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WORDS: ONE VIEW
"Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind; not only do words infect, egotise, narcotise and paralyse, but they enter-into and colour the minutest cells of the brain." These words were written by Rudyard Kipling in the first year of the Formative Age of the Baha'i Faith, 1921-1922. Kipling died just as the first systematic Baha'i program to implement Abdul-Baha's divine plan as outlined in His Tablets, written during the Great War and unveiled in 1919, was being designed by the North American Baha'i community: 1936-7. This program and plan was first put in motion in the northern spring of 1937. I have now been associated with, and an active participant in, this Plan for more than 60 years. "Words," as Kipling stressed so eloquently, have indeed been "the most powerful drug" and have infected and egotised, narcotised and paralysed my life.
Of course, this is only one of literally 100s of ways of putting it, of expressing the role of words in one's life. Henry James(1843-1916), born at the very start of the Baha'i Era, as that Era went through the last year of its century-long precursor period from 1744 to 1844, and one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism, said of Kipling: "He strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius, as distinct from fine intelligence, that I have ever known." Henry James was the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James. For more on Henry James go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_James ...For more on Kipling go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudyard_Kipling
WORDS: ANOTHER VIEW
Not only in "1984" but in his essay on 'Politics and the English Language', Orwell emphasized the power of words. Words represent thoughts and without the capability to express those thoughts, people lost access to them. Orwell envisioned the evolution of an insidious, but successful mind and opinion manipulator. He would appear as a smiling, seemingly beneficent Big Brother. But instead of one Big Brother, we see hordes of Big Brothers in the world today. Orwell's predictions have not completely come to pass because of the wondrous properties of the human mind when it remains free to reason. But his ideas serve as warnings of the extent to which people's thinking can be influenced. Were George Orwell alive, he might be intrigued with the variety of situations in which mind-bending & thought manipulation techniques are applied today. His genius centered on seeing how language, not physical force, would be used to manipulate minds. The growing evidence in the behavioral sciences is that a smiling Big Brother has greater power to influence thought and decision-making than a visibly threatening person. As Orwell's last words in his prophetic book stated: "He loved Big Brother." For more on these ideas go to:http://www.ideajournal.com/articles.php?id=12
Literature consists of written productions, often restricted to those deemed to have artistic or intellectual value. Its Latin root 'literatura' (derived itself from littera, letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts, but intertwined with the roman concept of cultura: learning or cultivation. Literature often uses language differently than ordinary language (see literariness). Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction & whether it is poetry or prose; it can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story or drama; & works are often categorised according to historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre). The concept has changed meaning over time: nowadays it can broaden to include non-written verbal art forms, and thus it is difficult to agree on its origin, which can be paired with that of language or writing itself. Developments in print technology have allowed an evergrowing distribution and proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literature
LITERATURE and LEISURE: A WAY OF IGNORING LIVING
Literature is a way of ignoring life. You might like this link: https://www.facebook.com/PenguinRandomHouse/photos/ Living may refer to life, a condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects & dead organisms. A living species is one that is not extinct. Personal life is, among other things, the course of an individual human's life, their lifespan. Leisure, or free time, is time spent away from business, work, domestic chores, & education. It also excludes time spent on necessary activities such as eating & sleeping. The distinction between leisure & unavoidable activities is not a rigidly defined one; for example, people sometimes do work-oriented tasks for pleasure as well as for long-term utility. A distinction may also be drawn between free time & leisure. Time available for leisure varies from one society to the next, although anthropologists have found that hunter-gatherers tend to have significantly more leisure time than people in more complex societies.
Situationist International(SI) maintains that free time is illusory and rarely free; economic and social forces appropriate free time from the individual and sell it back to them as the commodity known as "leisure". Certainly most people's leisure activities are not a completely free choice, and may be constrained by social pressures, e.g. people may be coerced into spending time gardening by the need to keep up with the standard of neighbours' gardens.
Guy Ernest Debord(1931-1994) was a French Marxist theorist, writer, filmmaker, member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction, and founding member of the Situationist International(SI). He was also briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie. For more on SI and Guy Debord go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Debord
THE HUMANITIES: AN OVERVIEW
The humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture. The humanities use methods that are primarily critical, or speculative, & have a significant historical element. This historical element is distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences. Humanities as a general field include: ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy, religion, and the visual and performing arts such as music & theatre. The humanities that are also sometimes regarded as social sciences include: history, anthropology, area studies, law & linguistics, communication studies, and cultural studies. For more of this general overview of the humanities go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanities
My website, now in its 18th year, has separate sub-sections on several of these humanities subjects; readers with the interest in one or more of them can access these subjects by clicking-on the subject headings found at the very top of this page as well as in the top-right. Humanities was, and still is, the name for a certain type of content, but also for a certain type of relationship to knowledge. The Latin word humanitas is closely related to the Greek word païdeïa. That Greek word means culture, education, civilization. Emil Littré(1801-1881), a French lexicographer and philosopher, defined the humanities as coinciding with "letters". This was what was taught in high school after students have been taught grammar and before they were taught philosophy. This view, which entailed that the humanities be concentrated around literature, did not last long in the 20th century. Humanist knowledge, at the turn of the 19th century, applied to a person who had a deep knowledge of Greek and Latin culture.
The humanities are currently undergoing a revolution similar to what happened in the life sciences back in the 1990s, some twenty years ago, with the collection and centralization of genomic data. New computational approaches, very large databases, and digital collaborative technologies are reshaping the fields of the humanities, opening up promising avenues for research and education. The discipline of Digital Humanities explores the potential of these new methodologies &, conversely, the scholarly practices that these digital technologies foster. Frontiers in Digital Humanities publishes articles on the most outstanding discoveries in all the research areas where computer science and the humanities intersect, with the aim to bring all relevant Digital Humanities areas together on a single, open-access platform. Digital humanities is a very general term covering an increasingly broad and deep array of practices that use digital technology in the teaching, researching, producing and disseminating of cultural texts, scholarship and cultural information. There is little agreement as to precisely what constitutes Digital Humanities. Go to this link for a discussion of the subject: http://culturalpolitics.net/digital_cultures/digital_humanities , and go to this link for even more: http://journal.frontiersin.org/journal/digital-humanities#about
Until now, digital development has taken place primarily in the private sector. While corporations such as Google were dominating the Internet, the public interest in the digital realm was left to private initiative. The Digital Public Library of America, based in Boston, has begun to link the collections of research libraries in a national network, which now makes ten million items available free of charge to everyone with access to the Internet. The Internet Archive, with headquarters in San Francisco, performs a similar service by harvesting texts from millions of websites as well as books. HathiTrust, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, preserves the texts of 13.4 million volumes, largely from collections that were digitized by Google. (Google’s own database cannot be made available as a commercial digital library, owing to a decision of a federal district court, which declared Google Book Search illegal in 2010.)
Digitizing or digitization is the representation of an object, image, sound, document or a signal (usually an analog signal) by a discrete set of its points or samples. The result is called digital representation or, more specifically, a digital image, for the object, and digital form, for the signal. Strictly speaking, digitizing means simply capturing an analog signal in digital form. For a document the term means to trace the document image or capture the "corners" where the lines end or change direction. McQuail sees the process of digitization as having immense significance to the computing ideals. It "allows information of all kinds in all formats to be carried with the same efficiency and also intermingled". For more go to:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digitizing For more on the digitization of libraries go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/aug/13/great-new-possibilities-library-congress/
HUMANITIES: FIGHTING FOR THEIR LIVES
The humanities at the university level in recent years have been fighting for their lives. Encouraged by bizarrely philistine government initiatives, universities of even the highest prestige have been cutting subjects, while institutions of lesser stature have been making noises about eliminating whole departments, often adding insult to injury by suggesting that all the old stuff was probably a bit out of date anyway. As so often when they are attacked, the higher realms of intellect have been slow to marshal their forces: further proof of the adage that a stupid argument is the hardest kind for a bright mind to counter. The Americans have been more up to speed in dealing with this problem. British defenders of humane studies, who are looking for a model of counter-attacking eloquence, should be sure not to miss the brilliantly argued and incisively illustrated open letter, dated 31 October 2010, written for Genome Biology by Gregory A. Petsko of Brandeis University. The inner necessity of the writer translates to the interest of the reader only with great art and few, in my experience, possess this great art. I wish I had it, but at best I am only in the minor leagues.
I'm not so sure Petsko's writing could be seen as possessing "great art". For me, though, he is worth quoting below.
Petsko's open letter is addressed to George M. Philip, President of the State University of New York at Albany. I trust that Petsko wil excuse me for saying or thinking that his function in the drama is merely typical. It has become typical in many universities now to remove all signs of civilization so that the university in question can function unimpeded as a business school. Professor Petsko, whose primary fields are biophysics and computational biology, has much to say about the humanities. What, you ask, is a scientist of his eminence doing defending the humanities? Read the piece and hear him tell it. But we can give away this much of the plot: he says that taking subjects in the humanities while he was studying science helped him as a scientist. He might have added that his being a scientist makes him an important voice in defending the humanities, as they reel under attack from within the castle walls. I thank Clive James for the link he has provided to Professor Petsko's letter: http://genomebiology.com/2010/11/10/138
These are dark times for the humanities, or so we are often told. We have had the melancholy litany drilled into us: the best students are gravitating to the sciences; funding for nonscientific research is drying up; good jobs are scarce for graduates with degrees in English or art history.....So shrill are the jeremiads that one might think the fate of humanity itself is somehow at stake in the decline of English departments. Amid so much ritualistic handwringing, it is encouraging to come across the work of a young scholar that offers clear-eyed insight into the origins of the current malaise, while also exemplifying what a fresh contribution to humanistic study might look like today. Mark Greif graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1997, attended graduate school at Oxford and Yale, and teaches at the New School.
Greif is a founding editor of n+1, the lively and serious-minded magazine of culture and opinion described by another of its editors, Keith Gessen, as “like Partisan Review, except not dead.” Greif’s much-noticed essay “Against Exercise” appeared in the inaugural issue; he has since written smart and sharply faceted pieces on such varied topics as the rock band Radiohead, the rebirth of the hipster, and the philosophy of Stanley Cavell, one of Greif’s teachers. For more of this review, and one other review, of The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973 by Mark Greif(Princeton University Press, 450 pages) go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jun/25/case-skeptical-pragmatist/ and http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-age-of-the-crisis-of-man/
MY INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE and WRITING
Readers of this introductory page of my website on the subject of literature may find my opening remarks in the above paragraphs somewhat curious. Many of these same readers, if not most, will have no idea--or very little--about the nature of the Baha'i Faith. Although this new world religion has been, by sensible and insensible degrees, coming out of an obscurity in which it had languished for more than a century; although it claims to be the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions and, although it is increasingly found in discussions in both cyberspace & real space, it still does not rate high among the known knowns. The notion of "known knowns" was introduced to the print and electronic media by Donald Henry Rumsfeld(1932-), the American politician and businessman, the 13th Secretary of Defence and the 21st Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2006 under President George W. Bush back at the turn of the 21st century. These same readers, I am also sure, will never have heard of Professor Petsko who has little interest in either pets or pet food, or the labyrinths of Facebook or Twitter which seem to have now caught millions by the jugular.
I would like this introduction to be a brilliant synthesis of global, historical & futuristic ideas, ideas unfamiliar to the readers who come to this site. Sometimes, it seems to me, my best literary essays are models of the art of the introduction. I don't think that is the case here; one can but try. I have been, in one way or another, a student and a teacher, a reader and a scholar, of literature and of poetry, of writing & of many of the humanities, from the late 1940s to the present, to 2014. I believe, and I have believed, that much of the craft of writing, and the understanding & use of literature, of prose and poetry, can be taught. “I can help you with part of the process,” I have often told my students. “The rest is up to you.”
From the 1940s to the mid-1960s, I was taught by others. I have now been offering suggestions in my roles of teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator, among other non-teaching roles, for nearly 50 years: 1967 to 2014. I gave editing advice in the form of spelling and grammar, expression and writing skills, what you might call literary surgery, for decades, and was myself an editor at what is now the University of Tasmania back in 1979 in its then external studies unit. Inspiration and perspiration, talent and wisdom, as opposed to the craft of writing, involve other questions, issues, and complexities, far too many & far too much to place here in this simple introduction.
The artistic-literary urge above all, said the famous novelist Joseph Conrad, is "to make you see". I do not strain every nerve to make my readers "see". Perhaps, if I was younger, I might do more straining and stressing in that visual and graphic direction. I do not pop any of my valves in my relenting or unrelenting, efforts to bring what I write all alive and scintillating for my readers. Unfortunately, my writing probably has the opposite effect of a pictorial talent which might help my readers "see." The more detail I pile on, the less clear things become. I'm sure this is the case for some of my readers. In fact many have sent me their complaints in the last decade as my readership has climbed into the millions. Alas and alack I seem, now in my 70s, to be incorrigible, perhaps, uneducable. Teaching an old dog new tricks is no easy matter. I am not curmudgeonly, though, at least not any more. My medications keep me mildly euphoric most of the time, and far above the muddy waters of annoyance and irritation. For this I have modern pharmacotherapy to thank.
LITERATURE AND TRANSLATIONS
Translation and Literature is an academic journal of English literature in its foreign relations. Articles and notes have included: Surrey and Marot, Livy and Jacobean drama, Virgil in Paradise Lost, Pope’s Horace, Fielding on translation, Browning’s Agamemnon, and Brecht in English. The journal's remit, its task or area of activity, includes responses to other literatures in the work of English writers, including reception of classical texts; historical and contemporary translation of works in modern languages; history and theory of literary translation, adaptation, and imitation. The journal was established in 1992 with Stuart Gillespie of the University of Glasgow as editor-in-chief. For more on this subject and this journal go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation_and_Literature
"The Wonderfully Elusive Chinese Novel" by Perry Link was a review that appeared in the New York Review of Books on 23/4/'15. It is a review of The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei, Vol. 5: The Dissolution by an unknown author. It was translated from the Chinese by David Tod Roy(Princeton University Press, 550 pages). Perry Link begins: "In teaching Chinese-language courses to American students, which I have done about thirty times, perhaps the most anguishing question I get is “Professor Link, what is the Chinese word for ______?” I am always tempted to say the question makes no sense. Anyone who knows two languages moderately well knows that it is rare for words to match up perfectly, and for languages as far apart as Chinese and English, in which even grammatical categories are conceived differently, strict equivalence is not possible. Book is not shu, because shu, like all Chinese nouns, is conceived as an abstraction, more like “bookness,” and to say “a book” you have to say, “one volume of bookness.” Moreover shu, but not book, can mean “writing,” “letter,” or “calligraphy.” On the other hand you can “book a room” in English; you can’t shu one in Chinese. For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/apr/23/wonderfully-elusive-chinese-novel/
LITERATURE: ONE MAN'S VIEW
Marcel Proust (1871-1922), the French novelist and critic, was a great reader, as are all the characters in his novelistic writing. He wrote, “Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated—the only life in consequence which can be said to be really lived—is literature.” For many literary critics Proust wrote the most respected novel of the twentieth century, Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time, as it has come to be translated. Since I began writing autobiographically in the early 1980s, Proust has superseded Joyce as what you might call 'the top-of-the-pops' in novels and novelists. For most of the students I ever taught or studied with in the years from 1949 to 2005, and then in cyberspace from 2006 to 2014, some 65 years, and for most of the people I ever met in those 7 decades, neither of these novelists--Joyce or Proust--are much read. For more of this article by Edmund White entitled "Proust the Passionate Reader", on 4 April 2013 in The New York Review of Books, go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/04/proust-passionate-reader/
WHY I OPEN WITH AND QUOTE PROUST
I have opened this sub-section of my website, this introduction to literature, with a quotation from Proust for several reasons. Proust had, as I have come to have, a compulsive need to translate experience into words, my experience, the experience of others, as well as the experience of my society: past, present and future. This need, this compulsiveness, began sensibly and insensibly, little by little and day by day, over several decades. By the first years of my early retirement from the world of FT and PT paid employment, 1999 to 2005, the first years of the reinvention of myself from teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator, to writer and author, poet and publisher,online blogger and journalist, editor and researcher, reader and scholar, this compulsiveness was much in evidence. Proust's writing of his now famous novel In Search of Lost Time is, what my writing has become for me, a vast meditation on the relationship between time, memory and art. This is so, at least to a significant degree, and it has become so by degrees in the last 40+ years. My writing was first published in student newspapers and magazines, educational institution newsletters and journals in Australia from the early 1970s, and then more extensively in the 1980s; and, finally, in cyberspace in the last decade: 2004 to 2014.
Proust tries to reconstruct his life from childhood to middle age, as I have done from childhood to late adulthood. For those who become serious readers of Proust, it becomes clear that everything they’ve read in Recherche or Time Regained constitutes the inner journey of a man who has aspired to become a writer, and has finally found his subject, his material. That subject and that material is: himself & the whole of his life, during which he was convinced that he had lost, or wasted, his time. When a reader becomes familiar with Proust's motivation, and his MO, such a reader feels the urge to read the book in order to better understand this inner journey. This, of course, is not true for all those who come to Proust.
I, like Proust, found my subject. Part of that subject was my inner journey; part of it was my outer journey, and a third part was---much else. I did not write with the view that I had wasted my life. I wrote for many reasons, reasons I have written about extensively in my now many-coloured, many-genred, autobiogrpahical, memoiristic writing. Although I have immense sympathy for Proust and his inner struggle, and for all those who feel that their life has been a waste of time, useless, meaningless, inter alia, I am not one of those afflicted with this particular form of angst, of sturm und drang, of tedium vitae, to use three terms for some of life's slings and arrows which test the metal of saints and the metal of all the rest of us ordinarily ordinary, humanly humans.
Some critics of both Proust, & my own work, see it as: the work of a self-indulgent neurotic dilettante, an obsessive narcissist. For years I have been writing, like Proust, as if my time was running out. What holds my writing together, and what holds Proust's in one piece, is the simple desire to write. Many writers have that desire, that compulsion, that strong inclination and sense of purpose. Proust's life was cut short at 51. My life, more than 70 years since my conception in October 1943 in Hamilton Ontario Canada, shows no signs of being cut short, although one never knows for sure---and so I write. But I write, as I say above, for many reasons and the sense that my time is running out is only one of the reasons.
Proust's novel was one of the first major works in the history of literature to tell a story from the perspective of a 1st-person narrator. My writing is not novelistic but, rather, memoiristic &, like Proust's writing, readers can get inside my head at the centre of my desires & ambitions, sorrows & mistakes, victories and achievements. Proust spent 13 years, 1908 to 1922, writing his massive, monumental, 3000-page, 7 volume novel. Although I have been writing for some 65 years, 1949 to 2014, the last 30 have seen my major output and, of these 30, the last 15---2000 to 2014---most of the total output. Like Proust's 3000-page work, my many more thousand pages, may not be for you. This website gives you a taste and, if you enjoy the taste, you can find much more in cyberspace.
From my point of view, and the point of view of many readers of Proust, at least those who enjoy his writing, all mankind is found in his work. Not only all the different character types, but also every emotion, every imaginable situation. Proust is a universal author: he can touch anyone, for different reasons; each of us can find some piece of himself in Proust, at different ages. For instance, the narrator of the Recherche is obsessed with the Duchesse de Guermantes. To him, Oriane embodies a slice of the history of France and glows like a stained-glass window, wreathed in the aura of her aristocratic lineage. Now, however different the situations may be, we have all of us—in our childhood, our adolescence, or later in life—admired from afar someone who has dazzled us for this reason or that. And when we read Proust, we get a glimpse of ourselves. I like to think that is true of my own writing. Of course, I can not be sure. I leave that question, and that issue with readers.
Proust has an enormous talent for building characters and bringing a world to life. In the descriptions of his own experiences you see the role of art in life. Art is not separate from life; it is an element of life. We all have the need & the capacity to impose form upon the flux around us. Now, we can impose a better form or we can impose a worse form. We aren't all geniuses like Proust. Yet we can try to clarify our thoughts and remember the importance of form when we write. Proust shows us that activity helps give meaning to life. Proust also emphasizes that it’s helpful to keep in mind as we travel the road, and especially if we are a writer, that we must evaluate; we must judge. I do not build characters in Proust's novelistic way. I approach the building of character in my several million words spread over several genres. I leave this aspect of character-building and my writing to readers to assess how good or not so good I have been. Not everyone likes to read Proust, and not everyone likes to read what I write. Of course, this is true of all writers.
The job of being a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist, as well as reader and scholar--in these years of my life in cyberspace--entails spending every day alone in a room with books and essays, a word processor and the vast print resource that is the internet. These are all roles I have taken-on in the years of my retirement after a 50 year student-and-paid-employment life: 1949 to 1999. My home here in Australia gives me access to a bed and toilet, a kitchen and the electonic media among other items of home and hearth for my protection, hygience and security. With the words that I write, many millions now, I aim to affect other people. I do not deal only with the most difficult aspects of life, nor only with the simplest. I deal with all kinds of things in the arts and sciences in which the meaning of words is crucial. It is very important to me to imaginatively understand how other people live and how my writing might affect them, so I take that into account when I write. Many writers have helped me along the way. Proust is only one.
WHAT IS LITERATURE? Evelyn Waugh's View
One of the most persuasive answers, to my mind, of the question: what is literature"..was supplied by a novelist, Evelyn Waugh. Waugh was not just a novelist, he was also the most versatile master of English prose in the last 100 years, some say. “Literature,” Waugh declared, “is the right use of language irrespective of the subject or the reason for the utterance.” Something doesn’t have to rhyme or tell a story to be considered literature. Even a VCR instruction manual might qualify as literature, or a work of analytic philosophy. Waugh, as it happens, was not a fan of analytic philosophy, dismissing it as “a parlor game of logical quibbles.” What is “the right use of language”? you might ask. What distinguishes literature from mere communication, or sheer trash? Waugh had an answer to questions of this nature too. “Lucidity, elegance, individuality”: these are the three essential traits that make a work of prose “memorable and unmistakable,” that make it literature. Of course, it must be added here that what is fine literature to one person, is not fine to another. The entire business has a highly subjective aspect.
So how does the writing of professional philosophers of the past 100 years or so, say beginning in the 1890s, fare in the light of these three criteria? Well, it gets high marks for lucidity — which, by the way, it not the same thing as simplicity, or easy intelligibility. Some prominent analytic philosophers can be turbid and turgid in their writing, even preposterously so. Yet lucidity or precision of expression is, among their ranks, far more honored in the observance than in the breach. Indeed, precision is something of a professional fetish not only to some philosophers but to many men and women in many disciplines of learning and many walks of life. It is, in some ways anyway, not a bad guide to truth.
Individuality? Here too analytic philosophers, the greatest of them anyway, shine. Stylistically speaking, there is no mistaking Willard Quine. He is spare, polished, elaborately lucid. David K. Lewis is colloquially natural, and effortlessly clever. Thomas Nagel is intricately nuanced, and rich in negative capability to use a term from the poet John Keats. I leave it to readers with the interest to look-up these writers & examine their styles. Readers might like to start, though, with this link to the general subject of "style": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style
Finally, we come to elegance in writing. This honorific word, or term, has been overused to the point of meaningless, but Waugh had something definite in mind by it: “Elegance is the quality in a work of art which imparts direct pleasure.” Pleasure is by no means an infallible guide to literary value. W.H. Auden made the observation that pleasure was the least fallible guide. What does it mean to take pleasure in a piece of prose? Is there a sort of tingle you feel as you read it? That can’t very well be, since then it would be the tingle you were enjoying, not the prose.
Oddly, one of the most pleasurable pieces of analytic philosophy I’ve come across is itself an article entitled “Pleasure” where, in a mere nine pages, all the reigning understandings of pleasure are gently deflated. Its author, the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle(1900-76), was among the dominant figures in mid-century analytic philosophy. He was also a supremely graceful prose stylist, the coiner of phrases like “the ghost in the machine,” and, not incidentally, a votary of Jane Austen. Asked if he ever read novels, Ryle was reputed to have replied, “Oh yes — all six, every year.” To discuss more on this topic go to:http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/is-philosophy-literature/
DATA, WORDS, LANGUAGE
Data is the new oil. The next revolution will be social-mobile-local. Technology is evolving faster than ever. Certain business catchphrases become so commonplace that they seem as if they must be true. But how do you measure the cultural signals behind such truisms? For insight into whether data may now have more cultural currency than oil, you can turn to a new tool from Google that charts the yearly frequency of words and phrases contained in millions of books. Called the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it is an outgrowth of the company’s efforts to scan the world’s books. Ngram is a technical term in which “N” stands for the number of words in a sequence; a single word like “America” is a one-gram while “the United States of America” is a five-gram. For more on this subject go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/technology/in-a-scoreboard-of-words-a-cultural-guide.html
Linguistics is a research field devoted to the science of language. There are broadly three aspects to the study, which include language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest known activities in the description of language have been attributed to Pāṇiniaround 500 BCE, with his analysis of Sanskrit in Ashtadhyayi. Before the 20th century, the term philology, first attested in 1716, was commonly used to refer to the science of language, which was then predominantly historical in focus. Since Ferdinand de Saussure's insistence on the importance of synchronic analysis, however, this focus has shifted and the term "philology" is now generally used for the "study of a language's grammar, history, and literary tradition", especially in the United States where philology has never been very popularly considered as the "science of language".
Although the term "linguist" in the sense of "a student of language" dates from 1641, the term "linguistics" is first attested in 1847. It is now the common academic term in English for the scientific study of language. Today, the term linguist applies to someone who studies language or is a researcher within the field, or to someone who uses the tools of the discipline to describe and analyze specific languages. For a detailed overview of this field go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics
LITERATURE: A SEARCH FOR UNDERSTANDING
BY MEANS OF POETRY
The quest for understanding, of the subject and the world, is explored through philosophy, indeed many disciplines in the humanities, the arts and sciences. This quest is also central to the literary, the poetic act, its creation and its reception. Adrienne Rich, in a reflection on her developing attraction to poetry, points to its potential revelation and interpretation of human understanding: "Poetry soon became more than music & images; it was also revelation, information, a kind of teaching." Adrienne Cecile Rich(1929-2012) was an American poet, essayist & feminist. She was called "one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century", and was credited with bringing "the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse." For more on Adrienne Rich go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrienne_Rich
Adrienne Rich thought that poetry could offer clues, intimations, keys to many of the great questions in life like: "What is possible in this life? What does this thing called “love” mean? What is this other thing called “freedom” or “liberty?” Is it like love, a feeling? Why do human beings live and suffer now and in the past? How am I going to live my life?" (Rich, 2004, p. 505). Poetry, and literature in general, is another mode whereby the human being seeks understanding: of the self, of the other, and of the world. It also addresses & explores the questions which inspire philosophy, and the arts and sciences, in all aspects of inquiry, albeit in its own unique way.
According to the literary critic Harold Bloom(1930- ), who is also Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, & the author of more than 20 books of literary criticism from 1959 to 2014, Wallace Stevens(1879-1955) was the "best and most representative" American poet from the 1920s to the 1950s. No Western writer since Sophocles(497-406 BC) has had such a late flowering of artistic genius, wrote Bloom. Both men, Stevens and Sophocles, began their significant flowering, their literary, success in their early 40s. Sophocles, of course, was a dramatist, one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. I mention both these men because my own literary flowering did not take place until my early 40s. Poetic or dramatic, literary or intellectual, genius is another issue, & it would be presumptuous in the extreme of me to make such a claim for myself and/or my work. I see myself more as a steady, & sometimes, not-so-steady workman in the vast fields of literary life. I should add here, somewhat parenthetically, that I deal with the field of literary criticism in the sub-section of my website on "Literature-Modern" at: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Literature-Modern.html
One of the reasons I bring Stevens into this part of the poetry section of this webpage, this "introduction to literature", is that as early as 1944, he held the view that ideologies had exhausted themselves and that political writing was, if not already outmoded, it would become so. As I point out in the sociology theory part of my website, the sociologist Daniel Bell expressed this view in 1960 in relation to liberalism and socialism in his End of Ideology. By the time I came to be interested in politics, the individual and society in the early 1960s, I found partisan politics and their various ideologies, from conservatism to liberalism, from socialism to republicanism, singularly unattractive with little to offer my emerging social and intellectual concerns and their translation into public affairs. By June of 1967 I had graduated with a modest B.A. and B.Ed.; partisan politics, at best, bