol. 2, No.3, September 2005.
We perish, each alone, in
the midst of a universe in
which all solids melt into
air and all that is holy is
the word, art, the eternal
and immovable moments
that are fleeting-Virginia.
You became your own
king, priest and God, &
finding the world all in
scraps & fragments, you
raised your pen & forged
more of the immovable &
eternal from this transient-
which had for you no meta
or grand-narrative as the sea
ate the ground you stood on.
Your world of bottomlessness
morality in which foundations
for religion & ethics, integrity
of governments, the self, and
redemptive culture was being
called into question. No truth-
centre existed, nothing which
one could believe, something
which would quell pervasive
anxiety and bring order out of
chaos was needed…The great
revelation had never come, or
so you thought; perhaps there
never was any great revelation,
or so you thought. Instead.......
there were little daily miracles, and
matches struck, the unexpected
illuminations in the dark. A desire
for unity, to make something whole
out of the fragments, life’s separate
incidents, to make something that
would endure to triumph over life.
A vision had to be perpetually remade
or you would have a feeling that nothing
mattered, and an anxiety would come with
nothing to base a vision, art, a centre which
held: meaning, purpose.
31 May 2012
ESSAYS ON VICTORIAN LITERATURE
“With regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it.” Aristotle’s famous & stringent words in the Nichomachean Ethics come decisively to mind as a tribute to David J. DeLaura(1930-2005). DeLaura authored some of the most important critical essays ever written on Victorian literature and cultural history. Remarkably, while still an assistant professor in the early 1960s, David was awarded the first annual William R. Parker prize for the year’s outstanding contribution to the premier journal in the field of literary studies, PMLA, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. It publishes scholarly articles on language and literature.
This was his 1964 study of “Arnold and Carlyle.” In 1964 I was a student in the second year of an honours History & Philosophy course at McMaster University in Hamilton. I did not come to a study of literature until the 1970s and have now been a student of the field for 40 years: 1974 to 2014. I am not a specialist, though; all my studies from primary school, through university, and then as a lecturer and teacher was across a wide range of the arts and sciences. Over the years there followed, from DeLaura's pen, a succession of groundbreaking articles and book-chapters including, “’The Ache of Modernism’ in Hardy’s Later Novels” (1967), “Ishmael as Prophet: Heroes and Hero-Worship and the Self-Expressive Basis of Carlyle’s Art” (1969), and “Matthew Arnold and the Nightmare of History” (1972). David began to examine, later in his career, the connections between the concept of Bildung in German Romanticism & Victorian ideas of culture. He wrote prolifically on this subject as in “Heroic Egotism & the Fortunes of Bildung in Victorian England” (1984), all the while maintaining his elegant scholarship on the intellectual and biographical contexts that shaped the themes, conflicts, nuances, and even the vocabulary of 19th-century literature. It is a great misfortune that David never collected his immensely influential essays since they continue to be powerful and illuminating resources. For more on this fine writer and thinker go to: http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2005-2006/memorials/delaura/delaura.html
New Modernist Studies is an interdisciplinary, cultural studies-inflected approach to modernist literature dating from 1994 with the founding of the journal Modernism/modernity and the inaugural Modernist Studies Association (MSA) Conference in 1999. The journal’s inaugural issue announced an interdisciplinary editorial approach grounded in modernists’ insistence that "changes in the arts be viewed in conjunction with changes in philosophy, historiography, and social theory, to say nothing of the scientific shifts that they claimed as part of their moment's cultural revolution" The MSA Conference, which took place just as I was retiring from a 50 year student and paid employment life, crystallized this approach by expanding the canon, addressing issues of class, gender, sexuality, race, and empire, and emphasizing technology and new media. Jessica Pressman’s Digital Modernism: Making It New in New Media seems to fit in because it reshapes modernism in light of digital culture and dovetails with the latest New Modernist criticism, which has expanded the traditional historical and geographical boundaries of what is considered to be "modernist." Ultimately, the Foreword’s feisty pugilism, like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, dares you to make their day by claiming that Pressman does not subscribe to the policies of canonical, temporal, and spatial expansionism under two decades of New Modernist Studies. For more go to: http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/9/1/000207/000207.html
Do the good, the true, and the beautiful exist as universals applicable to all times and places? If so, are they philosophically knowable as such, and potentially accessible to all persons through the media of spoken and written communication? Or do these designations represent merely the arbitrary and subjective assertions of competing individuals and groups? In older Western thought, both classical and Christian, such universals not only were recognized as real but were seen as the object of any education—and any human life—worthy of the name. The Enlightenment thought of the eighteenth century, though in many ways a rebellion against the older traditions, also centered on the existence of universal truths that could be discovered through human rationality.
Yet in the humanities departments of contemporary American academia and academia in many other parts of the world—and in contemporary culture at large—an increasingly influential school of thought asserts that universality does not exist. If it does exist, it is unknowable and therefore useless as a guide to human life and learning. In their "cultural studies" classes, the proponents of this worldview preach what they call "antifoundationalism" or "postmodernism." They are antifoundationalists because they deny the existence of any reality or truth beyond the individual that can serve as a foundation or common ground for resolving competing knowledge claims. They are postmodernists because they reject the various forms of foundationalism that are characteristic of modern and pre-modern thought. For more on this topic or theme go to:http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/jb11-2.htm
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS PROSE
How to present, in language, the shimmering, ever-shifting life of a place? The most obvious means, the documentary film, has its limitations: the filmmaker can record hours of visual imagery, he can interview subjects, and we can overhear subjects speaking, but we cannot hear their inner voices, and we cannot see the world inside their heads. A kaleidoscope of fascinating and “authentic” images can pass before our eyes as viewers, but we can’t interpret these images through the prism of consciousness, with its myriad histories, that is the soul of a place. We are forever viewers, voyeurs.
Only an assiduously calibrated work of art, of the ambition and artistry of James Joyce’s Ulysses, for instance, can take us beyond the dazzling and distracting surface, into the mysterious region in which place and personality bond: that region in which those born to a place are irremediably defined by it, and might be said to be its offspring. In Ulysses, inside Leopold Bloom’s ferociously buzzing head, we experience the “Hibernian Metropolis” of midday Dublin in a way no mere tourist could.
Zadie Smith has a new novel, NW. It is an assiduously detailed evocation of the multicultural neighborhood of Willesden in northwestern London where, in 1975, she was born and where she now lives for part of the year. Zadie Smith’s NW is a boldly Joycean appropriation, fortunately not so difficult of entry as its great model. In NW you will find what is called “stream-of-consciousness” prose in which the reader is privy to the meandering thoughts of a white resident of Willesden, Leah Hanwell, who’d grown up there. There are snatches of overheard conversation, represented in reduced type, as well as prose-poems.
Stream of consciousness is a phrase used to describe a narrative device used in literature "to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind. Another phrase for it is 'interior monologue'. The term "Stream of Consciousness" was coined by philosopher and psychologist William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890): consciousness, then, does not appear to itself as chopped up in bits ... it is nothing joined; it flows. A 'river' or a 'stream' are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. in talking of it hereafter, lets call it the stream of thought, consciousness, or subjective life.
In literary criticism, stream of consciousness is a narrative mode that seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her actions. Stream-of-consciousness writing is usually regarded as a special form of interior monologue and is characterized by associative leaps in thought and lack of punctuation. Stream of consciousness and interior monologue are distinguished from dramatic monologue and soliloquy, where the speaker is addressing an audience or a third person, which are chiefly used in poetry or drama. In stream of consciousness the speaker's thought processes are more often depicted as overheard in the mind (or addressed to oneself); it is primarily a fictional device.
Literary influences from the 'Modern Stage 1: 1844-1921'
EMILY BONTE: Influence I
GRADUALLY AND HALTINGLY
From 1837 to 1848 Emily Bronte, the author of the famous novel Wuthering Heights, wrote a collection of poetry known as 'the Gondal Poems.' These poems were peopled with heroes and heroines. They tell of the life of the imagination, the place of her retreat. These poems were a hymn to the imagination, to her private world. It was a world where she expressed a vision of the essential oneness of life. It was a vision, too, that came to find its apotheosis in Wuthering Heights. It was a vision gradually and haltingly articulated of a radiant world "marred by her growing awareness of humanity's misery." These years were a decade, for Bronte, in which the unity of the individual with the universe formed the basis for her intuitive sense of humankind's oneness. -Ron Price with thanks to Winifred Gerin, Emily Bronte, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, pp.144-154.
Your vision, too, was one of death
to which we all advanced
with those wild-eyed charioteers,
our day-to-day hours,
drawing us to be with those we love,
undivided, all and only one--beyond the veil,
where finally our sleep was lifted in eternity.
Your vision, too, brooding as it was
on the nature of things,
had a converse with angels,
holy, heavenly, surely a leaven
that leavened your world of being
and furnished the power
through which your art
and its wonders were manifested.1
1 due in part, at least, to the new forces emerging in the world in the 1840s. Perhaps Bronte experienced what the Bab had prayed for during these years; namely, for that which will bring comfort to their minds, will rejoice their inner beings, will impart assurance to their hearts.(The Bab, Selections, 1976 p.179.)
1 there is no question, too, of the great power released into the world in the 1840s: all the world's which the Almighty hath created benefited through the power released by the Babi martyrs of the 1840s.(Gleanings, p.161)
6 July 2001
My temperament seems to need tranquillity to grow. Like Emily Bronte, I do not seem to require intellectual exchanges, art galleries or museums, or special study programs to satisy my longings. There is no place that seems to liberate my mind like walks in the bush, on the beach or along quiet suburban streets in the evening. Culture and the arts, places where people gather in groups also stimulate my poetic emporium; but so too does solitude, especially after years of extensive and excessive human interaction in places where people gather.
Emily Bronte "gained a vision of the essential oneness of life which she gradually and haltingly communicated in her poetry."1 Drawing on the teaching of Baha'u'llah so, too, did I. Division, in Bronte's philosophy, was at the root of suffering. Joy was the result of unity.2 In March 1844 Bronte wrote a poem about this mystical experience of unity. The poem which follows draws on this same rhyming poem and adds a personal perspective. 1 Emily Bronte, Winifred Gerin, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, p.149; 2 p.152. ---Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 July 2001.
On a sunny day alone I lay
one winter afternoon......
I thought the very breath I breathed
was full of something fine,
something brighter than the shine
from the sun......
a feeling so divine.
The wide earth around me echoed, rang
to this minstrelsy of wine.
And silent spirits sang,
on prayer that afternoon: I dined.
I prayed for over one hundred souls
who had hastened beyond life's tale.
'Twas the closest I would ever get
to that glimpse beyond the veil.
That gathering place of splendours
would one day be my fate
and while in this place I hungered
for His running mercies of that date.
4 July 2001
HERMAN MELVILLE: Influence II
ONE HAD TINTED CRIMSON
In the year after the Bab was martyrd Herman Melville published Moby Dick. Some have regarded this book as the greatest work in American fiction. Melville began writing this book in the late 1840s, perhaps 1849 at the earliest. He said he loved all men who dived. Any fish could swim near the surface, but it took a great whale to go down five miles. Melville also thought that comfortable beliefs needed to be discarded. While I have found my Baha'i beliefs, for the most part, intellectually comfortable, there has been an uncomfortableness that derives from several sources and, it would seem, this uncomfortableness may be with us for some time. Melville could not himself believe and he was uncomfortable in his disbelief.-Ron Price with thanks to Colliers Encyclopedia, "Herman Melville."
Melville must be henceforth numbered in the company of the incorrigibles who occasionally tantalize us with indications of genius.......Melville has succeeded in investing objects.....with an absorbing fascination...Moby Dick is not a mere tale of adventure, but a whole philosophy of life, that it unfolds. -Henry F. Chorley, in London Athenaeum, 25 October 1851; and London John Bull, 25 October 1851.
My Revelation is indeed far more bewildering than that of Muhammad....how strange that a person brought up among the people of Persia should be empowered by God....and be enabled to spontaneously reveal verses far more rapidly than anyone....-The Bab in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, p.139.
They both went down deep
into the ocean of mystery,
some mystic intercourse
had possessed them
with subtle and penetrating grandeurs,
a whole way of life in their words,
a certain eccentricity of style,
an object of ridicule,
a kind of old extravagance,
bewildering, the quintessence of
the transcendental tendency of the age.
But One had musk-scented breaths...
written beyond the impenetrable
veil of concealment...
oceans of divine elixir,
tinted crimson with the essence of existence...
Arks of ruby, tender....
wherein none shall sail but
the people of Baha...1
Ron Price 18 February 1999
1 The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, Haifa, 1976, pp.57-8.
HENRY HANDEL RICHARDSON: Influence III
SO MINISCULE A PART
"Richardson knows that all the mental affinity, the mutual kindness, all the respect in the world will not hold together a relationship that is not firmly based sexually, unless both the parties value some other interest, such as their work, more than they do human feeling....Louise’s sexual needs are complex and it is no reflection on Maurice’s virility that he is unable to meet the subtler aspects of them."-Dorothy Green, Henry Handel Richardson and Her Fiction, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1986, p. 217.
So much of what we are, what we do, what we think and feel, is a result of the culture into which we are born and develop. A small percent, perhaps only five percent, is based on the ideas and ideals of our religion, our Baha’i religion. Culture exerts a powerful influence on our beliefs and values, attitudes and, of course, the entire socializatiuon process. -Ron Price, a paraphrase of the words of Firuz Kazemzadeh(1924- ), a professor emeritus of history at Yale University. I heard these words on a cassette tape many times in the 1970s; they were based on a talk he gave in the 1960s.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 27 February 1999.
It would appear from even a cursory examination
of the massive Revelation of Baha’u’llah
that sex does not occupy the same position,
was not given the same emphasis
that Dorothy Green and many others
have given to it this century.
Sex does not have the same place
in human loving that I strove for for years,
student as I was, product that I had become,
of the culture that made me what I thought.
For, no matter how hard I tried,
I seemed to be so miniscule a part,
such a small per cent of the religion
I came to espouse so long ago.
27/2/'99 to 39/12/'14.
HENRY JAMES: Influence IV
STEEPED IN LIGHTS AND COLOURS
With the first 26 years of my life spent in Canada &, now, 45 spent in Australia, I possess what you might call two geographical influences on my sensibilities. I also possess two religious-philosophical-psychological influences on my sensibilities. They are associated with a range of influences of which educational institutions and the Baha'i Faith have primacy. These sensibilities produced a variety of susceptibilities and a certain tension, a certain jangle or jungle of voices. These 4 areas of influence produced, each in their own way, an international sensitivity or appreciation, theme, and content. By my 50s in the 1990s, I found himself in a world of quickened possibilities and heightened sensations and perceptions. I gave what I thought might become lasting expression to these possibilities and perceptions in my poetry and in my letters, my essays and my narratives .
There are autobiographical roots to the late shift in the writing style of Henry James(1843-1916). So is this true of the experience of many other literary critics, essayists and commentators. In the case of Henry James a series of events: the death of his sister, Alice, the suicide of a close friend and the public humiliation he suffered when his play "Guy Domville" opened to boos in 1895---all conspired to make him look into the abyss of mortality and terror. They also led to a darkening of his vision and to an embrace of "a host of labyrinthine depths and devices that have since been signally associated with literary modernism."
Like Henry James during the three epochs of what the Baha'i community call the Heroic Age(1844-1921) I, during the three epochs in the Formative Age(1963-2015), looked into my own abyss and terror. It was a periodic gaze due, in the main, to my bipolar disorder, and to a far lesser extent to special and quite personal tragedies. I experienced little public humiliation except what was associated with my mental health issues. By the time I came to write seriously & extensively in my 50s, in the 1990s, that gaze had also come to combine the polarities of aloofness & participation, detachment and an alert curiosity.
Like James, too, after a restless period of travel in pursuit of the right job & the right community, a story over several decades, I settled, but not in England as James did. Rather, it was in Tasmania that I finally struck a root and where I wrote both poetry and prose prolifically from the age of 55 in 1999 when he took a sea-change and an early retirement from 50 years of a student life and paid employment: 1949 to 1999. Like James, I was a copious letter-writer and my letters have been, and will be, preserved, like James, from my twenties to my death.(1)-Ron Price with thanks to Harry T. Moore, Henry James and His World, Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1974, Inside Cover; and (1) The Letters of Henry James: Vol.1, editor, Percy Lubbock, MacMillan and Co., London, 1920, p.xiv.
James alternated between America and Europe for the first 20 years of his life; eventually he settled in England, becoming a British subject in 1915, one year before his death. He is best known for a number of novels showing Americans encountering Europe and Europeans. His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allows him to explore issues related to consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting. James contributed significantly to literary criticism, particularly in his insistence that writers be allowed the greatest possible freedom in presenting their view of the world. James claimed that a text must first and foremost be realistic & contain a representation of life that is recognisable to its readers. Good novels, to James, show life in action and are, most importantly, interesting. His imaginative use of point of view, interior monologue and possibly unreliable narrators in his own novels and tales brought a new depth and interest to narrative fiction. An extraordinarily productive writer, in addition to his voluminous works of fiction, he published articles and books of travel, biography, autobiography, & criticism, & wrote plays, some of which were performed during his lifetime, though with limited success. His theatrical work is thought to have profoundly influenced his later novels and tales.
There is no predetermined course here,
but I like to think that what I write
is the quintessence of what I am.
For my life is no mere succession
of facts, places and happenings.
Rather, deep clusters of emotions
and thoughts, densely knit,
steeped in lights and colours,
making a picture that no one else
could ever dream of painting:
I poetically fashioned my life,
defining it in lasting images
a cycle of vivid and incessant
adventure known only to me.
8/10/'00 to 20/9/'14.
In the journal Nineteenth-Century Literature(Vol. 47, No. 3, Dec., 1992) readers will find a review of The Trial of Curiosity: Henry James, William James, and the Challenge of Modernity by Ross Posnock(University of California Press, 1991) The review is by: Paul John Eakin on pages 390-393 and it is important revisionist study in literary criticism. Posnock integrates literary and psychological criticism with social and cultural theory to make a major advance in our understanding of the life and thought of two great American figures, Henry and William James. Challenging canonical images of both brothers, Posnock is the first to place them in a rich web of cultural and intellectual affiliations comprised of a host of American and European theorists of modernity.
A startlingly new Henry James emerges from a cross-disciplinary dialogue, which features Veblen, Santayana, Bourne, and Dewey, as well as Weber, Simmel, Benjamin, & Adorno. "This is an altogether worthwhile, serious, & original approach to the Jameses," writes one reviewer. "Posnock reminds us that our conceptual experience of modernity owes as much to Henry James as to his brother," writes a reviewer in the Journal of American History." A brilliant study--a remarkable synthesis of cultural history, close reading, and theoretical speculation. "It will make an important contribution to James studies, and an equally significant contribution to our understanding of American culture, to debates on modernity, and to discussions of the possibilities and problems of cultural criticism itself," says Jonathan Freedman of Yale University.
HENRIK IBSEN: Influence V
Challenging Social Assumptions
Henrik Johan Ibsen(1828-1906) was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of realism." He is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre. His major works include: Peer Gynt, An Enemy of the People, A Doll's House, Hedda Gabler, Ghosts, The Wild Duck, & The Master Builder, among others. He is the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare. A Doll's House became the world's most performed play by the early 20th century.
Ibsen completely rewrote the rules of drama with a realism which was to be adopted by Chekhov and others. His works are one of the major foundations of the theatre in our day. Beginning significantly with dramatists like Ibsen, novelists like Dickens and Hardy, scientists like Darwin, psychologists like Freud, and sociologists like Durkheim, many societal assumptions were seen as outworn shibboleths and archaic creeds. They needed to be challenged if not totally dismantled.
Playwrights like Ibsen spoke directly about issues in society, and this is considered to be one of the factors that makes a play, or a novel, art, and not just entertainment. Ibsen had a profound influence on the young James Joyce among others. Joyce venerated him in his early autobiographical novel "Stephen Hero".(1) -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Wikipedia, 23/5/’13.
Your exploration of interior life1
represented a major advance in
modern theatre, and your work
was partly autobiographical. As2
got older you became obsessed
with younger women, a common
event in many men’s lives, giving
a basis to the dirty old-man story.
You did not trust society and, in
fact, questioned its customs and
mores, all your life. The basis of
society has been examined more
& more since the late 19th fin de
siecle years, years in which a new
religion in Iran challenged Islamic
assumptions, and helped the Babi-
Baha’i blood-bath to continue into
the 20th century, & even trickle into
our time, this 21st century, in Iran:
where my co-religionists still suffer
their beleaguered fate in prison and
create a global, continuing, diaspora.
They were years which saw your
last works; your insights into the
human condition did not seem as
acute as in the many earlier plays.3
1 This poem speaks to, or addresses, Ibsen directly.
2 I first studied Ibsen more than 50 years ago in 1962 in grade 12 in Ontario. My writing, like Ibsen’s, and a myriad other writers, has come to be highly autobiographical. Some literary critics argue that all writing is autobiographical, if not directly, then indirectly.
3 I wrote this prose-poem after reading a review of a current production of Ibsen’s The Master Builder at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theatre. The review was by Martin Filler: “Ibsen’s Broken Homes,” in The New York Review of Books, 23 May 2013.Ron Price
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW(1856-1950):Influence VI
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60 plays, one of which I studied in 1960, Arms and the Man. Shaw was also an essayist, novelist & short story writer. Nearly all his writings address prevailing social problems with a vein of comedy which makes their stark themes more palatable. While Abdul-Baha was writing His Tablets of the Divine Plan in 1916 and 1917, Shaw wrote his Heartbreak House. The play was an artistic failure when it was published in 1919 and first produced in London in 1921. The play endured as a remarkable—and even menacing—account of cultural-historical trauma precisely because, paradoxically, "little occurs in the play except the end of civilization."
Critical-textual evidence reveals that the play was composed between March 1916 and May 1917, "the years of the Somme and Passchendale, of conscription, of the declaration by Germany of unrestricted submarine warfare . . . and Lloyd George's Business Government." Moreover, as the Easter 1916 uprising in Dublin and the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 attest, the war of attrition on the Western Front was being fought against an increasingly global background of catastrophe that, Shaw despaired, defied representation: "cataclysm . . . the crash of an epoch . . . mere writing cannot describe it." Seen in this light, Heartbreak House belongs to the darkest years of World War I. If Shaw's dramatic text belongs to the most calamitous years of the war, the preface, which was completed in June 1919, belongs, ironically, to a bitter time of peace, "the bleak, rancorous, mean-spirited months separating the Armistice of 1918 and the Treaty of Paris signed on 28 June 1919." Abdul-Baha's Tablets were unveiled in that same month, June 1919. The juxtaposition of Shaw's play and Abdul-Baha's Tablets have always possessed, for me, a fascinating, an ironic, synchronicity. While in military terms the armistice ended the Great War, the Allied blockade of Germany and Austria ensured that the war against civilian populations continued amid the worst global influenza epidemic in history. The tempest initiated in these war and post-war years shows no signs of moderating, abating, a century later. For more on Shaw and this play go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/annual_of_bernard_shaw_studies/v026/26.1harding.pdf For more on Shaw in overview go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bernard_Shaw#Writings
D.H. LAWRENCE(1885-1930): Influence VII
In an obituary notice E. M. Forster(1879-1970), an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist, described Lawrence as, "The greatest imaginative novelist of our generation." Later, the influential Cambridge literary critic of the early-to-mid-twentieth century, F. R. Leavis(1895-1978), championed both Lawrence's artistic integrity & his moral seriousness. He placed much of Lawrence's fiction within the canonical "great tradition" of the English novel. Lawrence is now valued by many as a visionary thinker & significant representative of modernism in English literature. During my middle-age, 40 to 60, I read Lawrence's: Sons and Lovers(1913), Lady Chatterley's Lovers(1928) and Kangaroo(1924). For a review in the Sydney Review of Books of a two volume publication of Lawrence's poems(2013) by David Malouf go to: http://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/oh-walt-youre-a-leaky-vessel/ For more on Lawrence go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._H._Lawrence
EMILY DICKINSON(1830-1885): Influence VIII
Anyone who has followed my poetic oeuvre over the last 25 years, 1990 to 2015, will realize that Emily Dickinson provides, for me, an inspiration perhaps exceeding any other poet. I first came across the work of Emily Dickinson in the 1980s thanks to Canadian poet Roger White. In the year before White’s passing, 1992, Roger sent me a copy of Dickinson’s The Complete Poems (1955)edited by Thomas Johnson. At the time I was teaching English Literature to matriculation students in Perth Western Australia. Anglo-American Romanticism, beginning with Wordsworth and then beginning again with Emerson, is, in large part, a long conversation about subjectivity, especially about how to reconcile a pure "transparent" perceptive power of the poetic imagination with the recognition of other subjectivities and the limitations of one's own identity. It is a conversation that most critics have assumed excluded women writers. As a lyric poet whose subject is subjectivity, Emily Dickinson has been the intermittent exception to this rule as, in years past, the only recognized female participant in literary American Romanticism.
The speculative interiority of her work does, in fact, set her apart from her countrywomen, but not from the English women writers she extravagantly admired. In placing Dickinson's poem alongside the novels of the Victorian British women novelists, I find a common interest in the existential problem of subjectivity, with central characters who could be Dickinson's lyric subject, but placed more firmly in a social setting and within the constraints of gender. I maintain that in Dickinson's poems, as in the novels of Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Emily Brontë, there is a conscious ethical engagement with the opposition between the possibilities of Romantic transcendence and the necessity of respecting the limits that define us. Although their ethical perspectives are different, each of these late Romantic women writers re-examines what it means to be a self alone. For more of this article at the online site erudit, an article entitled "Finding Herself Alone: Emily Dickinson, Victorian Women Novelists, and the Female Subject" by Nancy Mayer of Northwest Missouri State University go to: http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/2005/v/n38-39/011672ar.html
B.2 Modern Stage 2: 1921-1963......
The year 1922 famously saw the birth of High Modernism, mewling and puking as well as shining and sighing in Ulysses and in The Waste Land. 1922 also saw the birth, in Coventry on 9 August of Philip Arthur Larkin. For a poet of his lineage, and influenced as he was by Thomas Hardy, most High Modernism was just so much mystification and outrage. Nor was this a matter of the written word only, as Larkin made obdurate in the introduction to All What Jazz (1970), Charlie Parker being a key culprit in Larkin's words:
"I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by Parker, Pound, or Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor endure. It will divert us as long as we are prepared to be mystified or outraged. It maintains its hold only by being more mystifying and more outrageous: it has no lasting power." For more on this subject go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/07/philip-larkin-desired-reading/
MORE ON PHILIP LARKIN
In December 2015 it will be 30 years since Philip Larkin's death. The view of this English poet as a misogynist, a hater of women, seems unfair. For those who are not familiar with this increasingly used term, they can go to that useful online source Thesaurus and find that misogynist is a word used for those who dislike women, who discriminate or denigrate women, who perpetrate violence against women, or even sexually objectify women. Anyone who is more than a little familar with Larkin sees such a characterization as unfair. A new book of letters to his long-time partner Monica Jones reveals a caring, if anguished, lover, while those who knew him well remember a gentle--and very witty--man.
Philip Larkin's criticism, says Clive James, "appeals so directly to the ear that he puts himself in danger of being thought trivial, especially by the mock-academic. Larkin's readability seems so effortless that it tends to be thought of as something separate from his intelligence. But readability is intelligence. The vividness of Larkin's critical style is not just a token of his seriousness but the embodiment of it." For a review by Rachel Cooke in The Guardian in October 2010 of this new book go to: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jun/27/philip-larkin-love-hate-women I can not include Larkin among the major influences on my writing, but I am beginning to appreciate his poetry and prose during these years of my retirement from FT, PT and most volunteer work. By 2006 I could concentrate more fully on a literay life. I have just made a beginning to my appreciation of Larkin in the years 2007 to 2015, the first years of my retirement from all FT, PT and casual-paid employment.
With a new biography of Larkin by James Booth, published in the northern summer of 2014, readers will get another view of Britain's greatest post-war writer as The Times referred to him. No longer seen as "a sewer" or as "wholly repulsive", as he was viewed by many in the late 1990s and at the turn of the 21st century thanks to previous publications, Larkin emerges as "delightful company" and as "attentive & life-enhancing company." I recommend several reviews of Booth's book Philip Larkin:Life, Art and Love. These reviews can easily be accessed in cyberspace. Larkin, it seems, was a different person to everyone who met him. So often, it appears, he built himself in the image of the person to whom he was talking. Millions are doing this now and the world is, in many ways, an increasingly complex place not only for this reason but for a myriad of other reasons.
T.S. ELIOT: Literary Influence I
During my 70 years of living I was influenced by High Modernism. This was especially true by the time I was beginning to reinvent myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, online blogger and journalist, editor and researcher, reader and scholar by sensible & insensible degrees during the 1990s and the first years of the 21st century. By 2006, I was fully retired from all FT, PT and most casual-volunteer-work, as well as most of the several dozen roles in life, that had occupied me in one way or another for several decades.
The term "high modernism," as used in literary criticism, generally lacks the connotations it has in other social contexts. High modernism, also known as "high modernity", is a form of modernity, characterized by an unfaltering confidence in science and technology as means to reorder the social and natural world. The high modernist movement was particularly prevalent during the Cold War, especially in the late-1950s and 1960s.
I became more than a little familiar with the many varieties of literary criticism, of which high modernism was but one, when I worked as a lecturer in English literature in the early 1990s in what is now a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia. High literary modernism is generally used to describe a subgenre of literary modernism, and generally encompasses works published between the end of the first World War & the beginning of the second, the two decades from 1919 to 1939. Regardless of the specific year it was produced, high modernism is characterized primarily by a complete and unambiguous embrace of what Andreas Huyssen calls the "Great Divide." That is, it believes that there is a clear distinction between capital-A Art and mass culture, and it places itself firmly on the side of Art, and in opposition to popular or mass culture.
Literary critics often designate as “high modernism” work that represents the transformation of traditional society under the pressures of modernity and that breaks down traditional literary forms in doing so. Many high modernist texts interpret modernity as an experience of loss and represent the modern world as a scene of ruin. Huyssen(1942-) is the Villard Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1986. He is the founding director of the university's Center for Comparative Literature and Society and one of the founding editors of the New German Critique, the leading journal of German studies in the United States. For a recent review of some of Eliot's writing go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/08/ts-eliot-return-foxy-grandpa/
Postmodernism, according to Huyssen, may be defined precisely by its rejection of the distinction between popular and high culture. In the years 1921 to 1925 postmodernism had been used to describe new forms of art and music. In 1942 H. R. Hays described it as a new literary form. However, as a general theory for a historical movement it was first used in 1939 by Arnold J. Toynbee: "Our own Post-Modern Age has been inaugurated by the general war of 1914–1918". Postmodernism has also been used interchangeably with the term post-structuralism. Post-structuralism grew out of postmodernism. A proper understanding of postmodernism, and doing justice to postmodernist thought, demands an understanding of the poststructuralist movement and the ideas of its advocates. Post-structuralism resulted, as did postmodernism, by following structuralism. Post-structuralism is characterized by new ways of thinking through structuralism, contrary to the original form. "Postmodernist" describes part of a movement; "Postmodern" places it in the period of time since the 1950s, making it a part of contemporary history. For more on postmodernism go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism For more on Huyssen go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Huyssen
High modernist works are characterized by their construction out of fragments of myth or history, fragments of experience or perception, fragments of previous artistic work. For the modern artist or writer, the political, social, & aesthetic structures that had organized human experience previously no longer seemed viable in the modern world. Order, sequence, and unity did not seem to them to convey reality. Instead, they emphasized discontinuity, discordance, & fragmentation as more representative of the modern experience. High modernism was a self-consciously international movement, and many of its leading American exponents lived as permanent or temporary expatriates in Europe. Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, H. D., and T. S. Eliot all left the United States permanently, while Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Claude McKay, Katherine Anne Porter, Nella Larsen, Robert Frost, and Eugene O’Neill, among others, spent significant periods of time abroad.
The term "high modernism" as used in literary criticism generally lacks the pejorative connotations it has in other contexts. High literary modernism on the contrary, as I indicated above, is generally used to describe a sub-genre of literary modernism, & generally encompasses works published between the end of WWI and the beginning of WW2. Regardless of the specific year it was produced, high modernism is characterized primarily by a complete, unambiguous embrace of what Andreas Huyssen calls the "Great Divide." That is, it believes that there is a clear distinction between capital-A Art & mass culture, and it places itself firmly on the side of Art and in opposition to popular or mass culture. Postmodernism, according to Huyssen, may be defined precisely by its rejection of this distinction.
T.S. ELIOT and EZRA POUND: Literary Influence #1:
I place these two poets together: (i) Ezra Pound(1885-1972), an expatriate American poet and critic who was a major figure of the early modernist movement; and (ii) Thomas Stearns Eliot(1888-1965), an essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic. They were 2 of the 20th century's major poets. Working in London in the early 20th century as foreign editor of several American literary magazines, Pound helped discover & shape the work of contemporaries such as T. S. Eliot. It is for this reason, in the main, that I include these two poets as one. T.S. Eliot was born in St. Louis
Missouri, and then moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 at the age of 25. He was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.
In October 1922, Eliot published The Waste Land in The Criterion. Eliot's dedication to "the better craftsman" refers to Ezra Pound's significant hand in editing, reshaping, the poem from the longer Eliot manuscript to a shortened version that appears in publication. The poem is highly confessional as well as a savage social analysis. I first came to Eliot's verse in January 1963 during my matriculation English. It would be the early '90s, though, another 30 years before I had any real appreciation of Eliot's poetry; by 1993 I was teaching English literature to matriculation students in Australia. For an overview of Eliot's poetry go to: http://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/294/538 For a review of a new biography of Ezra Pound go to: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=bryrngEACAAJ&pg=PA159&hl=en , and for an overview of Pound's life and work go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra_Pound
"The idea that Eliot’s poetry was rooted in private aspects of his life has now been generally accepted," says Lyndall Gordon in the Foreword to her second volume of biographical rooting among just these aspects. Eliot’s New Life by Lyndall Gordon(Oxford, 400 pages,1988) shows the development of the acceptance of this way of seeing his poetry. Gordon approves of this way of seeing Eliot's poetry. This acceptance has undoubtedly occurred in academia, and it provides a root through the enormous heap of books about the poet, now augmented by the anniversary of the centenary of his birth in 1988. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was finally gaining an appreciation of Eliot in my role as a teacher of matriculation English literature. For a review of several of the books to which I have referred above go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v10/n17/frank-kermode/feast-of-st-thomas , and to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot
A HOST OF TERMS
Postmodernity, Hypermodernity, Hypermodernism in art, Metamodernism, Post-anarchism, Posthumanism, Postmodernist anthropology, Post-processual archaeology, Postmodern architecture, Postmodern art, Postmodern Christianity, Postmodern dance, Postmodern feminism, Postmodernist film, Postmodern literature, Post-Marxism, Post-materialism, Postmodern music, Postmodern picture book, Postmodern philosophy, Postmodern psychology, Postmodern political science, Postpositivism, Post-postmodernism, Postmodernist school, Postmodern social, construction of nature, Postmodern theatre, Post-structuralism, Criticism of postmodernism. Go to this link for a detailed defintion and description of all of the above terms:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism
WALLACE STEVENS: Literary Influence 2
YOU NEVER SAW IT, WALLACE
In the mid-1930s, as the Baha'i Administrative Order was taking its first shaping, Wallace Stevens wrote his poem The Idea of Order at Key West. Man's inner rage for order, Stevens argued, is the ultimate force in his universe. It is a rage,a lifelong effort, to transcend and resolve the fickleness, the dissolution, the transiency and the fragility of all physical things. The Baha'i Order, its organizational aspect, is the unique feature of this new and emerging world religion. In 1937 Stevens wrote about the poet contemplating "the good in the midst of confusion," about the poet constructing from the world of sensory experience "a total ediface involving and demanding the whole stretch of human experience." In this way the poet constructs himself.(1)
Poetry to Stevens was a way of viewing the world; it was the essence of modern art and it had replaced religion. It compensated for the loss of belief. Order arose from the self not from religion; order involved giving meaning, giving point to the life around us. This was the basis for an organic order, for a sense of a wholeness in life.(2) For Price, this organic Order began to take form seriously in that same year 1937 when the teaching Plan was initiated in North America. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Louis L. Martz, "Wallace Stevens: The World as Meditation," The Yale Review, June 1958; and (2)Geoffrey Morre, "Wallace Stevens: A Hero of Our Time," The Great Experiment in American Literature, editor Carl Bode, London, Heinemann, NY, 1961.
You'd been making poems
out of other poems as this
new Order was only just
taking its first shape
in a confluence
of feelings, thoughts
and sensations in a vast,
born in the mind,
part of that Wondrous Vision,
the brightest emanation
and the fairest fruit
of the fairest civilization
the world had as yet not seen.
Looking at the world, they were,
through the collirium
of His sweet-scented streams,
through the atmosphere
of His mind, always integrating
the contents of the present
with the predisposing song,
the fruits and blossoms
on His all-glorious horizon,
this new reality and its holy seat.
4 June 2002
JOHN SHAW NEILSON: Influence 3
UNLEASHING THE INFINITE
Price's poetry, indeed all that he had written, was a testament to the enduring presence of the past, of its power to create and shape the future through a marriage of imagination and memory. For words had driven him, at least since August of 1962 the late summer when he had given up playing sport. Words had defined him. He was undoubtedly drawn by his passions as well.. But all of this, all that had driven him, was subsumed under the rubric of his religion.
Like the famous Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson, Price was sensitive to what people thought of him but, even after the passing of ten, and perhaps as many as twenty, years of writing poetry so few seemed to have any opinion of his work and fewer still expressed it. Poetry was largely a personal and private utterance for Price as it had been for Neilson in those days when Shoghi Effendi was laying down the basis for Baha'i Administration in the 1920s. Neilson had a strong urge to write in his early thirties after overcoming his nervous troubles. I had that same urge in my late forties after getting out of mine. -Ron Price with thanks to Cliff Hanna, Jock: A Life Story of John Shaw Neilson, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1999, p.129.
Once our reasoning minds
try to judge works of art
one can prove anything one wishes.
And what we say is bounded
by a frontier of ineffability,
by that which absolutely
can not be said by anyone.
But still, I try to catch
the world's mystery and surprise,
to identify it is my duty,
if I would unleash the infinite.
4 October 2001
ERIC ERIKSON: Influence 4
AN INTERNAL LANDSCAPE: Part 1
Often the intellectual and political, sociological and religious leanings of a person are evident very early in their life. As Erik Erikson wrote in his Identity and the Life Cycle(1959), our ego and identity are shaped over a lifetime and especially in the teenage years. To some extent the process of the unfolding of personality is predetermined. Slowly there is a crystallization & consolidation of identity based on certain continuities, certain patterns, over time. My religious and intellectual leanings were evident by the age of eighteen, as Franz Kafka's(1883-1924) socialist leanings were by the age of eighteen.
The poetic writings that I produced, especially from my 50s onward, 1994 to 2014, were not the creation of a concrete imaginary universe of individuals and things as they were for Kafka. They were, rather, the creation of a quite real universe which contained within it a conceptual system of philosophical and non-partisan political doctrines, a discursive, rambling and digressive world of ideologies and systems of thought. I wrote and created with a sense, a sensibility, of feelings and attitudes whose intent was, like Kafka, to fashion individuals and situations, situations I had myself lived-in and with individuals I had known. In my case, unlike Kafka, only some of the individuals about whom I have written would one day read what I had written. -Ron Price with thanks to Michael Lowy, "Franz Kafka and Libertarian Socialism," New Politics, Vol.6 No.3, Summer 1997.
There is a spirit here, too,
an internal landscape.
I like to see it as Oneness.
There is a sensibility here;
I like to think that it is the
very structure of freedom
for our Age reflecting as it
does, all things considered,
a moderate freedom found
in its fullest form......in this
framework of a new Order
and a mutuality of benefits,
with its very fine alance.(1)
(1) The Universal House of Justice, Letter to the NSA of the Baha'is of the United States, 29 December 1988.
27 October 2001
AN INNER LANDSCAPE: Part 2
Reiner Stach, in his ongoing biography of Kafka, strives for a intimate knowledge of his subject, and of the time and place in which he lived and worked. Stach is at once highly ambitious and admirably unassuming. He wishes, he tells us, to experience “what it was like to be Franz Kafka,” yet suggests that the effort even to get “just a little bit closer” is illusory: "Methodological snares are of no use; the cages of knowledge remain empty. So what do we achieve for all our efforts? The real life of Franz Kafka? Certainly not. But a fleeting glance at it, or an extended look, yes, perhaps that is possible."
On the evidence of the two published volumes that we already have on Kafka, this is one of the great literary biographies, to be set up there with, or perhaps placed on an even higher shelf than, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, George Painter’s Marcel Proust, & Leon Edel’s Henry James. Indeed, in this work Stach has achieved something truly original. By a combination of tireless scholarship, uncanny empathy, and writing that might best be described as passionately fluent, he does truly give a sense of “what it was like to be Franz Kafka.” He has set himself the Proustian task of summoning up, and summing up, an entire world, and has performed that task with remarkable success. The result is an eerily immediate portrait of one of literature’s most enduring and enigmatic masters.
The modesty that Stach expresses is not false, but it is misplaced. The two volumes of this latest Kafka biography: The Decisive Years and The Years of Insight are volumes two and three; volume one, dealing with the life up to 1910, was held up while Stach waited in hope—vain hope, it would seem—that an important archive of Max Brod’s papers, at present held in Israel, would be released; however, the book is now due for publication in 2014.
In a review of Franz Kafka: The Office Writings, edited by Stanley Corngold, et al, in the London Review of Books back in November 2008 (Princeton, 400 pages) we are told that ‘much of Kafka’s greatness is owed to his office job, and that anything we learn about his job strengthens ‘our sense of the conditions under which he accomplished his nocturnal writing.’ This was the writing he did when he got home from the office. For more on Kafka and his job go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n22/michael-wood/double-thought ...For more on Kafka and this inner landscape go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/oct/24/different-kafka/
W.H. AUDEN: Influence 5
By the time I finished the Prologue to Richard Davenport-Hines's literary biography Auden, I had discovered a friend for life. Of course I had read some of Auden, seen him interviewed, read one or two of his interviews, but for some reason the man had eluded me. This brief Prologue of perhaps twelve hundred words I found gripping. I found some of myself in Auden, this man whose lined face I had seen for years, decades, but had no idea, no knowledge, of the man behind the face, or nothing that had struck me as this brief introduction to a literary biography did. I had been just too darn busy from the 1950s to the 1990s with a life-narrative that I tell about in many places at this website, but not here. I want to talk a little more about Auden.
Davenport-Hines writes that Auden had a public face, the one that has often been trivialized in literary biographies, that has reduced Auden to a cult of personality with its emphasis on fame and celebrity. DH also writes that Auden had a private face as writer where his self-transformation could be measured by what he wrote. He was, then, a double man. Poetry worked to restore the order and rhythm that the ordinary world marred, destroyed or that he destroyed. He worked behind "doors marked Private", past "pine-rooms" where "telephones ring/Inviting trouble" in a room where his "double sits." In the end he became one of the dramatis personae of the twentieth century in spite of his efforts not to become so. I like what Auden tries to do. I feel he is a kindred poet whose aims & sense of craft are similar, in many ways, to my own.-R. Price with thanks to Richard Davenport-Hines, Auden, Minerva, London, 1996, pp.1-5.
Always striving for integration,
unifying it all in a stroke or two,
a few choice phrases on a page,
synthesizing all the ideas that
came your way from every
conceiveable crevice in existence.
Aiming to heal the schisms
that you found all over creation,
through the play, the game, of words
because you felt compelled to write,
kept you from feeling ill, you said.
Organizing your scattered thoughts,
relating everything to everything
and making your unique whole.
9/10/'01 to 25/6/'14.
W.H. Auden's book review of Tolkien's The Return of the King "At the End of the Quest, Victory," in The New York Times, 22/1/'56. This somewhat complex passage of Auden's is found in his review of Tolkien nearly 60 years ago: "The difficulty in presenting a complete picture of reality lies in the gulf between the subjectively real, by this I mean a man's experience of his own existence, and the objectively real, as well as his experience of the lives of others and the world about him. Life, as I experience it in my own person, is primarily a continuous succession of choices between alternatives, made for a short-term or long-term purpose; the actions I take, in some ways, are less significant to me than the conflicts of motives, temptations, doubts in which they originate. Further, my subjective experience of time is not of a cyclical motion outside myself but of an irreversible history of unique moments which are made by my decisions." For a review of the 1981 biography W.H. Auden: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter go to: http://www.nytimes.com/1981/10/04/books/the-poet-himself.html?pagewanted=all and for Auden's review of Tolkien go to :http://www.nytimes.com/1956/01/22/books/tolkien-king.html
"Our greatest modern verse technician," writes freelance writer Richard King in The Australian(16/2/'07) in celebration of the centenary of Auden's birth, "wrote sonnets, songs, ballads, lyrics, limericks, sestinas, villanelles, elegies and dramatic monologues. The range of his prosody was staggering, and yet he was no mere filler-in of forms. Auden, indeed, had such depths of feeling as allowed him to invest even a music hall ditty or Elizabethan pastiche with emotional substance. ‘Open your eyes, my dearest dallier; / Let hunt with your hands for escaping me …’ It is almost as if all the poets of the past had come together into a great baggy monster with the power to wring every last drop of lyricism out of our rich, if rhyme-poor, language." For more of this delightful essay on Auden go to:http://richardjking.blogspot.com.au/2007/02/auden-centenary-australian-17022007.html. For more on Auden go to: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/w-h-auden
WILLIAM FAULKNER: Influence 6
I, TOO, WILLIAM
What is immortal about us, wrote William Faulkner in his Nobel Prize address in 1950, is our soul not some inexhaustible voice that animals do not possess. Immortality is found in this soul or spirit which dwells with man and is capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance. It is the duty of the poet to write of this reality and to help other human beings endure by lifting their hearts. The poet should also help human beings to attain an understanding of and a glorying in the past. This will help them endure and, in the end, prevail. To achieve this the poet must live with hope and work in faith. -Ron Price with thanks to William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, 10 December 1950.
FAULKNER: THE MAN
In an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, six years before he died, Faulkner remarked, "Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him." Although I don't go all the way with Faulkner here, I'm impressed with the spirit of his remarks and find them inspirational.
William Faulkner, who came of age in the same Lost Generation era, was content to live most of his life in the sleepy town of Oxford, Miss. -- the ''postage stamp'' of land he famously transformed, in 15 novels and numerous short stories, into Yoknapatawpha County, ''William Faulkner, Sole Owner & Proprietor.'' Ernest Hemingway drove an ambulance in wartime Italy, safaried in Africa and lived for years in a finca outside Havana. F. Scott Fitzgerald cut a wild swath across Europe, touching down in places like Paris and Cap d'Antibes. Ron Price had more jobs than he wanted to shake a stick at, but by the time he settled down to write seriously he had retired and was happy to have a spatial-ambience like Faulkner's.
Neither Faulkner nor I lived as rarefied an existence as Ernest Hemingway, a man who organized his life around pursuits—hunting, fishing, writing, war reporting. Faulkner’s life was messier and less focused, as was mine. Faulkner's life was a struggle from the beginning to make enough money to survive. Teaching provided, for me, my bread-and-butter. Faulkner was a school dropout, while I persisted until I had my BA(1966) and B.Ed.(1967) at the age of 23. We both worked at various jobs. You can read about my long list in my autobiography. As far as Faulkner's are concerned you can read about them in cyberspace, but they included—postmaster, bookstore clerk—and he held down the midnight shift in a coal-fired power plant, where, as it happened, he wrote most of As I Lay Dying. He was an air cadet in Toronto when World War I ended and unlike Hemingway had to pretend to the combat experience that had eluded him.
Faulkner wrote poetry before he ever considered fiction. I tried fiction briefly in my late 40s, but stayed with non-fiction and poetry. He fell in love with a woman whom he had wanted to marry, but who had married someone else first; he bought a house in some disrepair and did all the renovations himself. I had no skills in the manual arts; he lost his brother to an airplane accident for which he felt responsible. I was an only child, although my father had 3 children from his first marriage, two of whom were killed in WW2 just before I was born. He became a heavy drinker presumably to deal with the intensity of his writing life. I was a tee-totaller and had medications to help me with my bipolar disorder and life's intensities. For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/may/24/faulkner-as-i-lay-dying/
Faulkner's devotion to home, to his home state of Mississippi set him apart from his globe-trotting literary contemporaries. But his intense localism is even more unusual today, as distances shrink, borders fade, and McDonald's, Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola build their brave new McWorld. There is much to say about globalism's excesses, but the anti-globalist movement has done a poor job of saying it. Globalism's critics would do well to contemplate Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha writings. Underlying his distinctly Southern tales of lost innocence and declining fortunes is a universal, and remarkably timely, theme: how important it is for localities to stand up to the disruptive force of progress.
Joseph Blotner, the author of ''Faulkner: A Biography,'' sees Faulkner as a universalist rather than a regionalist, focusing on, in the novelist's words, ''the human heart in conflict with itself.'' For him, Faulkner's county was ''a microcosm that led to a macrocosm.'' Before he went to the Faulkner conference in Rennes, Mr. Blotner said: ''Faulkner is more than of his time. He is not just our greatest 20th-century novelist. Although I take my hat off to Hawthorne, Melville and James, for me Faulkner is No. 1 -- and if you have an hour I'll tell you why.'' Go to this link for the answer:http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/25/books/more-than-enduring-faulkner-prevails-at-centenary-the-herd-honors-a-maverick.html For more on these and other aspects of Faulkner go to:http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/04/opinion/editorial-observer-what-bard-oxford-can-teach-critics-new-world-order.html
LITERARY INFLUENCES: 'Modern Stage 2: 1921 to 1963'
Literary Influence 7:
HERMANN HESSE and ME
I do not feel quite the same about my writing as the philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832) felt about his writing, namely, that it contains "fragments of a great confession."1 Mine is a very modest confessionalism; its fragments do not amount to “a great confession.” Goethe's insisted on engagement with the outside world as the way to grow and develop. I agree with Goethe in this. Even though my life by my late adulthood, that is by the age of 60, as a writer and poet had more solitude than sociality, most of my 7 decades of living have been intensely engaged with the outside world: its people, places and things.
In contrast to that Genevan philosopher and writer, Jean Jacques Rousseau(1712-1778) whose writing was, among other things, a tortured subjectivity with sometimes embarrassing and annoying self-disclosures, my literary subjectivity in neither tortured nor characterized by embarrassing self-disclosures, at least from my point of view.
My autobiographical work---to compare my writing with yet another famous writer--- is and has been for me what the novel was for German novelist Hermann Hesse(1877-1962). Hesse saw his novels as transformations of himself adapted to the circumstances of his fiction. I see my work, especially my poetry, in some ways like Hesse's, that is, as an "adventure of self-discovery"2 shaped from and by autobiographical reality. There is also some sense of that personal transformation in the act of writing.
Hesse's literary undertaking was a reappraisal of his inner growth. Hesse said that he wrote mainly when he was enjoying a mood of contemplation and self-examination. So is this true of me and my writing. The literary ways and means of Hesse and I are similar in so many ways. He saw his writing as an objective observation, at least as objective as he could be, of his surroundings and himself; as an analysis of the passing moment both in the present and the past. His desire to think and write often focused on himself and the act of writing, on the psychology of the artist, the poet and the literary man; on the passion, the seriousness and some of the vanity of life which attempts, in part, the apparently impossible3.
Both Hesse and I began our writing in our late teens and 20s. We each went from strength to strength with age, although Hesse was much more prolific than I from his 20s to 40s during which time I was occupied with 50 hours a week as a teacher, and responsibilities in the Baha’i community. He also won the Nobel Prize in literature and so any comparison of my writing with his is the comparison of a writer in the big leagues to a minor-league player.
In one essay, Hesse reflected wryly on his lifelong failure to acquire a talent for idleness. Boredom was not part of his experience. He speculated that his average daily correspondence, especially after 1946 when he received the Nobel Prize, was in excess of 150 pages. I, too, in my role as a teacher and as a student over more than 50 years have found idleness and boredom to be a serious issue in society & the source of many social problems. That sense of emptiness and lack of meaning is accompanied by a pursuit of, or passive waiting for, trivial, insubstantial stimulations and distractions that are ultimately unfulfilling. There is also a political nature and significance of the modern phenomenon of boredom whose historical manifestations can be traced back to Attic Greece in the West. examining the decline in political participation through a wide historical lens, and attributing it to a transformation in Western culture that began under the Roman Empire.4-Ron Price with thanks to1-2Hermann Hesse, Autobiographical Writings, editor T Ziolkowski, Jonathan Cape, London, 1973, p.p. ix-xiii, 3ibid., p.248, and 4Isis Leslie, “From Idleness to Boredom: On the Historical Development of Modern Boredom,” Critical Studies: Essays on Boredom and Modernity, editors Barbara Dalle Pezze and Carlo Salzani , Rodopi Pub., pp. 35-59(25).
You died, Hermann, within days
of the death of Marilyn Monroe
& two weeks before I began my
travelling-pioneering life for the
Canadian Baha’i community with
its linking to my studies, my many
jobs, indeed, my entire life-narrative.
I had no idea that you had died, Hermann,
although I came to read your books in the
1970s and 1980s…I knew of your bipolar
disorder just today in the evening of life.1
Music and poetry filled your home as it
filled mine as child-adolescent…but you
withdrew into reading and writing-a-soul-
searching inwardness….in your teens and
twenties resulting in your winning fame &
the Nobel Prize in literature in 1946 at 69.
In a space of a few years you became,
mirabile dictu,2 the most widely read-
and-translated European author of the
20th century inspite of your BPD,3 life-
crises, headaches, & marital problems.
My withdrawal was in my late 50s, far
too late to ever be famous or widely read;4
your immense popularity did not come
until after your death. Who knows what
my story will be, Hermann? I wish you
well in your new home, presumably in the
land of lights, that mysterious Kingdom.
1 Hermann Hesse's grandfather Hermann Gundert, a doctor of philosophy and fluent in multiple languages, encouraged Hermann to read widely, giving him access to his library. This library was filled with the works of world literature. All this instilled a sense in Hermann Hesse that he was a citizen of the world.* Wikipedia, 16/9/’12. My maternal grandfather, Alfred Cornfield, an autodidact and an influence on my life until he died in 1958 when I was 13, was a deep reader and writer. His autobiography was published in 1980.1 He was one of several influences in addition to the Baha’i Faith that, by the end of my adolescence, instilled in me my sense that I was also a citizen of the world
2 Latin meaning ‘marvellous to relate’ 3 bipolar 1 disorder
4 By 2012 I had millions of readers in cyberspace but, on the world-wide-web with its 400 million sites and 2 billion users, my writing was a needle in a haystack.
5 As Hesse put it in his The Glass Bead Game, the study of history means “submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning. It is a very serious task.” -http://www.notable-quotes.com/h/hesse_hermann.html
16 September 2012
ERNEST HEMMINGWAY: Literary Influence 8
UNFOLDING AS IT WAS
In the spring of 1937, when the first Seven Year Plan began for the Baha'is in North America, many considered Ernest Hemingway the witness of the time, the finest writer of the hour. He was certainly the most famous writer of the 1930s. He was an icon in the United States. His action stories and his accounts of the news brought readers close to the events he was describing. In March, about six weeks before the beginning of the Plan, Donald Adams wrote a review of Hemingway's latest book To Have or Not To Have. Adams said the book was empty. Adams was not impressed with the cold reportorial aloofness with which Hemingway wrote about everything. Like any author or artist, not everyone liked him or his work. From the first review of his work in 1925 in The New York Times until his death in 1961, Hemingway stands out as a major writer of the first and second epoch of Formative Age: 1921-1963. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, July 27 2001.
Like Gibbon's cool observations
on the extinction
of the Empire in the West,
your reportorial aloofness
told of some other disintegration
during the first epoch of His Plan
when they laboriously constructed
the framework of that Order
in a series of spontaneous
and simultaneous plans.
In the spring of '37
you were in love with
a beautiful blond,
and you flew to Madrid.
Witness of the time,
peerless war correspondent
that you were,
you who helped shape the age,
its unsurpassed artistic achievements
and its untoward violence,
you never saw
any of His panoramic vision
unfolding as it was that spring
in the inauguration
of the initial stage of His Plan,
part of the greatest drama
in the world's spiritual history.
27 July 2001
JRR TOLKEIN: Literary Influence 9
In 1937, the year that the first teaching Plan began, J.R.R. Tolkien completed his first book The Hobbit. That same year he also began what became six books known collectively as The Lord of the Rings. The first three volumes of this work appeared during the Ten Year Crusade with revisions during the Nine Year Plan. Tolkein died in 1973 and an additional twelve volumes, collectively entitled The History of Middle Earth, appeared by the hundredth anniversary of the ascension of Baha'u'llah in 1992. Some say Tolkein was trying to create a new mythology for England. His writings became an epic involving the forces of good and evil. He helped us see a richer world of fantasy. Some say his books are the most imaginative work of fiction in modern literature. He writes about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things. And so do I in an epic of a different nature.-Ron Price with thanks to "JRR Tolkein," SBS TV, 9:30-10:30 pm, 23 December 2001.
The Plan involved, so often,
ordinary people doing
in an epic battle
between good and evil
with a new mythology
And, yet, a new language
in which the fragrances
of mercy (had) been wafted
over all created things.......
(and) past ages and centuries
(could) never hope to rival.1
had been created.
And everything was set by 1937
And even more set by 1963
and more by 1973
and again by 1992:
more and more and more,
a whole new world imbued
by sacred remembrances
from a remarkably dynamic period.2
1 The Tablet of Carmel
1937-1992; see Ridvan Message 1992.
23 December 2001
Several Australian Literary Influences: 10 TO 12
THE GREAT WARM-UP
The great outback, the remote regions of Australia, where I have lived and travelled, which I have written about in my poetry and autobiographical narrative, have been described in outback histories such as Ernestine Hill’s The Great Australian Loneliness(1937) and Mary Durack’s Kings in Grass Castles(1959). Sometimes these places are mentioned with a type of laconic, derisive and racist bush humour as in Randolph Stow’s Merry-Go-Round in the Sea(1965); or with a great deal of psychological and physical violence as in Thea Astley’s A Kindness Cup(1974). Poets, like Kenneth Slessor and Les Murray, are sometimes kinder and more sympathetic. For a Baha’i pioneer to Australia in the three decades beginning in 1971, one who lived in much of the land that was remote in that vast land, there was a great deal that could be said about it all in autobiographical and semi-autobiographical poetic narrative.-Ron Price with thanks to Suzanne Falkiner, The Writer’s Landscape: Settlement, Simon and Schuster, Sydney, 1992, pp. 7-20.
It’s going to take some time
to break the code here:
where the roads wind like a snake,1
where they are as straight as a line,2
where the violence is palpable
like on Friday nights down by the pub,3
where religion is seen as a disease,
irrelevant to people’s lives,
something to avoid and is avoided,
has been avoided just about totally,
even a new one like the one
I carried with me everywhere I went
and offered it with humour,
entertainment, with whatever
would swing it, although nothing did,
in that great back-o’-beyond,
that great emptiness,
described by Ernestine Hill
at the outset of the teaching Plans.4
For these were the years of
the great warm-up,
when seeds were planted
for over sixty years
like the infinitude of immensity
with the stars of the most great guidance.5
1 The West coast of Tasmania
2 The road from Alice Springs to Darwin
4 In 1937 in The Great Australian Emptiness
5 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p.5.
Ron Price 31 December 2000
MILES FRANKLIN: AUSTRALIAN HUMANITIES REVIEW
I have not been influenced by Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, known as Miles Franklin(1879-1954). She was an Australian writer and feminist who is best known for her novel My Brilliant Career, published in 1901. While she wrote throughout her life, her other major literary success, All That Swagger, was not published until 1936. She was committed to the development of a uniquely Australian form of literature, and she actively pursued this goal by supporting writers, literary journals, and writers' organisations. She has had a long-lasting impact on Australian literary life through her endowment of a major literary award known as the Miles Franklin Award. I have come across this Australian writer many times in my 44 years in Australia, but I have never read any of her work. I was led to an interest in her work by sensible and insensible degrees in the years 1999 to 2003 since retiring from FT, PT and most volunteer-wor. In 2004 I came across an interview with Jill Roe in which she discusses Miles Franklin. It is an interview I discuss below.
I have also been led to an interest in the increasingly wide field of Australian and New Zealand literature not only because I have now lived in Australia for more than 40 years. The online journal Australian Humanities Review(AHR) has sharpened my appetite. A good example of this influence is Janet Frame. Harvard critic and librarian John Beston called her "the most distinguished woman writer in English"; Michael Holroyd described her three volumes of memoirs as "one of the great autobiographies written in the twentieth century." For more on Frame go to: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-December-2001/king.html Another example of the influence of the AHR on my reading is the historian and emeritus Professor Jill Roe. She was Professor of History at Macquarie University and retired after 36 years about the same time I did, at the turn of the 21st century. Roe mentored and inspired generations of students, particularly in the areas of Australian history, women’s history and historical biography. Roe is one of my contemporaries having been, like me, a university student in the 1960s and a teacher for more than 3 decades.
We both have had an interest in historical & literary biography for several decades. Roe was Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University in 1994-95. Her published work includes Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia 1879-1939 (1986), My Congenials: Miles Franklin and Friends in Letters 1879-1954 (1993) and A Gregarious Culture: Topical Writings of Miles Franklin with Margaret Bettison (2001). Professor Roe is working on a biography of Miles Franklin. Interviewed by Jan Zwar in March 2004, she reflects on the role of biography in academia, her time at Harvard, & living a rich national intellectual life. I found Roe's comments on the types of students at Harvard and at Australian universities of interest. The online journal Australian Humanities Review(October 2004) has 'An Interview with Jill Roe' at this link: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-August-2004/roe.html For more on Franklin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Franklin
ROBERT FROST: Literary Influence #13
Robert Frost(1874-1963) had several literary arts & styles, sometimes quite incompatible ones. In this he resembles many other poets: it is hard to connect the English romantic poet William Wordsworth of the Lyrical Ballads (1800) with the Wordsworth(1770-1850) of the Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1821). To take an example nearer to hand, it is difficult to connect one of the founders of modern confessional poetry, Robert Lowell(1917-1977) of Life Studies (1959) with the Lowell of History (1973). The song-like Robert Frost descends from Longfellow(1807-1882), and is a master of exquisite lyrics. The narrative Frost descends from Browning(1812-1889), and is a master of New England speech. Although both Frosts are admirable, it is possible to argue—as Tim Kendall of the University of Exeter does in his commentary on a selection of Frost’s poems—that the New England conversational Frost is the more original of the two. For more on Frost go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/aug/16/burnt-frost/
I don't recall coming under the influence of the poetry of Robert Frost until I taught poetry to matriculation students in Western Australia in the 1990s. I have a book of his poetry Selected Poems of Robert Frost(Holt Reinhart, 1963), although I don't recall how it came into my possession. When I retired from FT and PT paid-employment in the years 1999 to 2003 I began to collect articles and essays about his work from journals and magazines. After more than a dozen years of collecting commentaries and reading his poetry, I am coming more under his influence now that I am in my 70s. Robert Lee Frost was an American poet whose work was initially published in England before it was published in America. He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. For an excellent overview of his life and work go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Frost
SOME OTHER INFLUENCES UNTIL 1963
It is hard to recall now the enormous prestige of Lionel Trilling as a literary and social critic during the postwar years. The Liberal Imagination (1950), his first collection of essays, is said to have sold more than 70,000 hardback copies. For the first and last time, a literature professor enjoyed the public eminence normally reserved for an economist like John Kenneth Galbraith or a sociologist like David Riesman. Trilling was a quietly dominating figure, sensitive, sensible, and reassuring in his emergence from 1930s radicalism and his nuanced Freudianism. His essays served as a form of national therapy. Writing about Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima, for example, he guided readers away from the political certainties of the 1930s and toward the difficult complexities of “ambiguity and error” that they must learn to accept if they wanted to fulfill their generous liberal intentions. For more on Trilling go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/07/demonic-lionel-trilling/
A. When a teacher-lecturer is a generalist and has spent 50 years in classrooms studying and teaching literally 100s of syllabi, a "pot-pourri, a collection of miscellaneous and diverse items, he or she travels in a wide-wide literary world. The influence of Koestler has been like a shooting star from the galaxy of knowledge, far, far out on my literary periphery. Arthur Koestler, CBE(1905-1983) was a Hungarian-British author and journalist. Koestler was born in Budapest &, apart from his early school years, was educated in Austria. In 1931 Koestler joined the Communist Party of Germany until, disillusioned by Stalinism, he resigned in 1938. In 1940 he published his novel Darkness at Noon, an anti-totalitarian work that gained him international fame. Over the next 43 years, from his residence in Britain, Koestler espoused many political causes, and wrote novels, memoirs, biographies and numerous essays. In 1968 he was awarded the Sonning Prize "for his outstanding contribution to European culture" and in 1972 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire(CBE). In 1976 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and in 1979 with terminal leukaemia. In 1983 he and his wife killed themselves at their home in London. For more go to:https://www.google.com.au/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=arthur%20koestler and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Koestler
Last July a German doctoral student named Matthias Weßel made a remarkable discovery. He was examining the papers of the late Swiss publisher Emil Oprecht for a dissertation on Arthur Koestler’s transition from writing in German to writing in English at the end of the 1930s. Oprecht was a left-wing fellow traveler who had founded his famous publishing house Europa Verlag in Zurich in 1933, and was well known for his anti-Nazi views and support for writers in exile, including Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, Ignazio Silone—and the young Arthur Koestler. Weßel told me that at the time, “I was looking for letters and royalty reports, because I wanted to know how many copies were printed of the first German edition of Koestler’s Spanish Testament.” He failed to find the answer to his question but, while looking over the Europa holdings in the Zurich Central Library he came across a cryptic entry: “Koestler, Arthur. Rubaschow: Roman. Typoskript, März 1940, 326 pages.” For more go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/04/07/a-different-darkness-at-noon/
B. Koestler wrote several major novels, two volumes of autobiographical works, two volumes of reportage, a major work on the history of science, several volumes of essays, and a considerable body of other writing and articles on subjects as varied as genetics, euthanasia, Eastern mysticism, neurology, chess, evolution, psychology, the paranormal and more. Darkness at Noon was one of the most influential anti-Soviet books ever written. Its influence in Europe on Communists and sympathisers and, indirectly, on the outcomes of elections in Europe, was substantial. Geoffrey Wheatcroft believes that Koestler's most important books were the five completed before he was 40: his first memoirs and the trilogy of anti-totalitarian novels that included Darkness at Noon. Koestler embraced a multitude of political as well as non-political issues. Zionism, Communism, anti-Communism, voluntary euthanasia, abolition of capital punishment, particularly hanging, and the abolition of quarantine for dogs being reimported into the United Kingdom are examples.
THE GREATEST POETRY CRITICS
The greatest poetry critics of the last century were poets: T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Empson, R. P. Blackmur, Randall Jarrell and W. H. Auden. Apart from Blackmur, each would have been a celebrated poet without the criticism, and each a brilliant critic despite the poetry. Readers who think the one kind of writing helps the other forget that it is difficult enough to achieve the cloud of unknowing in which poetry must be written, and far harder when there's a critic telling the poet what he ought to be doing or -- worse luck -- the meaning of what he has done. No critic needs a poet whispering in his ear that most poetry is scribbled with blind means toward unconscious ends, that luck and happenstance play a horrifyingly large role in writing verse. For more of this excellent review of 'Lectures on Shakespeare' by W. H. Auden go to: http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/02/11/reviews/010211.11logant.html
Literary influences from 'Modern Stage 3: 1963 to present'.......
CLIVE JAMES(1939- ): Literary Influence 1
Since I arrived in Australia in the 1970s I have enjoyed Clive James as a writer & poet as well as an entertainer. Over the past 50 years, Clive James has worked as a British television personality; a radio broadcaster; a travel writer; a trainee bus conductor; a book reviewer for major publications in the United States, Britain and his native Australia; a flunky in a machine shop; a recording artist (the six albums he wrote in the 1970s with the singer-songwriter Pete Atkin are cult classics); a sportswriter; a book shelver; an art critic; a prose elegist for Diana, Princess of Wales; and, naturally, a circus roustabout. He has also, all along and not entirely coincidentally, been a poet. While that last fact is well known in Britain and Australia, James’s new book, Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 1958-2008 (Norton, $25.95), is the first volume of his poetry to be published in the United States.To read more of this review go to:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/books/review/Orr2-t.html?pagewanted=all
COLIN WILSON(1931- ): Literary Influence 2
Price’s poetry was and is one big thought experiment broken up into thousands of bites of memory, of statement, of history, of vision. Imagination and fantasy combine a free-floating quality and a discipline to explore ideas, experience and factual data. The triviality of everydayness and the seriousness of the sublime come together in Price’s poetry as he states, as he describes, his values, his beliefs and attitudes with conviction, with a sense of their complexity and subtlety. There is a power in Price’s poetry that comes from the flickering and rumbling below the surface of his life as he attempts to put into words his story of a bleeding humanity and the fire of the tribulation of its scattered and mutually destructive fragments on what he sees as its inevitable path on a journey to the planetization of mankind.--Ron Price with thanks to Colin Wilson, The Craft of the Novel, Ashgrove Press, Bath, 1990(1975), p. 198.
The central experience, emotion, here
has been my journey
to an all-glorious realm
in the neighbourhood
of the ineffable mercy of God
during the early days
of the tenth and final stage of history
when the efflorescence
of that charismatic Force
into a seat,
the last refuge
of a tottering civilization,
finally was completed
and rank, authority, power,
election and appointment
of the twin pillars of that Order
were clarified again and again
for the protection of those
who had to operate
and exceedingly difficult
14 February 1999
1 David Hofman, A Commentary on the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, George Ronald, Oxford, 1982, p. 9.
SOME WRITERS IN 'MODERN STAGE 3' WHO DESERVE A MENTION
With the passing of Mark Strand, Galway Kinnell, Kenneth Koch, and Maxine Kumin, Charles Simic(1938- ) is one of the last remaining members of that marvelous generation of writers born before 1940 who did so much to reinvigorate American poetry, and who either had an influence on my writing--or should have. The Lunatic, his newest poetry collection, is his thirty-sixth. Simultaneously, Ecco, his publisher, has brought out The Life of Images: Selected Prose. This work contains the cream of Simic's six previous prose collections, & confirms that he is not only one of America's finest poets, but a singularly engaging, eminently sane American essayist. For more on Simic go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/charles-simic-king-insomniacs/ and to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Simi%C4%87
SOME WRITERS IN 'MODERN STAGE 2' WHO DESERVE A MENTION
By the 20th century there appeared on the scene more writers than anyone, even the most avid fiction reader, could ever read in their entirety. In the next few years I hope to refer to, and highlight, some of the more noteworthy ones I have come across. The first is: Mary Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) who was an American writer and essayist who became, for some, an important voice in American literature. O'Connor wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews & commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style & relied heavily on regional settings & grotesque characters. O'Connor's writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics without didacticism. She was highly intellectual and, theologically, a Thomist. Thomism is the philosophical school that arose as a legacy of the work and thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Go to this link more more on Thomism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomism
"Read O’Connor and you wade into a river where the writing feels as if it has the molecular structure of water," writes Nichola Deane in her review of this writer. Deane would say of herself that she is not a Catholic writer but, rather, a writer who happens to also be a Catholic. "Like water, her prose has the ability to absorb all the taints and tints of the glorious, brutal world she describes. It happens through her knack of seeing every element as if contained within every other element." For more of this comentary from Deane you can go to Deane's blog at: http://nicholadeane.wordpress.com/tag/elizabeth-bishop/ Deane has two MA degrees to prove that Romantic literature was a subject specifically fitted for her scope of comprehension; the prodigy was well qualified to spend a lifetime at university. She also has a PhD, but she has, however, another, a non-academic life as the proprietor of a new kind of critical blog, called Casket of Dreams, begun in 2007 and entirely written by her. The Romantic writers figure prominently, as you might expect, but there is no area of the arts or politics that she feels bound to exclude.
Joyce Carol Oates has often been described as the heir to the Southern Gothic imagination of Mary Flannery O’Connor, with whom she shares a Catholic background. Oates says, though, that she could never take the idea of religion very seriously. Other Catholics thought that God really cared if they ate meat on Friday and would be upset. I never thought that God could care at all what you were eating. As the author of 56 novels, 32 short-story collections, 8 volumes of poetry and countless essays and book reviews, she says she does not think anyone has read everything she has published? For an interview with Oates go to:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/magazine/12wwln-q4-t.html
LITERARY INFLUENCES: 'Modern Stage 3: 1963 to the present:
Literary Influence 3---Patrick White(1912-1990), Maxine Kumin(1925-2014) and Guy Murchie(1907-1997)
TIEING DOWN VASTNESS
I write to fill this vast emptiness, a vast emptiness that concerned Australian novelist and Nobel Laureate Patrick White. My writing provides readers with my self-portrait, an opening into my inner life and private character in its meagre attempt to mirror forth in its manifold aspects the supreme claim of a new, a vast, Revelation. I write to express the extraordinary amidst the ordinary, to relieve the boredom and tedium, the anomie, the ennui, which slips into existence; to tie the empty stretches, the unpeopled hours, the periods of suspension, into a hanging nest of meaning, to keep holy the sorrow and the disappointment, for there is much of both in life, much space with nothing going on at all. I write to bring objects into view when they shrink with distance and to tell of thrushes that pull up worms and turn them into songs.-Ron Price with thanks to Patrick White, Maxine Kumin and Guy Murchie and their respective books: Patrick White Speaks; Women, Animals and Vegetables; and The Seven Mysteries of Life.
This vast emptiness here:
in Australia, Canada, this earth,
the solar system, the universe,
4500 million kilometers from
Pluto to the sun and winds
blowing at 2200 km/hour on
Neptune--& this vast motion--
orbiting as we are around the
sun at 18 ½ miles a second &
through curved space with all
the stars at 150 miles a second
through the Milky Way, itself
l00,000 light years in diameter
and speeding away from other
galaxies at 1000’s of miles in a
second—and a vast time frame—
going back 15 billion years with
homo sapiens sapiens coming on
line at 32,000 BP, so the physical
anthropologists say to us:
this is the frame in which I write, a vastness
of such incredible abstraction & concreteness,
such distance and closeness with each breath
I take containing a quadrillion atoms breathed
by the rest of humankind in the last few weeks.
11 May 1997
MORE ON PATRICK WHITE
Patrick White is, on most counts, the greatest writer Australia has produced, though the sense in which that country produced him needs at once to be qualified—he had his schooling in England, studied at Cambridge University, spent his twenties as a young man about town in London, and during World War II served with the British armed forces. What Australia did provide him with was fortune, in the form of an early inheritance—the White family were wealthy graziers—substantial enough for him to live an independent life.
The nineteenth century was the heyday of the Great Writer. In our times the concept of greatness has fallen under suspicion, especially when attached to whiteness and maleness, and Great Writers courses have largely been retired from the college curriculum. But to call Patrick White a Great Writer—specifically a Great Writer in the Romantic mold—seems right, if only because he had the typically great-writerly sense of being marked out from birth for an uncommon destiny & granted a talent, not necessarily a welcome one, that it is death to hide, that talent consisting in the power to see, intermittently, flashes of the truth behind appearances. For more on White go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_White
You might also like to go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/nov/07/patrick-white-within-budding-grove/
Literary Influence 4: Graham Greene(1904-1991)
Henry Graham Greene(1904-1991) was an English writer, playwright and literary critic. His works explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Greene was noted for his ability to combine serious literary acclaim with widespread popularity. The works of most writers close with their lifetimes; but some continue mysteriously and posthumously on. Few modern writers wrote as much, over so long a writing life, as Graham Greene. He started telling his stories in the 1920's, and he was still writing right up to his death in 1991. His tales became a haunted record of the haunted and guilty century, every decade taking on a different flavor, each new political era and climate finding its place in his books. Greene was a remarkable religious and metaphysical writer, but he was always the sound working journalist and foreign correspondent. Ever an enigmatic man, who always held on to his secrets, he was nonetheless a world traveler, who added his presence to most of the major crisis spots and crossed with many of the makers of modern history. For more on Greene go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Greene , and go also to:http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/02/20/specials/greene-own.html
Literary Influence 5: Penelope Fitzgerald(!916-2000)
Penelope Fitzgerald is a writer I only heard about today, 19 November 2014. Fitzgerald was, by general consensus, among the handful of great novelists in English after 1980. She had the misfortune of being not only over 45, but in her 70s and 80s when her great masterpieces first appeared. The reason she has influenced me was due to the biography of Fitzgerald which I have just read in review and also due to the fact that she came to literary success so late in life. What does a novelist's career look like? A male novelist might have a short struggle, like Dickens or Waugh or James, then a big success and a series of novels of varying success and accomplishment; the great masterpiece comes 20 years in, when they are in their 40s or 50s. Such was the story of Thomas Mann or V. S. Naipaul. They might have some kind of family connection to the world of letters, or acquire one and know how to exploit it.
Women novelists often have a more complex path, perhaps interrupted by children and a more difficult relationship with literary fame; even without children, they are more likely to creep up on fame in a series of books. Hermione Lee, in her Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, has unearthed the full story of the catastrophe of a life lived in all sorts of places, in an accommodation for the homeless, with an alcoholic for a husband, jobs she hated or just endured. Whatever it was like to live through, one can't as a reader regret the immense delay and traumatic contributions of Fitzgerald's life. There is no doubt that she made an awful hash of her career, for the most part. Since her death in 2000 it has become common to talk of her as one of the finest recent practitioners of the novel in English, admiring in particular the technique and mystery of the final books. Go to this link for more:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/jenny-turner/in-the-potato-patch
Nowadays, of course, writing is often seen as a profession like any other. To take the Man Booker winner in 2013, Eleanor Catton, as an example of what might be seen as a novelist's ideal career in 2013: one does a degree in English literature, and immediately afterwards a master's degree in creative writing. Your first published novel is your MA thesis. Afterwards, you are given a post teaching creative writing in a university, and your second novel wins a major prize. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, sets up a dialectic in her writing between daily life with its successes and disasters and inner life. It is an inner life of someone who might have said, with Jung: “If I had left these thoughts and images hidden in my emotions, they might have torn me in pieces.”’ There are no creative writing courses here. Her writing comes from a lived life. The images and the thoughts thus become what Fitzgerald, following her subject, calls the ‘burden’. This burden is and was the collection of points at which the troubles and woes of physical manifestation connected to inner preoccupations.
My life, however troubled it may have been, does not seem as tragic as Fitzgerald's. I've had too many wins as I gaze back in my life in retrospect. But there are similarities and contrasts between my life and hers which I find heuristic, and I have included her as an influence because of this. ‘I have been reading steadily for 17 years,’ she told a friend when she was chosen as Woman of the Year. 'After I graduate I want to start writing.' Except she didn’t, because she was interrupted, to begin with, by the outbreak of the Second World War. Life seems to have been a long list of interruptions for Fitzgerald.
When I finally came to writing by degrees in the 1980s and 1990s, and moreso, more fully, as the 21st century turned its corner, I felt as if I had been reading for decades, working for decades, talking and listening for decades, dealing with life's troubles and woes for decades: health problems, problems in the work-place, a series of pressure-cookers from one end of the world to the other, from Baffin Island to the end of Tasmania. I said to myself as the years advanced incrementally throughout the 1990s: "I want to get off; I want to get out; I want solitude; I want peace; I want to write." And I did. It's been an avalanche. I do not have the talent of Fitzgerald, nor will I achieve her success either on this side of the grave or the other. But it is misfortune that made her, and it is misfortune that has made me. "Outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy."
Literary Influence 6: Joan Didion(1934- )
Joan Didion is an American author best known for her novels and her literary journalism. Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work. Joan Didion: Risk &Triumph is a review(8/10/'15) in The New York Review of Books by Joyce Carol Oates. It is a reivew of The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty(St. Martin’s, 750 page)
Literary Influence 7: Les Murray
Leslie Allan "Les" Murray(1938-) is an Australian poet, anthologist and critic. His career spans over forty years and he has published nearly 30 volumes of poetry as well as two verse novels and collections of his prose writings. His poetry has won many awards and he is regarded as "the leading Australian poet of his generation". He has also been involved in several controversies over his career and has been rated by the National Trust of Australia as one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures. I wrote to him back in the 1990s before retiring from my 50 year student and paid employment life(1949-1999), and he wrote back with his appreciation for my words of praise. As I write this update at the end of September 2015, it is rumored that he might receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Murray_(poet)
THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
The Theatre of the Absurd is a designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s, as well as one for the style of theatre which has evolved from their work. Their work expressed what happens when human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down, in fact alerting their audiences to pursue the opposite. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence.
Critic Martin Esslin coined the term in his 1960 essay "Theatre of the Absurd." He related these plays based on a broad theme of the Absurd, similar to the way Albert Camus uses the term in his 1942 essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus". The Absurd in these plays takes the form of man’s reaction to a world apparently without meaning, and/or man as a puppet controlled or menaced by invisible outside forces. Though the term is applied to a wide range of plays, some characteristics coincide in many of the plays: broad comedy, often similar to Vaudeville, mixed with horrific or tragic images; characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions; dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense; plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive; either a parody or dismissal of realism and the concept of the "well-made play". Playwrights associated with the Theatre of the Absurd include: Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Miguel Mihura, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Fernando Arrabal, Václav Havel, and Edward Albee. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_the_Absurd
High Modernism is a loosely catchall term for literature that followed WWI — and in many ways existed in reaction to the war. One could include here the “war poets,” specifically Wilfrid Owen, whose “Dulce et Decorum Est” is probably the best-known poem of this genre, even though the High Modernist folks are very different in tone, style, & overall viewpoint from the war poets largely because both groups were profoundly affected by the war and its brutality and loss of life.
The year 1922 famously saw the birth of High Modernism, mewling and puking as well as shining and sighing in Ulysses & in The Waste Land. That same year, 1922, also saw the birth, in Coventry in August, of Philip Arthur Larkin. For a poet of his lineage and strongly infleunced by Thomas Hardy, most High Modernism was just so much mystification and outrage. Nor was this a matter of the written word only, as Larkin made obdurate in the introduction to All What Jazz (1970), Charlie Parker being a key culprit:
....I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by Parker, Pound, or Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor to endure. It will divert us as long as we are prepared to be mystified or outraged, but maintains its hold only by being more mystifying and more outrageous: it has no lasting power.
We are to recognize here the lasting power of Dr. Johnson: “The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.” For Larkin, as for Johnson, what might seem to some of us a 3rd possibility was never really a possibility at all: What about enabling the readers to bring about a better way of life, to better life? To the conservatively tragic cast of mind, life is incorrigible. “Human life,” Johnson said, “is everywhere a state in which much is to be endured, and little to be enjoyed.” Life is not something that can be made better other than palliatively (not that this is nothing), and life cannot be bested. Or worsted. For more on this theme of Larkin go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/07/philip-larkin-desired-reading/?page=1
MODERNISM AND POST-MODERNISM
In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Sparks handles time in accord with modernist and postmodernists approaches in literature. These contradict traditional conventional approaches to time. The convention relating to time in traditional novels is to present time as a chronological event. In modernism and postmodernism the chronology becomes broken & fragmented to reflect individuals' experience of time in their private thoughts. Ideas may jump from 1952 to 2021 in the space of a few minutes or even seconds. For modernists & postmodernists, fragmentation of time causes discontinuity. This discontinuity effects the development of character as well, leaving characters fragmented along with time. I do not intend here to summarize modernism and post-modernism. That is dealt-with elsewhere on this webpage on Modern Literature. I took an interest in Spark because: (i) she was one of the small handful of 20th century writers who turned to Catholicism, and (ii) she was married to a man with bipolar disorder for 5 years.
For more on Spark go to: http://www.enotes.com/homework-help/comment-muriel-sparks-handling-time-prime-miss-126401 But I would like to include here something Spark said: "People say my novels are cruel because cruel things happen and I keep this even tone." She said this in an interview in The New Yorker. "I'm often very deadpan, but there's a moral statement too, and what it's saying is that there's a life beyond this, & these events are not the most important things. They're not important in the long run." For an article on Sparks go to: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/04/05/transfigured
Being able to decisively attach one’s prose to the created rhythm of one’s time and age, to the psycho-historical mood and affective state in its many dispositions and tempers; or being able to detach one’s prose from one’s age in a clean and straightforward way is difficult. In my case, the result is uneven, a little simplistic at times, some might say supercilious and pretentious and, even if it does bear the weight of my preoccupations, the weight is too heavy for many readers. But the weight of much literature in the western intellectual tradition: classical, medieval and modern---is too heavy for many modern readers raised on a diet of the print and electronic media.
Perhaps my oeuvre in all its genres is too ambitious in its range and depth; perhaps it tries to diagnose too much over too extensive a field of content. My diagnostic intelligence, if I can call it that, probes, and it does so over many thousands of pages. For some people who read my work the affect, I’m sure, is deadening. For others there is a vitality and for still others there is no affect at all because they never see it. Contemporary culture drowns its population in a burgeoning range of print and image-glut.
My writing is remorselessly and, I like to think, glitteringly intent on diagnosis. The glitter of invention is, for me, everywhere and it is linked with and provides a distinctive literary identity, a creative abundance. For some readers I’m sure this is the case, but not for most. For most who chance upon my writing, the affect on them is enervating as it is for me after a long day of writing or even periodically in the course of any single day. I like to think my literary venture is gallant and ambitious, even if it is not really successful in the marketplace. In cyberspace, though, I have acquired literally millions of readers in the last decade: 2002-2012. My unremitting concern for detail, for analysis and for comment is not everybody’s and my advice to many would-be readers is to take my writing in small doses.-Ron Price with thanks to Vincent Buckley, “The Novels of Patrick White,” The Literature of Australia, editor, G. Dutton, Penguin, 1972(1964).
I create a world, too, Patrick;
I want to show extraordinary
things behind the ordinary,
the mystery and the poetry,
to transcend the tensions &
explore my world by words.
No mere surface impressionism
but passages, words, vibrant with
significance growing out of some
profound numbness and pervasive
inarticulateness that covers all the
surfaces of life until I bring them
alive….In the beginning was and
is the word and the word was with,
or so I like to think: with God and
the word was God….The wisdom
of the wise and the learning of the
learned can never comprehend this
unknowable, indescribable essence.
3 March 2007 to 23 May 2012
AMERICAN WRITERS: 1933 TO 1973
The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933-73 by Mark Greif(Princeton, 450 pages); and Moral Agents: Eight 20th-Century American Writers by Edward Mendelson(New York Review, 225 pages) are two books reviewed in The New York Review of Books(27/8/'15). The review begins: "Mark Greif’s book is a bracingly ambitious attempt at a ‘philosophical history’ of the American mid-century, a chronological account of writers and their ideas. It begins in 1933 with an apparently widely perceived ‘crisis of man’ in American intellectual culture and is cut off, equally surgically, in 1973, with academic theory’s announcement of the ‘death of man’. Greif, a founding editor of n+1, one of the consistently excellent periodicals of the last decade, was drawn to his subject after noticing the number of mid-century American book titles that refer to ‘man in crisis’: a genre of literature that filled the basement shelves of his childhood, ‘the worthy and earnest paperbacks that my parents’ generation inherited to educate themselves for the responsibilities of their era’. Go to this link for more:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n16/pankaj-mishra/the-sound-of-cracking
LIT CRIT IN THE 1990s
And now in my retirement
In the 1970s there was a three-way split within the ranks of literary criticism, a criticism often informed by, or based on, literary theory, the philosophical discussion of literary theory’s methods and goals. This split did not concern me because, at the time, I was teaching the social sciences. I became aware of that 3-way split more than a decade later when I was teaching English literature to students wanting to go to university the following year. That split in the types of Lit Crit was between: (i) those who used a body of non-literary theory like psychoanalysis or Marxism in an effort to illuminate specific literary works; (ii) those who were addicted to theoretical structures largely for their own sakes, with limited application to specific pieces of literature; and (iii) those who focused their scrutiny upon the works themselves within a context of received cultural values, but with a minimal reference to theory. For a recent series of papers on Lit Crit go to:http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/4-1/text/toc.html
By the time I came to teach literary criticism from 1991 to 1994 at a college of technical & further education, now a polytechnic, in Western Australia, I was in the process of completing my 30+ year teaching career. This three-way split had become a great plurality of methods and approaches, a multi-faceted split, from which to choose how one was to analyse literature. As a lecturer entering the field field of Lit Crit in the late 1980s, I was required to provide my students with a course in the history of criticism, a survey of the various methods that had been, since the turn of the century, invented, idolized, and then often abandoned in the face of the next theoretical vogue. From the 50s, 60s, or 70s students learned the way to read literature according to New Criticism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, or Marxism. This, of course, depended on the specific historical moment and the preferences of teachers and tutors, professors and lecturers.
Teachers and students of the late 80s & early 90s entered a profession, perhaps unique in this respect, that quite openly & unabashedly admitted to not knowing what to do with its designated object of inquiry. Criticism, by the 1990s, was in its "post-theoretical" stage. The field had become "eclectic." Of course there were and are the throwback strongholds of those who think they still know the way to read literature, primarily the Marxists or neo-Marxists or socio-historical critics, but they were and are clearly in the minority. Most critics today, I informed my students, live in benign tolerance of any and all methodology, & are even likely to alternate theoretical approaches themselves, in accordance with the project at hand.
My task as a teacher of English literature in those early 1990s, nearly a quarter of a century ago, was to simplify, as far as that was possible, the vast field of Lit Crit as it was called. My aim was to help my charges, my students, to complete their matriculation and hopefully enter university. My aim was to help them analyse poetry or prose, a novel or a body of some writer's poetry, in the form of an essay. My students had to write four essays in three hours in an examination setting and get at least a B, a 66% overall grade, to enter the post-secondary educational system.
APPROACHES TO LIT CRIT
I don’t want to summarize all the approaches to an analysis of literature that were available to me as a teacher & to my students nearly 25 years ago in the early 1990s, and the many more approaches now available to teachers & students of literature. That would be impossible in a brief paragraph or two anyway. Some literary critics do not hesitate to warn of the coming end of high culture. “Even to bookish people,” Joseph Epstein writes in a piece on T.S. Eliot, “poetry is of negligible interest & literary criticism is chiefly a means to pursue tenure.” Then he adds his personal death knell: “Literary culture itself, if the sad truth be known, seems to be slowly if decisively shutting down.”
Readers who are interested can read the extensive writings now available on this subject; I also deal with this subject in my Introduction to Literature in another sub-section of this website at:http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Literature.html There are many essays in cyberspace on the application, and the method, of using: (i) psychoanalytical thought, (ii) Marxism, or (iii) any one of a number of other approaches to the analysis of literature. There also exists lively critical---stimulating, provocative, intelligent---discussions which mark out a territory where some method or other can be helpful to the student with an interest in Lit Crit. Wikipedia also provides a useful overview at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_criticism
Leon Edel's biography of Henry James, and Freud's essay on Dostoevsky, as well as Frederick Crews's illuminating study of Hawthorne or Conrad are all fine examples of the psychoanalytic method in analysing literature. Readers can turn to Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence & A Map of Misreading, both published in the mid-1970s. For Bloom(1930- ) reading is "an art of defensive warfare." Bloom’s method of analysis involves poets interacting only with other poets. Experience, for Bloom, personal discovery, private anguish or joy, life itself--these count as nothing to a writer, a poet or a novelist, compared to the towering presence of the precursor, the forerunner, of the poet in question. Bloom is a complex quotient for the teacher to explain to his students; he certainly was back in the 1990s. Teaching Lit Crit was not an easy task, and it is one of the many reasons I am now pleased to be finished with the classroom after 50 years of occupancy as a student & teacher, tutor & lecturer: 1949-2005. For several of those 56 years I was not in the classroom due to: coping with an illness, having non-teaching jobs, and taking an early retirement, a sea-change, as it is sometimes called.
Christopher Benfey has written a review of Harold Bloom's recent book, The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime(Spiegel and Grau, 5 pages). The review appeared in The New York Revew of Books(8/10/15). Benfey begins: "At eighty-five, Harold Bloom is among the foremost literary critics at work today; he is also, surely, one of the strangest. He has seemed at times an impassioned guardian of the acknowledged masterpieces of The Western Canon (the title of his book of 1994), reaffirming the preeminence of Dante or Shakespeare (whom he credits, in his hyperbolic way, with “the invention of the human”) against what he dismissively calls the School of Resentment, critics who, in his view, adopt a coercive political agenda (“Stalinism without Stalin”) for judging literary works, combing through books for evidence of racism, gender bias, and other social evils. “Literature is not an instrument of social change or an instrument of social reform,” he has said. “It is more a mode of human sensations and impressions, which do not reduce very well to societal rules or forms.”
Bloom traces his own unembarrassed zest for reading works of creative genius to the life-changing experience, as an awkward Yiddish-speaking boy growing up in the East Bronx, of reading for the first time the poetry of William Blake and Hart Crane. This ecstatic experience, he writes in his latest book, The Daemon Knows, which is devoted to a dozen major figures in American literature from Emerson to Faulkner, “transformed a changeling child into an exegetical enthusiast adept at appreciation.”
Readers can turn to the 400 densely packed pages of Beginnings by Edward Said(1935-2003), a Palestinian literary theorist. For forty years, Said taught at Columbia University, where he was a Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Besides being principally responsible for the emergence of "postcolonial studies" as a dominant form of literary and cultural criticism, he was a forthright pro-Palestinian activist and, in that role, at least in the United States, a familiar TV personality. His criticism and activism came together in the ideas that Western culture can not be understood without its links to imperialism and that knowledge, far from being politically neutral, is contaminated by power and interests.
Readers will find the domination of literature by system in Said’s approach, and little that is useful in the way of practical criticism. It is hard to imagine that Beginnings will find many willing readers, students or teachers, outside a very few departments of comparative literature at universities. In my effort to be succinct & brief here, readers can turn to F. R. Leavis(1895-1978), the British literary critic, who has a faith in the creative possibilities of the English language. Leavis sees language-study as constituting the last real hope for English. Leavis has an approach, although he cannot be said to have a system or even a theory. Leavis writes that: “the nature of livingness in human life is manifest in language--manifest to those whose thought about language is, inseparably, thought about literary creation." For Leavis, "language is more than a means of expression; it is the heuristic conquest won-out-of representative experience. It exemplifies the truth that life is growth and growth change, and the condition of these is continuity." It is the great creative writers who are the true thinkers and discoverers within a language and hence within a civilization.
This view animates Leavis's philosophy of literature; namely, that "the study of the major writers and their language in universities" represents the only hope for redeeming English civilization from its current decline. –Ron Price with thanks to Robert Towers, "The Ways and Means of Literary Critics", in The New York Times, 21 December 1975. For a review of: (i) The Leavises: Recollections and Impressions edited by Denys Thompson
Cambridge, 1984, 210 pages); (ii) The Social Mission of English Criticism: 1848-1932 by Chris Baldick(Oxford, 260 pages, 1983); (iii) Radical Earnestness: English Social Theory 1880-1980 by Fred Inglis Robertson, 250 pages, 1982; (iv) The Critic as Anti-Philosopher: Essays and Papers by F.R. Leavis, edited by G. Singh(210 pages, 1982). For this review in the LRB(24/1/'85) go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v07/n01/geoffrey-hartman/placing-lea Geoffery Hartman has written the review. He is a German-born American literary theorist, sometimes identified with the Yale School of deconstruction. He has also written on a wide range of subjects, and cannot be categorized by a single school or method. For more on Leavis go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._R._Leavis
This was all very useful to me
two decades ago when I was a
teacher-lecturer and nearing the
end of a three decade+ career in
classrooms or a five decade life,
if I counted all my years, in those
little boxes of learning right back
to mid-20th-century. Now, though
.............as a retired person in the
evening of my life such lit criticism
is only of value for my private study
and to enrich my understanding of
self & society & that’s a utilitarian
enough purpose without worrying
about whether the students have an
understanding, without concern for
the behaviour of the kids in the back
row, or the big education systems.
I no longer am concerned about the
bringing home of the bacon for wife
and kids, my own 3 meals a day and
a roof over my head, as well as much,
much else that was of real concern.
27/6/'12 to 18/12/'14.
Note: For an excellent overview of Leavis by John Mullan in Vol. 35 No. 17,12 September 2013, in the London Review of Books entitled: "As if Life Depended on It," go to this link:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n17/john-mullan/as-if-life-depended-on-it
"The entire operation of high-powered academic literary criticism," writes Kermode, "ultimately depends on the preservation of the reading public without which literature cannot exist. University teachers of literature can read what they like & deconstruct or neo-historicise what they like, but in the classroom they should be on their honour to make people know books well enough to understand what it is to love them. If they fail in that, either because they despise the humbleness of the task or because they don’t themselves love literature, they are failures & frauds." When a man as noted for his tact and tolerance of other viewpoints, as Frank Kermode, speaks so trenchantly, we should do well to listen. For here he is surely correct. For some background on Kermode(1919-2010), a British literary critic best known for his work The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction(published in 1967 & revised in 2000), & for his extensive book-reviewing go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Kermode
Kermode’s most important quality as a critic is ‘his acute responsiveness to a great variety of texts’. If this is what makes Kermode an extraordinary critic, it should tell us something about the nature of criticism. What we call ‘literature’ is indeed a great variety of very different kinds of texts written by all kinds of people of differing temperaments, hopes, anxieties, ambitions and viewpoints. This literature is written on social and political questions as well as every other kind of question; it is written at different times, in different places, and about different issues. People write, and read, for all kinds of fundamentally dissimilar reasons. This diversity can be no less than the diversity of life itself.
Frank Kermode’s collection of essays, Pleasing Myself: From Beowulf to Philip Roth(2001, London, Allen Lane) should please a lot of other people too, but strictly on the quiet. In real life, Frank Kermode is softly spoken. An interlocutor does best to get as close as possible, so as not to miss a word. Many of the words are not Kermode's: they are quoted from writers he admires, & most of those are poets. The poets, could they be present, would be pleased to hear their lines pronounced with such a fine regard for rhythm, balance, sense & nuance. Shakespeare's Language, Kermode's last book before this, was justly hailed by its reviewers as the ideal critical tribute to the way the greatest of all poets actually wrote. It wasn't hard to imagine Shakespeare hailing it too. After all, the book brought him alive.
This new collection of essays works the same revivifying trick for poets of the 20th Century: Yeats, Eliot, Auden, Empson, Marianne Moore, Henry Reed and Roy Fuller are among them. Most of the essays are book reviews, and most of the books reviewed are books on: writing about writing. So this is writing about writing about writing. But Kermode is a practised hand at getting back through the layers of commentary to the ignition point of the gaseous expansion. In the beginning, somebody said something inspired, & this artist among critics already has it in his memory. For Kermode, language comes first. If a writer can actually write, here is a critic who can tell. The guarantee is that he writes so well himself. For more of these thoughts on Kermode from Clive James go to:http://www.clivejames.com/articles/clive/kermode
For a review in the London Review of Books by John Ellis entitled "Thinking Persons" go to this link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v14/n09/john-ellis/thinking-persons This is a review of these books: (i) Addressing Frank Kermode: Essays in Criticism and Interpretation edited by Margaret Tudeau-Clayton and Martin Warner(Macmillan, 200 pages, 1991); (ii) The Poverty of Structuralism: Literature and Structuralist Theory by Leonard Jackson(Longmans, 300 pages, 1991); (iii) Inconvenient Fictions: Literature and the Limits of Theory by Bernard Harrison(Yale, 300 pages, 1991); (iv) Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science by Mark Turner(Princeton, 300 pages,1992); & (v) Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics by Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson(Stanford, 550 pages, 1992) For an introduction to deconstructionism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction For an introduction to neo-historicism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Historicism
When David Lodge reviewed The Sense of an Ending in the Critical Quarterly he recognised the ‘wilfully difficult’ style and also ‘the strong streak of intellectual dandyism in Professor Kermode’. He decided however that, although Kermode ‘delights in exhibiting his brilliance, this brilliance is genuine’. Allen Tate was less qualified in his praise, recording his opinion that The Sense of an Ending ‘gives us further proof of the depth of Kermode’s learning and of his philosophic range. It will be a landmark in twentieth century critical thought’. Such comments typify the almost unanimous acclaim the book received on its publication in 1967. The reputation has survived and in his new book Possibilities Malcolm Bradbury looks back to Kermode’s work as one of a handful of contributions to criticism in the last decade to have ‘the resonance of larger value’. For more of Richard Webster's review of Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending in The Critical Quarterly(Winter 1974) go to: http://www.richardwebster.net/ker
Randall Jarrell(1914-1965) was an American poet, literary critic, children's author, essayist, novelist, and the 11th Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that now bears the title Poet Laureate. Of all the literary critics, for my money, Jarrell is in the top two or three. He mixes the colloquial and the rhapsodic; he avoids jargon. He spent all his adult life in academic departments whose raison d'etre was the professionalisation of responses to literature, and yet his essays are fresh and, for me, exciting. He died too early at 51. For more of an overview of Jarrell go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Jarrell
Richard Poirier(1925-2009) was, arguably, the most eminent of Amierca's literary critics before he passed away five years ago. He had a central position in contemporary American letters, as the editor of Raritan, the best of the quarterly reviews in the USA, and as the presiding spirit of the Library of America, the definitive publisher of the classic texts of the national literature. Mr. Poirier was an old-fashioned man of letters — a writer, an editor, a publisher, a teacher — with a wide range of knowledge & interests. He was a busy reviewer for publications from The New York Review of Books to The London Review of Books, & his reviews could sting. For more on Poirier go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Poirier
His own books chart much of the development in American criticism during the the first four decades in which I had my first contact with serious reading, say, 1962 to 2002. These books of Poirier's include: The Comic Sense of Henry James (1960) & A World Elsewhere (1966), through a middle phase in The Performing Self (1971) & Norman Mailer (1972), on to a major study of Robert Frost: The Work of Knowing (1977), and culminating in several works: The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections (1987), Poetry and Pragmatism (1992), Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays of Robert Frost (1995), and Trying It Out in America: Literary & Other Performances ( 2003). For Harold Bloom's 1992 review of Poirier's Poetry & Pragmatism go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v16/n07/harold-bloom/grandfather-emerson For a useful review by Daniel Green of A World Elsewhere go to: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/acts-of-rendition/ You can also access Green's "literary Weblog", FY possible I at that link.
Like so much of the knowledge that I have acquired in my 66 years of being engaged in the world of print, I did not come to a knowledge of this literary critic until I had freed myself: (i) from my responsibilities as a teacher and lecturer, (ii) from my duties and obligations as a parent, (iii) from my engagement in an assortment of community tasks and activities, and (iv) from the demands and occupations that came from an active social & domestic life. The last decade, my years from the age of 62 to 71, 2006 to 2015, were the beginning of what I have to come to see as my withdrawal from the social, and my freedom from the external(as much as this is possible) in order to enjoy the internal freedom that was necessary for the serious literary life that I had come to desire.
Helen Vendler, A. Kingsley Porter Professor at Harvard University, begins her new book with what she calls an “account of her life as a critic” – a reasonable subject for an introduction, given that, at the time this review is published, Vendler will have just passed her 82nd birthday. More relevant, though, is that The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar is the latest of nearly 30 books authored or edited by Vendler since the 1960’s, over the course of which, in addition to hundreds of reviews and essays, she has become known as perhaps the finest living critic of poetry in America. Her style, at once elegant and trenchant, witty and sincere, translates well between academic theory and more general insights meant for her readers at such magazines as The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and The New Republic.
She has written books on Yeats, Herbert, Keats, Stevens, Shakespeare, Heaney, and Dickinson. Her most recent books are Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries; Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill; and Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, has frequently been a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and delivered the 2004 Jefferson Lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more on Vendler and her Lit Crit go to this link:http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/50-years/2013/apr/30/national-poetry-month-helen-vendler/ For more on Vendler go to: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/reading-poetry/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Vendler
Roland Gérard Barthes(1915-1980) was a French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, & semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields; he influenced the development of schools of theory including semiotics structuralism, social theory, design theory, anthropology and post-structuralism. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Barthes Carnets du voyage en Chine by Roland Barthes(Christian Bourgois, 2009, 250 pages) and Journal de deuil by Roland Barthes(Seuil/Imec, 300 pages, 2009) are two new books by Barthes reviewed by Michael Wood.
Wood writes as follows: "Roland Barthes died almost 30 years ago, on 26 March 1980, but his works continue to engage new and old readers with remarkable consistency. Books about him keep appearing: literary and philosophical essays by Jean-Claude Milner (2003), Jean-Pierre Richard (2006) and Eric Marty (2006), a gossipy biography of his last years by Hervé Algalarrondo (2006), a chapter about his piano-playing by François Noudelmann (2008). And now we have two new/old texts by Barthes himself, transcriptions of his notes on the trip he made to China in spring 1974 with his friends from the Seuil publishing house and the magazine Tel Quel (François Wahl, Philippe Sollers, Julia Kristeva, Marcelin Pleynet), and of his so-called diary of mourning, a set of jottings made in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death in the autumn of 1977." For more go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n22/michael-wood/presence-of-mind
Roland Barthes died almost 30 years ago, on 26 March 1980, but his works continue to engage new and old readers with remarkable consistency. Books about him keep appearing: literary and philosophical essays by Jean-Claude Milner (2003), Jean-Pierre Richard (2006) and Eric Marty (2006), a gossipy biography of his last years by Hervé Algalarrondo (2006), a chapter about his piano-playing by François Noudelmann (2008). And now we have two new/old texts by Barthes himself, transcriptions of his notes on the trip he made to China in spring 1974 with his friends from the Seuil publishing house and the magazine Tel Quel (François Wahl, Philippe Sollers, Julia Kristeva, Marcelin Pleynet), & of his so-called diary of mourning, a set of jottings made in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s death in the autumn of 1977. For more on Barthes go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Barthes For more of this review of the two books about Barthes and his work go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n22/michael-wood/presence-of-mind
JOSEPH CONRAD: HEART OF DARKNESS/APOCALYPSE NOW
Apocalypse Now Redux(ANR) is a 2001 extended version of Francis Ford Coppola's epic war-film Apocalypse Now(AN). AN was originally released in 1979. Coppola, along with editor/long-time collaborator Walter Murch, added 49 minutes of scenes that had been cut out of the original film. The Redux edition represented a significant re-edit of the original version. I watched ANR 14 years after its release last night here in Tasmania on SBSONE TV, 4/4/'15 from 8:30 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. In the next two days, 5 & 6/4/'15, I wrote and compiled the following prose and poetry as a personal reflection on Apocalypse Now Redux(ANR). If this post is too long for readers I advise that: (i) they stop reading when their eyes start to glaze over and they lose interest, or (ii) skim or scan as your tastes dictate.-Ron Price, Australia
In 1994 I was, among other things, a lecturer in English Literature to matriculation students wanting to get into university. I worked at what is now Polytechnic-West in Perth Western Australia. Five years later, in 1999, I retired from a 50 year student and paid-employment life, 1949 to 1999. One of the novellas that my students had on their syllabus that year, 1994, was Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness(HoD). In Conrad's words, HoD is "a wild story of a journalist who becomes manager of a station in the African interior and makes himself worshipped by a tribe of savages."1
In the film I watched last night, ANR, Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is on a mission to kill the renegade and presumed insane U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando). As the film ends it appears that the Cambodian people who surround Kurtz at the edge of the river worship him or, at least, have some special relationship of devotion to him. This film, ANR, updates the setting of Conrad's novella. Capolla changes the jungle, the river and the backdrop of social issues. Francis Ford Coppola(1939-) is an American film director, producer & screenwriter. He was part of the New Hollywood wave of filmmaking. For a discussion of AN in the journal of film and popular culture, Images, go to: http://www.imagesjournal.com/issue09/features/coppola/default-yes.htm
Joseph Conrad(1857-1924) was a Polish author who wrote in English after settling in England. He is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in English. He was also a prose-poet of the highest order who depicted life's vanity, & the trials of the human spirit. He possessed an anguish directed toward modern society, and believed in man's fundamental aloneness and solitude in an apparently indifferent universe.2 There is a sense in this novel of "draining one's own self dry without a sense of thirst."3-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Wikipedia, (2) Matthew Feldman, "The Search for Authenticity: Aspects of Conrad's Existential Vision," Postgraduate English Journal, Issue 06, September 2002; and (3) Jean-Paul Sartre, The Age of Reason, 1945.
I could write much more about Conrad and his novella. Back in 1994 I made copious notes from my extended reading of many essays by literary critics, analysts of Conrad's letters and biographers of his life. Suffice it to say, Heart of Darkness(HoD) was one source for my starting point as I write my reflections on this film, ANR, that I watched last night. A second starting point for my reflections was my first viewing of AN at some time in the 1980s. Apocalypse Now(AN), was a 1979 American epic adventure war film set during the Vietnam War in 1967-8, and it is the film of which Redux is a revision. The film was a mirror reflecting the feelings of millions about the war in Vietnam, in all their complexity and sadness. This was how that eminent film reviewer Roger Ebert described the film in his review. A third starting point was two prose-poems I wrote about the concept 'apocalypse' in the first years of my early retirement after taking a sea-change at the age of 55. These 2 pieces of writing are found below:
ONE IMMENSE APOCALYPSE
There was unquestionably a sense of the oneness of all of life at the outset of the romantic period of literature in the West. For those whose knowledge of the history of western literature is minimal--the romantic period was at its peak from approximately 1800 to 1850. I have tried, in the prose-poem below, to link an example of this oneness in the poetry of Wordsworth, with the beginnings of the presursor-period to the Babi and Baha'i Revelations. That presursor period was, arguably, 1744 to 1844. I have tried to link Wordsworth's sense of darkness and of tempest with the Guardian's similar phraseology in the opening paragraph of The Promised Day Is Come. I have been reading & seriously studying: (a) Wordsworth, off and on, for nearly 25 years now, and (b) Shoghi Effendi(whom Baha'is refer to as 'the Guardian') for nearly 60 years. The poem of Wordsworth's which I draw on for this prose-poem of mine below is: 'Simplon Pass.' I only discovered this poem for the first time on 21/3/'01 as I was writing this particular prose-poem.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 21/3/'01 to 5/4/'15.
So many fellow travelers on what seems
an endless road, travelling on a journey
of many years at a slow pace, with heavy
load which 'tis a speedy trip if one looks
at it with a different sense of time & step.
So many houses, streets & towns born
over the last several generations, at least
since that indomitable man left his home
and pursued with undiminished zest the
course of his labours1 in the Napoleonic
period on the periphery of that world so
very Euro-centric, Christo-centric in the
1790s before Wordsworth got going was
still so centered to the middle of the 20th
century, although the centre did not hold.2
This time a tempest unparalleled in its
effects, unpredictable in its course, &
unimaginably glorious in its ultimate
consequences, has been sweeping the
face of the earth. My fellow-travelers
have been gripped in its devastation &
fury even now in this our 21st century
with the centre totally disappearing....
But I can see, like you3 the workings
of one mind, the features of one face,
the blossoms of one tree, and also one
immense apocalypse raining down as
if from the heavens of eternity giving
me to drink an endless drink: my life.
1 Shaykh Ahmad(1753-1826) left his home in about 1793. See The Dawnbreakers, p.12.. All the towns I lived in had their origins at some time after 1793, except perhaps Toronto and Hamilton in Ontario, whose histories go back to before that date.
2 W.B. Yeats(1865-1939), the 1st stanza of his poem 'The Second Coming' is as follows:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
3 See Wordsworth(1770-1850), "The Simplon Pass," line 16.
21/1/'01 to 6/4/'15.
SOME NOTES ON PROPHECY
The book Apocalypse Secrets is by John Able, a Baha'i of Hebrew descent who learned Koine Greek so he could read the Bible in its original language, New Testament Greek, patristic Greek. He then wrote about the Book of Revelation from a Baha'i standpoint. "I have always been skeptical", writes Dr. Robert Stockman, in his Foreword to this book, "about efforts to interpret prophecies. Such interpretations are attempts to discern the intent of God and are ultimately unprovable. It is rather like looking at a cloud in the sky and seeing in its ever-shifting shapes a horse, a person, or an angel. Who is to say God did not choose to make the cloud look like an angel when someone was looking at it? Who is to say the resulting and approximate correlation of shapes was due to mere chance? How can one determine which is the case?
One thing the author mentions concerns the word 'Harmigdo.' Able points out that Tel Megdo is always erroneously indicated as the place of Armaggedon. It sits at the base of Mt. Carmel. Instead Har means mountain, Megid means Preacher, and O means His-God! Mt. Carmel is where the Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha, both lived for a time, and now Mt Carmel is the centre of the holy places of the Bab and Baha'u'llah in Israel.
Back in the early 1970s I read Ruth Moffit's New Keys to the Book of Revelation and Apocalypse Unsealed. I took prophecy quite seriously in my youth, at least from the age of about sixteen, in 1960, until perhaps the early 1970s partly because in those years in the Baha’i community I had joined there was a special interest in the subject of prophecy.
After about a dozen years of interest and study, by the time I was living in the state of Victoria Australia, I realized that I was running into three groups of people in the wider world insofar as prophecy was concerned. One group had absolutely no interest in the subject, and this was by far the largest group. A second group had a great deal of interest. Their views were as fixed as the rock of Gibraltar and such a thing as dialogue with them was fruitless. A third group expressed a mild interest in the subject, and this group was so small that it seemed to be pointless to continue investing my time in a subject for which there was so little 'payoff.'
After nearly thirty years of a general lack of pursuit of this field, say 1975 to 2005, my interest in prophecy began to slowly reawaken. By then I had retired from my professional work as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator. The interest, though, was not a bright spark of enthusiasm. Rather it was a slow kindling due to several Baha’is who had by the 1990s begun to write extensively on the subject. There was, too, the introduction into my life, slowly but surely, of a few people with an interest in prophecy and who were keen to discuss the subject & I with them, but only on rare occasions. I had by then, by the early years of the third millennium, developed a wide-ranging interest in much else, subjects of popular and many academic disciplines. The people I came to discuss prophecy with were all on the internet, but even those discussions were on rare occasions as the decade, 2005 to 2015, came to a close.
I began to collect notes as the millennium turned its corner. The notes were for the most part ones off the internet. I opened a file in 2001 as a place to keep all these notes. Time would tell how much time and interest I would invest in this subject which I began to examine over fifty years ago. After fifteen years, 2001-2015, this file is filled to overflowing, but I do not take a serious interest in the subject; it's one of the many 'also-rans' in my life.
There is much information one rarely
or never uses in life: prophecy and a
particular form: Biblical prophecy is
in such a category. I used to know a
great deal about this subject when I
was young, & all those old ladies &
men filled the spaces of the group of
Baha’is in that little town by the lake
where I was a youth so very long ago.
Daniel and the Book of Revelation verse
by verse and line by line as well as that
book Thief-in-the-Night filled my brain
with dates, with time-of-the-end stuff, &
eschatology, millennialism, but so rarely
have I used this info in the last 50 years:
with Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and
those occasional evangelic Christians who
were in my path in the years of young, late
and middle adulthood. And so now all the
pages lie dormant on my book shelves to
be brought out rarely when someone talks
to me about the Return of Christ, 1844, the
Messiah, and all that jazz; then I return this
paper to its place until the next, & rare, time
when the subject comes into my life in these
the evening years of my life while old age &
.....at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before me lies
Deserts of vast eternities.1
1 Andrew Marvell a poem: 'To his Coy Mistress'
11/12/'10 to 18/5/'15.
An apocalypse was again before my eyes last night as I watched this film which that now quite famous film reviewer, Roger Ebert, said was "one of the central events of my life as a filmgoer." The remake of Apocalypse Now(AN), Ebert went on, had a voluptuous and saturated physicality. It was produced with a technical mastery in hellish production conditions on locations in the Philippines. In one of the added scenes Brando sits in leaf-dappled sunshine, surrounded by children, reading articles from Time magazine to Mr. Sheen, who lies semiconscious in a tomblike cell. This is more apt, & wittier, than his recitation of ''The Hollow Men,'' but Mr. Brando's arch performance personifies T. S. Eliot's invocation of ''shape without form, gesture without motion'' and words from several of his poems: The Wasteland, Prufrock and The Hollow Men. -Ron Price with thanks to Roger Ebert's review of ANR.
By the 1990s I had come to appreciate the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion, a wide-ranging, study of mythology and religion written by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). Two books seen opened on Kurtz's desk in the film are From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Weston, a book I was not familiar with, and The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer. These were the two books that Eliot cited as the chief sources and inspiration for his poem "The Waste Land", arguably the most famous poem of the 20th century and a poem on my matriculation syllabus in 1963 in Canada. Eliot's original epigraph for "The Waste Land" was the following passage from Heart of Darkness, which ends with Kurtz's final words:
"Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision; he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: "The horror! The horror!" These same two words were the last heard in this film, ANR.
Eliot's poetry in this film went
to the heart of the matter, the
Heart of Darkness, not only in
Vietnam but other places in my
time in these four epochs that
have been my days in lifespan.
The film, I found, went to the
heart of peoples' feelings about
Vietnam. Kurst's insanity took
place in the year 1968 when I,
too, was having that psychotic
break from reality in Baffin!!1
I agree with Conrad that my view
of the world is my understanding
at a particular moment....and that
there's an essentially impenetrable
quality to human existence....and
that many mysteries can find no
ears to hear nor hearts to penetrate
as we saw, yet again, in this film
Apocalypse Now, Redux; but the
quest for transcendence is still a
worthy exercise as I wander on
between two worlds, one dead,
the other slowly, imperceptibly,
but not powerless to be born, as
Matthew Arnold put it long ago.2
1 In May 1968 on Baffin Island, I experienced my first episode of bi-polar I disorder and had to be hospitalized for 6 months.
2 “Wandering between two worlds, one dead
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn."
- Matthew Arnold, 'Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse'
Ecocriticism is the study of literature and environment from an interdisciplinary point of view where all sciences come together to analyze the environment. The process involves brainstorming possible solutions for the correction of the contemporary environmental situation. In the United States, ecocriticism is often associated with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment(ASLE), which hosts biennial meetings for scholars who deal with environmental matters in literature. ASLE publishes a journal—Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE)—in which current American scholarship can be found. Ecocriticism is an intentionally broad approach that is known by a number of other designations, including "green (cultural) studies", "ecopoetics", and "environmental literary criticism". For more on this subject go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecocriticism
A parody also called spoof, send-up or lampoon, is an imitative work created to imitate, or comment on and trivialize. What is trivialized is an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation. As the literary theorist Linda Hutcheon puts it, "parody is imitation, not always at the expense of the parodied text." Another critic, Simon Dentith, defines parody as "any cultural practice which provides a relatively polemical allusive imitation of another cultural production or practice." Parody may be found in art or culture, including literature, music, although "parody" in music has an earlier, somewhat different meaning than for other art forms, animation, gaming and film. for more on parody go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parody
Parody is the most entertaining form of literary criticism, but that doesn’t make it easy to do. In fact it’s probably the hardest of the minor literary forms to get right. Max Beerbohm was a great master of parody, and since then there have been several consistently successful perpetrators of wicked little masterpieces that have summed up a victim’s creative lifetime in a few short paragraphs. One of the most able exponents of the art alive now would be Russell Davies. For more on Davies go to:http://www.clivejames.com/articles/russell-davies
THE RISE OF CREATIVE WRITING
The world of letters has been transformed in the last 250 years. "The very idea of a national literature is now rather an unmeaning term; the epoch of world literature is at hand, & every one must strive to hasten its approach," declared Goethe in 1827. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was a German writer and politician. He was right that a global literary culture would be generated by a "commerce of ideas among peoples" led by "the translator as a mediator seeking to promote this universal spiritual commerce and setting himself the task of assisting its progress." What Goethe missed is just how ferociously Darwinian, nationalistic the market place of world literature would be. The spirit of localism has many rivers that find their way into the great oceans of the world. On the one hand, technology has made it easier than ever before to sample writing from around the world. Yet the decline of books available in English translation suggests that, in the battle for survival, translators aren't proving to be all that fit. Goethe's epoch will not be coming soon. I leave it to readers with the interest to follow-up on this theme, this increasingly complex subject.
The university English department is only a seemingly homogeneous sphere. It is a department I entered in September 1963. I have dropped in and out of post-secondary English departments now for more than 50 years. My formal teaching life came to an end in 2003, but in the dozen years, 2003 to 2015, I have taken an interest in the offerings and the context of English, its study and forms, as well as its several inter-related disciplines at the post-secondary level. A schism has opened up in recent decades between literary scholarship and creative writing. Both these disciplines differ in their points of reference. They differ in: (i) the graduate degrees they award: Doctor of Philosophy vs Master of Fine Arts, and (ii) their perceived objects of study: literature vs fiction. Mark McGurl's The Programme Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing, has taken the rise of the programme ‘not as an occasion for praise or lamentation, but as an established fact in need of historical interpretation.’ His book is thus both welcome and overdue.
The central claims of The Programme Era are beyond dispute: the creative writing programme has exercised the single most determining influence on postwar literary production in many countries. Any convincing interpretation of literary works has to take this role of creative writing into account. I certainly did since I worked on both sides of the divide for years; I had many more years spent in teaching creative writing than English literature. English composition has been part of my life, first as a student and then as a teacher, for decades.
In a series of inspired readings, McGurl demonstrates that the plantation in Beloved, the mental ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest & the bus in Robert Olen Butler’s Mr Spaceman all function as metaphors for the creative writing workshop. McGurl also provides a useful typology of programme fiction(PF). PF is defined as the prose work of graduates from &/or instructors in creative writing programmes. He has divided the field into three main groups: ‘technomodernism’ (John Barth, Thomas Pynchon), ‘high cultural pluralism’ (Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros) and ‘lower-middle-class modernism’ (Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates), with Venn diagrams illustrating the overlap between these groups, and their polarisation by aesthetic sub-tendencies such as maximalism and minimalism.
Despite his professed indifference to the pro-con debate, however, McGurl also sets out to defend the creative writing programme from its detractors, assuming the rhetorical burden of proving: (a) that postwar fiction is at least as ‘creative’ as any other literature, and (b) that its most ‘creative’ features are specifically the product of the programme. There were, back in 2005, almost three times as many faculty and department positions in creative writing as in the study of twentieth-century literature." This comes as hardly any surprise to me since teaching creative writing saved my bacon, so to speak. There has always been more mileage for me since as far back as the late sixties in teaching creative writing. Had I relied on teaching English literature, and its study of novels and essays ,short stories and journalistic works, to help me pay the bills and raise three children I would have quickly starved.
The dominance of Creative Writing in the English Studies job list, in turn, reflects the growing student demand for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the field, especially over the years since the mid-1980s. BA and MA degrees in Creative Writing in North American tertiary institutions have quadrupled. I studied & then taught creative writing, essay writing and communication skills from the 1950s until the first years of the 21st century. I have continued to do so in a variety of ways in cyberspace in the last decade, 2006 to 2015, after leaving the world of FT, PT and casual paid employment which had occupied me in a variety of ways from 1950 to 2005.
It is not my intention here to write a detailed outline of these many decades of my formal & informal study & teaching in the field of creative writing. I leave it to readers, yet again, to find out more about my background, as well as about this schism in the English-writing world of post-secondary education. The developments that have taken place in the field of creative writing at all levels of the education process in many countries of the world are extensive & burgeoning. Readers might like to begin with this Australian Humanities Review(September 2006) article by Peta Mitchell entitled: 'Negotiating the Creative and the Critical: Paul Dawson's Creative Writing and the New Humanities' at: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-September-2006/mitchell.html
Wanting to be a writer is a strange and complicated affair which slowly grew on me after decades of studying and teaching writing. Proust was surely speaking for many of his colleagues when he wrote that "the desire to become a writer often comes long in advance of an authentic subject." In my case, a Canadian boy in love with sport, from a small town & growing-up from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, the desire to write grew by sensible and insensible degrees over at least 3 to 4 decades. Proust once wrote that: "I wished, some day, to become a writer, but I did not know what I was going to write about. As soon as I asked myself the question, trying to find some subject, my mind would cease to function, my consciousness would be faced with a blank; I would feel either that I was wholly devoid of talent or that perhaps a malady of the brain was hindering its development." The story of my experience from the 1950s and 1960s to the late 1990s and the 21st century, by which time writing was at the centre of my daily activity is a long one. The words above of Marcel Proust were typical of the many chapters in the story of my literary and artistic development. But Proust's story is not the only one from which I can gather comparisons and contrasts with my own experience.
Proust tried to recapture with words as much of his life as he could. But like Einstein, Proust was, in his own way, a theorist of time and space. "An hour is not merely an hour," Proust wrote, "it is a vase full of scents & sounds and projects and climates." The lost sensation of his mother's kiss or the lost sensation of a Paris street were part of the immense project of recapturing his life, the life that had been. Countless volumes have been written about this author, who died in 1922. Proust's own novel, Remembrance of Things Past (often referred to by enthusiasts as simply The Novel), is a very autobiographical 3,000 pages long. A two-volume study by George Painter, published in 1959 and 1965, is generally acknowledged to be one of the finest literary biographies in English. It is this autobiographical aspect of Proust's work that interested me the most. For more on Proust and the recent recrudescence of interest in his life and work go to these 2 links: https://files.nyu.edu/gmp1/public/proust.htm and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mLdo4uMJUU
Like many aspiring writers and teachers, I enrolled in several post-graduate programmes after college. I did not go for a PhD or a Master of Fine Arts(MFA). I studied in several Grad. Dip & MA programmes in which essay writing was the modus operandi of evaluation. I had high hopes that I could enrich my knowledge-base by taking advanced degrees and, at the same time, advance myself in the profession I had chosen: teaching. Both of these goals were achieved. My capacity to write also advanced as I slowly came to be familiar with the law of ‘find your voice’ and ‘write what you know.’ The juxtaposition of personal narrative with the facts of the world & the facts of literature is taking place today in my life largely in memoirs and autobiography, essays & prose-poetry.
In one of many brilliant observations in David Shields’s recent manifesto Reality Hunger, he argues that writers would be best advised to give up the idea of writing a novel altogether. I had, in fact, given-up on the idea of writing one nearly 25 years ago, that is, by 1991. To be a really lousy writer takes energy. I was a lousy novelist, and the process of trying to write one exhausted and frustrated me over a several year period. I gave up in the end, saddened that this genre was not one in which I could find my voice, my talent or, indeed, even much writing pleasure. Clive James, that erudite Australian writer once wrote that: "the average novelist remains unread not because he is bad, but because he is flat." I think I was both bad and flat. But either way, by the early 1990s I had turned my interests and whatever writing-and-literary talents I possessed to other genres of the literary game.
Prose is my main means of expression even though I write a great deal of poetry. Some writers work as journalists; some don't work at all; they live on the dole or get any job they can just to pay the bills. I worked as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator. For most of my professional life I have worked in this field of education, although I often had other jobs in my working life from 1950 to 2005. I have listed these jobs at the Linkedin website for those who are interested in my immersion in everyday reality's field of money-making and employment.
I have reservedly, and sometimes unreservedly, subscribed to Jean-Francois Revel's supposedly controversial principle that there are no genres, only talents. At least this principle has been important to me after I gave-up on the novel-writing game. Good writing can come from anywhere, even from the withdrawn spiritual contemplation of the suitably subsidised hermit. I am no hermit, although I had withdrawn by the 21st century from much of the social world, a world which I had inhabited for decades. Good writing, says Clive James, is most likely to come from writers who are in contact with everyday reality; a condition that journalism tends to enforce. By the 21st century I had had so much contact with everyday reality that I was looking for a way to get off the treadmill, the grindstone of Everydayism that had kept my nose down for more than 60 hours every week for decades.
Karl Kraus said a journalist was a writer who, given more time, writes worse, but Kraus himself was a kind of journalist, & anyway he was a better aphorist than essayist. Backed up by a trust-fund & well able to turn up his nose at journeywork, he loftily despised the essay, the piece, and the feuilleton, but it could have been because he had trouble composing them. Karl Kraus(1874-1936) was an Austrian writer and journalist, known as a satirist, essayist, aphorist, playwright and poet. He directed his satire to the press, German culture, and German and Austrian politics.
If a beginner is sensitive enough to his own deficiencies, he soon discovers, head in hands, that composition is three quarters of the trick no matter in whatever genre he or she is writing. You can have all the vocabulary there is, and any amount of linguistic inventiveness, but you have to learn to put it all in the right order with some kind of sensitivity to manner and mode, style and form. Many, indeed, most---if not all--of the writers I draw on are chosen for being able to do that, and my hope is that some of the visitors who enjoy what I have placed here to be read will be lured into trying to figure out how it was written. Somebody else's original gift can't be duplicated, but the study of it can always help to make us a more careful guardian of our own. Meanwhile, even if the reader has no plans to be a writer himself, there is always an extra fascination in watching a craftsman at work. Writing in any form is never just the style, but it isn't just the subject either.
The above paragraphs are drawn, virtually in their entirety, from the website of Clive James. They seemed so pertinent to my own work here that I have quoted from him liberally. Readers with the interest can access more of Clive's website at this link: http://www.clivejames.com/guest-writers
Hermione Lee wrote a review entitled: "He Gave ‘the Mundane Its Beautiful Due’" in The New York Review of Books on 8 May 2014. It is a review of two books, one about John Updike and one by him. One is a biography entitled Updike by Adam Begley(Harper, 600 pages), and the other is: The Collected Stries: Collected Early Stories, Collected Later Stories by John Updike, edited by Christopher Carduff(Library of America, two volumes, 2000 pages). Like the experience, the writing, of the novelist John Updike, the pathos and joys of past things is one of my most poignant literary subjects. Updike never tired, his biographer concludes, of what he lovingly called “creation’s giddy bliss.” As I have gone about recreating myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, after retiring from my 50 year student-and-employment life, 1949 to 1999, in these last 15 years, I also find writing to provide me, indeed, with this "giddy bliss." The medications I take for my bipolar disorder keep me from being too "giddy". Although I spent many years in the 1970s and 1980s concerned about the effect of these medications on my creativity, by the 1990s I was fully complaint, as students of the subject call acceptance of the reality of one's need for the treatments of pharmacology.
Balzac once wrote that: "Your complete literary man writes all the time. It wakes him in the morning to write, it exercises him to write, it rests him to write. Writing is to him a visit from a friend, a cup of tea, a game of cards, a walk in the country, a warm bath, an after-dinner nap, a hot Scotch before bed, and the sleep that follows it. Your complete literary chap is a writing animal; and when he dies he leaves a cocoon as large as a haystack, in which every breath he has drawn is recorded in writing."-Balzac, quoted in Richard B. Hovey, John Jay Chapman. For an overview of Balzac's life and work go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_de_Balzac
Until my late 50s I was not in the race to be "your complete literary man." I was too occupied and preoccupied with the mundane & the quotidian, first with growing-up & student life, then with earning a living & raising a family, as well as with an engagement in the social responsibilities of community & friendship. There were, as well, life's many leisure pursuits. But slowly, little by little, sensibly and insensibly, as my 50s became my 60s, and my 60s my 70s, I became more completely literary, at least in the 12 hours I was not in bed due to the somnolent, the soporific, affects of my medications, and my several infirmities; and the several hours I needed to attend to my roles of: grandfather and father, friend and husband, the associated domestic and interpersonal duties, as well as my basic needs for food and hygiene, physical comforts & infotainment.
Updike is conspicuously, and highly conscious of being, an autobiographical writer. The more one reads him, the more obvious it becomes that he was enthralled by the details of his own experience. All his life’s material he metamorphosed into stories, poems, and novels. His biographer, Adam Begley, tries to translate back from Updike's fiction into Updike's unfictionalized life. A level, steady gaze is needed to sort out the life itself from that dazzling, profuse work of gleeful fictional masquerades. My writing, on the other hand, being quintessentially autobiographical, memoiristic, has none of these masquerades.
Updike suggested the following epitaph for himself: ‘Here lies a small-town boy who tried to make the most out of what he had, who made up with diligence what he might have lacked in brilliance.’ The claims he made for his short stories are those of a lacklustre publicist: ‘my only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me – to give the mundane its beautiful due.’ Of his choice to make suburban life his primary subject, he said: ‘Out there was where I belonged, immersed in the ordinary, which careful explication would reveal to be extraordinary.’ In Lee's 2014 review she writes: "In Updike's 'Personal Archaeology', he has a list of the remnants of his boyhood world that have washed up in his last house. They are objects that had been with him in the abyss of lost time, and survived less altered than he. They had to mean something, fraught and weighty as they were with the mystery of his own transient existence.
In one of his last stories 'My Father’s Tears', Updike quotes from Emerson: “Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact.” Emerson and his ideas are, in some ways, all over Updike's words. In his memoiristic 'Self-Consciousness' Updike writes: “We are persuaded that a thread runs through all things….” In my several million words, I am highly conscious of this same mysterious thread. "It is the ordinary, banal things", writes Lee, "that Updike tenderly cherished & made fresh on the page in his many books. For over half a century, Updike transformed everyday America into lavishly eloquent and observant language."
I do not possess Updike's skills, his many decades of literary work and success, nor his fame as a novelist. What Updike accomplishes autobiographically across his wide novelistic landscape, though, I work-at as well in the memoiristic literary landscape I create, and have created in the last two decades, 1994 to 2014. At least that is one way of putting my aim, my MO, as I go about endowing my past with meaning and pleasure in this the evening of my life, as I now go through my 70s from 2014 to 2024, and my 80s, if I last that long. For more of this review of the life of Updike, and his writing go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/may/08/updike-mundane-its-beautiful-due/?insrc=hpma
In the wake of the Second World War, the aesthetic imperative to ‘keep it real’ had acquired an ethical dimension. In 1962, as I was entering matriculation, the poet Sylvia Plath wrote ‘Daddy’, an intensely autobiographical piece. In light of the continuing diversity of human unhappiness and its inalienable ‘right to expression’, it may have been wrong to say that no poem could be written after Auschwitz’. I've now written 1000s! The individual experience of authors like myself has often seemed to be like the kinds of things one finds in social science textbooks of all sorts: war and violence, the social displacements of immigration or other large-scale traumas, and a variety of detailed analyses of human experience..
Many, if not most, writers attended college after WW2. In previous generations this would not likely have been the case. This was because fewer individuals of any kind went to college before the postwar advent of mass higher education. It was also because a college education was not yet perceived as an obvious starting point for a career as a novelist, or writer of whatever form. Rather, as the uncredentialled, or rather press-credentialled, example of the high school graduate Hemingway makes clear, the key supplementary institution for the novel until mid-century was journalism. Literary writing is inherently elitist & impractical. It doesn’t directly cure disease, combat injustice, or make enough money, usually, to support philanthropic aims. Because writing is suspected by some to be narcissistic and wasteful, it must be ‘disciplined’. Hence the creative writing workshop’s most famous mantras – ‘Murder your darlings,’ ‘Omit needless words,’ ‘Show, don’t tell’. They also betray a view of writing as self-indulgence, an excess to be painfully curbed in AA-type group sessions. Writing, especially nicely turned prose or poetry, demands a certain surplus of money and leisure time. I did not acquire both until my mid-to-late 50s. By then I had retired from 50 to 80 hour work weeks with their associated demands of raising a family and engagements in all sorts of community responsibilities.
Creative Writing and Writing Studies are, among other things, systems. Systems embody what has been named our “moment of complexity.” The phrase “moment of complexity” is Mark C. Taylor’s, and it is becoming as ubiquitous a term of reference as Kuhn’s “paradigm shift” was just a decade or two ago back in the 1990s. Complex systems have become products of diverse, globalized networks. Diffuse & interdependent, they operate “with no central control” according to Melanie Mitchell in her Complexity: A Guided Tour(New York, Oxford UP, 2011, p.13.) Systems are famously observed explained by scientists like John Holland with ant nests or computer programs. Stuart Kauffmann, with theories of prebiotic evolution, W. Brian Arthur with economic studies of the stock market, and Ira Livingston with cultural theory and literary language are each and all scientists who observe and explain systems.
New forms of technology, as Byron Hawk explains in his A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodologies of Complexity(Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007) have recently pushed an ecology of systems to the forefront of philosophies of knowledge and of everyday life. "Systems," Mark Taylor writes, “are recasting the very social, political, economic and cultural fabric of life.” Taylor explains this in his The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001) Go to these two links for more on this subject: http://www.enculturation.net/history-of-pedagogy and http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/791173.html.
Studying Creative Writing is the fourth in an international series of books entitled Creative Writing Studies. It is aimed at prospective and current students and those who teach writing in higher education. I no longer teach creative writing although, in cyberspace, I am certainly involved in the subject in a variety of ways. The book is structured into eleven chapters, each authored by a different teacher-writer. At first glance, the title of this text makes it seem relevant to a very narrow audience. Upon reading, however, it becomes evident that the book is of interest and use to those studying, teaching, and/or practicing writing before, during or after tertiary education.
Both undergraduate and graduate students benefit enormously from classes that encourage a candid discussion of their writing processes and the successes and failures that shape the writing they are producing. As a teacher I did not want my students to experience literacy demands as opaque, presumed, and unarticulated monoliths such as a 20 page, unrevised, end-of-term seminar paper. I needed to explore different ways that both readers and writers might use the hybrid essay to learn to write, teach, and be engaged students and teachers of composition. And I did, but it was a complex process. Why anyone would want to work with struggling writers unless they too struggled with writing, unless they saw all writing everywhere as always in need of update, revision, renewal, and repair.
Human beings keep language alive and language, in turn, allows us to go on revising. We write to restore, sustain, and advance. Our work with words is never done. We are like the constant crew of bridge-workers on the Golden Gate Bridge—recursively repainting our subject from one end to the other then back again. I leave it to readers to Google the vast number of books now available on creative writing. Composition and essay writing, report writing and creative writing are all swimming in a sea of other required courses that students “have” to take in order to get someplace else, to do something they find more worth doing. Most of the students I taught saw the importance of language in their lives as a subject worth studying, but they had trouble articulating their views. My job was to help them.
I addressed the awareness and the troubles students had to help them to realize and validate their actual concerns. I tried again and again to put their difficulties at the center of our enterprise. Asking my students to explain why writing was difficult for them, asking them to define what they thought about writing and why they had trouble allowed both myself and my students to better understand how their literary tasks functioned in relation to their learning needs and desires. Go to these two links for a discussing of writing and a review of the above book: http://www.enculturation.net/between-the-classroom
Creative writing is any writing that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic,academic, or technical forms of literature, typically identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes or with various traditions of poetry and poetics. Due to the looseness of the definition, it is possible for writing such as feature stories to be considered creative writing, even though they fall under journalism, because the content of features is specifically focused on narrative and character development. Both fictional and non-fictionalworks fall into this category, including such forms as novels, biographies, short stories, and poems. In the academic setting, creative writing is typically separated into fiction and poetry classes, with a focus on writing in an original style, as opposed to imitating pre-existing genres such as crime or horror. Writing for the screen and stage—screenwriting and playwrighting—are often taught separately, but fit under the creative writing category as well. For more on this subject go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_writing
MORE ON LIT CRIT
"On the Future of the Humanistic Tradition in Literary Criticism" is an article which appeared in the online journal Humanitas. It was written by a James Seaton. Seaton is a professor in the Department of English at Michigan State University, where he has taught since 1971. I continued my teaching career in Australia in 1971, after beginning that career and my teacher training in 1966 in Canada. I taught English at the primary, secondary and post secondary level from 1967 until 2005 when I brought all my classroom teaching to an end. The following paragraph is from that online electronic journal Humanitas. The article appeared in 1998, the year before I retired form FT teaching at a technical and further education college in Western Australia. Any concern that I had as a classroom teacher for the issues raised here continued until 2005, the year I stopped all FT, PT and casual classroom teaching. My concern in the years 2006 to 2014 is more academic and intellectual, personal and literary---as a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, reader and scholar.
Until recently, at least until the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was teaching Lit Crit in a technical college, now a polytechnic, the humanistic impulse has been central to literary criticism in the West. The works of twentieth-century American critics like Irving Babbitt, Edmund Wilson and Ralph Ellison, for example, are part of what is now a lengthy conversation about literature. It is a conversation that starts for these modern critics with the revival of ancient learning in Italy in the fourteenth century. The humanistic tradition has demonstrated its ability to accommodate a variety of tastes, political inclinations and philosophical doctrines. Through all the debates over the beautiful versus the sublime, romanticism versus classicism, or even political right versus left, the conversation has continued. In 1987, however, Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind warned that our culture, which boasted of its unprecedented "openness," was in danger of closing off the debate over philosophical alternatives that begins for us with the Greeks.
Literary Theory: an Introduction (1983, revised 1996) by Terry Eagleton traces the history of the study of texts, from the Romantics of the nineteenth century to the postmodernists of the later twentieth century. Eagleton's approach to literary criticism remains firmly rooted in the Marxian tradition though he has also incorporated techniques and ideas from more recent modes of thought as structuralism, Lacanian analysis, and deconstruction. Over his long career as man of letters, teacher and polemicist, Terry Eagleton has achieved the singular distinction of being a famous literary critic. Eagleton made his name in 1983 with “Literary Theory: An Introduction,” a slender, deceptively accessible book that was for a generation of undergraduates a lifeline of clarity in a roiling sea of baffling Continental theories of post-structuralism and deconstruction. Its aura of bluff common sense was a ruse, of course. As a Marxist, Eagleton’s agenda was the illustration of how literature inevitably furthers or degrades the class structure, and how all literature is a function of economic factors. Most of the many books he has written since play variations on this basic theme.
How to Read Literature(2013) and The Event of Literature (2012) represent Eagleton working at the height of his expressive and intellectual power, albeit in two very different modes. “How to Read Literature” is a lively and engaging primer on basic strategies for appreciating literature, a kind of English 101 in a book. It is aimed at "readers and students". It is a personable stroll through a predictable canon: Charlotte Brontë, Forster, Keats, Milton, Hardy, et al – plus JK Rowling, perhaps thrown in so as not to appear snobbish. The avuncular prof cautions his audience not to read in certain ways, and aims to show, through close reading of selected passages of poetry and prose, how to appreciate the best of what's been thought and said. “The Event of Literature” is a dense, ambitious treatise proposing “what with suitable modesty might be called a Theory of (almost) Everything.” Here, Eagleton melds formalist rigor and post-structuralist phenomenology within a Marxist framework. Taken together, the two books make a splendid high-low punch: theory and praxis, divergent expressions of a powerful sensibility engaged with searching questions about identity, narrative and meaning. Readers might like to Google some of the terms I have used here since the study of literature, unlike just reading it, is a complex field requiring many years to become familiar with its fields and streams.
The New York Times wrote that Bloom's book "hit with the approximate force and effect of electroshock therapy.” Bloom gave readers an appraisal of contemporary America and the West in general that has not only been vindicated, but has also become more urgent 25 years later. In clear, spirited prose, Bloom argued that the social and political crises of contemporary America and the West are part of a larger intellectual crisis. That crisis is the result of a dangerous narrowing of curiosity and exploration by the university elites. The trends that Bloom described back then have only accelerated in the more than a quarter of a century since the book appeared.
In this second decade of the 21st century it appears that not only is the philosophical tradition, which was Bloom’s main concern, in danger, but the humanistic tradition of literary criticism is also threatened. It is sometimes threatened by people like Richard Rorty(1931-2007) who insist that their goal is to replace philosophy with literary criticism. Rorty was an American philosopher with a long and diverse academic career including: positions as Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, Kenan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia, and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. For more on this stimulating article go to:http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/seaton.htm
There are two meticulous surveys of modern criticism: Authors and Authority: English and American Criticism 1750-1990 by Patrick Parrinder
(MacMillan, 400 pages, 1991), and A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Vol. VII: German, Russian and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950 by René Wellek(Yale, 500 pages, 1991). These two studies of literary criticism in all its vertiginous variety lead one to ponder what it is all about and where it may be heading. The book by René Wellek, focuses on Central and Eastern European critics. It is the penultimate volume of a vast project he began in the Fifties. The two previous volumes dealt respectively with English and American criticism in this same half-century, and chapters of the first four volumes of the series covered earlier critics that fall within the scope of Patrick Parrinder’s study. Authors and Authority in turn is an expansion of a 1977 book that stopped with the beginning of the 20th century. Now nearly twice its original length, it comes all the way down to the Yale Deconstructionists, the American proponents of cultural studies and the New Historicists. To judge by what René Wellek has observed elsewhere of these recent developments, he is no doubt quite happy to end his own account a generation before they all began.
The year 2009 was the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species; it was therefore named the "Darwin Year" and was celebrated all over the world by academic conferences and events targeting the general public. The celebrations marked the extreme "actuality" of Darwin work and the persistent relevance of the questions he raised: not only about "Man's place in nature," but also about the connections and relations between "nature" and the human realm of "culture." Darwinism today informs and shapes our culture in a way very similar to Freud: regardless of how skeptically we may treat their theories, we have become constitutionally incapable of overlooking their basic concepts--in science, academia or popular culture--so that these form the matrix of the prevalent interpretations of the world. Virginia Richter thus opens her book: we are all post-Darwinian the way we are all post-Freudian (1).
In the Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature, Volume 9, Number 2, Fall 2011, there is an article on yet another theory or approach to Lit Crit. The article is a review of two new books, both published in 2011. The first is by Joseph Carroll, Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice, and the second is by Virginia Richter, Literature After Darwin: Human Beasts in Western Fiction, 1859-1939. For an excellent overview of this new theory of Lit Crit go to(1): http://www.brynmawr.edu/bmrcl/BMRCLFall2011/Reading%20Human%20Nature,%20Literature%20after%20Darwin.htm
ARISTOTLE AND COLERIDGE
Aristotle and Coleridge represent antithetical poles in the tradition of literary criticism. Though Coleridge is often cited as inaugurating an emphasis on character and psychology in Shakespeare’s plays, what this means, Whalley argues, is not that Coleridge snatches “the primacy of ‘plot’ out of Aristotle’s hands” in order to “reassign it to ‘character’; it is rather to complement and reinforce Aristotle’s position.” Aristotle had seen that tragedy is action of a certain kind and figure; it is induced through a person (‘character’) acting out a certain configuration of events (‘plot’). As long as the action is significant human action, plot can no more be separated from character than initiative can be separated from the tissue of knowing and not-knowing. Coleridge, after all, is the inventor of practical criticism or what a later century came to call the “new criticism” or the close reading of texts.
What Coleridge has done is greatly to enrich the possibilities of tragic action by allowing for a greater intricacy of initiative, thereby allowing for a finer and more exquisite definition of moral trajectory; he has done nothing to detract from the integrity of the drama, the self-defining of the action as tragic. At the heart of this argument, the argument that Aristotle and Coleridge offer complementary approaches to an understanding of drama and tragedy, is a claim about the fundamental congruence of what Coleridge calls “imagination” with what Aristotle calls “mimesis.” For more on this aspect of Lit Crit go to:http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%2015/3_Baxter.pdf
‘Deconstruction,’ a term appropriated by Derrida(1930-2004) from Martin Heidegger(1889-1976), is now taken to be a vaguely defined relativistic method of literary criticism which holds that any interpretation of a text is as good as another, rather than a rigorous metaphysics & epistemology. Unless readers here at my website have an interest in literary criticism, I would encourage them to forget about trying to follow the many difficult paths of deconstructionism. I spent some years in the early 1990s teaching Lit Crit &, since then, I have been dipping into the field from time to time. After 25 years of reading about Lit Crit and writing about it, as well as trying to explain it to others either in the classroom or in cyberspace, I know it is a difficult field with complex concepts.
Deconstruction is Derrida’s critique of Plato’s metaphysics. To understand deconstruction, we must briefly recapitulate Platonic metaphysics and then, using Derrida’s meticulous reading of Plato's Phaedrus, we need to examine the way Plato represents writing as a drug. Third, we can then turn to Derrida’s critique of Plato. Fourth, and finally, we reassert the philosophical status of deconstruction & reassess the contribution of Derrida to Western Philosophy. All of this requires some reading which, unless one is a specialist, the average reader is not prepared to do the intellectual legwork.
I don't want to give readers an outline of Plato's ideas or his metaphysics, nor do I want to do the same of Heidegger whose ideas are also involved in the transition from Plato(424-348 BC) to Derrida. Derrida sought to apply Heidegger's concept of 'Destruktion' to textual reading. Heidegger's term referred to a process of exploring the categories and concepts that tradition has imposed on a word, & the history behind them. Derrida opted for deconstruction over the literal translation destruction to suggest precision rather than violence. Interested readers can read-up on these topics if they are inclined. I do want to emphasize that deconstruction is not a nihilisitic, radically relativistic theory about the ultimate meaninglessness of texts--as some students see it. Any interpretation is not as good as any other to the deconstructionist. Such characterizations of deconstruction couldn’t be more shallow. Deconstructionism is a rigorous and carefully constructed philosophical theory that is an affirmation of writing, reading & language itself.
Derrida has made a genuine contribution to the Humanities by emphasizing the fact that the savvy reader must read between the lines, remaining sensitive and responsive to a text’s cultural context. The activity of reading is not depreciated or demeaned by using the deconstructive model of Lit Crit.; rather, the challenge of being a good reader is heightened. But there is no 'method' in this approach. Derrida's deconstruction has led to many definitions and meanings. I am rather favorably disposed to how American literary critic of the Yale school of Lit. Crit., J. Hillis Miller (1928- ), defines deconstruction. "It is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently solid ground is no rock, but thin air." Go to this link for an overview of deconstruction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deconstruction Go to this link for more:http://www.nhinet.org/14-2.htm
Derrida seems, like Mary Shelley in her novel Frankenstein, to sense that one whole era of history has come to an end and that whatever the future brings will be different and unimaginable. Like Shelley, although living over a century-and-a-half later, he still seems to suffer under the oppression of living in the last days of a cycle of Revelation. While he theorizes that he is living at the end of Western philosophy’s 2500-year-old metaphysical way of thinking and partially grasps the nothingness identified by Bahá’u’lláh as characterizing the moment when one spiritual dispensation ends—the moment when “the entire creation hath passed away!” (Gleanings 29)—he cannot grasp the new creation that follows this apocalyptic moment. He imagines that the state of centerlessness, of which he is so vividly aware, will itself usher in the future. But his vision of the centerless future is precisely what Shelley’s creature-of-horror embodies. Shelley finds no origin or purpose for Frankenstein, Victor's creation, beyond being a function of Victor’s obsessive ambition. Rather than celebrating his freedom to create his own meanings, however, the monster offers a sober critique of the dangers of centerlessness. For more of this analysis go to the Journal of Bahá’í Studies(V. 9, N. 4, 1999) & an article entitled "Spiritual Oppression in Frankenstein" by Phyllis Sternberg Perrakis: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/9.4-Sternberg-Perrakis.pdf
J. Hillis Miller’s professional career as a teacher and scholar of literature, philosophy and critical theory has spanned well over fifty years now. He is, according to Edinburgh University Press, ‘the single most significant North American literary critic of the twentieth century’. He has published 27 books and countless articles, edited collections & book chapters. J. Hillis Miller has been an important humanities & literature scholar specializing in Victorian & Modernist literature, with a keen interest in the ethics of reading & reading as a cultural act. Miller characterizes literary criticism as "the consciousness of the consciousness of another, the transposition of the mental universe of an author into the interior space of the critic's mind." Currently, he is Distinguished Research Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. I have taken an interest in Miller for a number of reasons, in addition to those I've mentioned above. He says that he prefers writing literary criticism to writing a novel. That is true of me. But he has no interest in writing his memoirs, although I do. Readers with an interest in J. Hillis Miller can enjoy the following interview and discussion with Éamonn Dunne, Michael O’Rourke, Martin McQuillan, Graham Allen and Nicholas Royle. It is found in Issue 56, May 2014 of the Australian Humanities Review at this link: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-May-2014/miller.html
The following journal article in Animus, The Canadian Journal of Philosophy and the Humanities, is a helpful one. Animus, Vol. 2, 1997, "Beyond Deconstruction" by Kenneth Kierans demands the attention of the reader especially those whose main diet is Twitter and Facebook, celebrity and an assortment of consumer and popular culture magazines, television and the movies. Deconstruction is usually and rightly linked to the literary & philosophical writings of Jacques Derrida & Paul de Man. Paul de Man(1919-1983) of New Haven, Connecticut was a Belgian-born deconstructionist literary critic and theorist. He completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University in the late 1950s. He then taught at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins Univ., and the University of Zurich, before ending up on the faculty in French & Comparative Literature at Yale University. At Yale he was considered part of the Yale School of deconstruction. At the time of his death from cancer, he was Sterling Professor of the Humanities & chairman of the Dept. of Comparative Literature at Yale. Deconstruction, it is argued, stands outside of reason and affirms only an endless, undisciplined, even wild freedom of commentary. Now there is much to be said for this assessment of deconstruction.
Geoffrey Hartman's Criticism in the Wilderness is a good indication, from my point of view, of just how arbitrary deconstruction can be. Here, at the extreme point of interpretation, the critic is certain of himself alone and so determined to undermine every specific claim to truth which a text may make. But there is another and more interesting side to deconstruction, and this has to do with its continuing relation to traditional philosophical ideas of truth. Go to this link for more:http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%202/kierans1.pdf
MY THREE TWO-RING BINDERS ON: LIT CRIT
These three volumes, three 2-ring binders, of notes and photocopies, began to take form in the six years, 1989 to 1994, when I was teaching English Literature at a post-secondary college in Perth, Western Australia. After 25 years(1989-2013) of collecting articles and information of a general nature in relation to English literature, what might be called: (a) lit. crit, (b) commentary on individual writers and (c) comments on literature in general, the following material has been amassed by 15/9/'13. I could itemize each piece but I will simply highlight a few categories as follows: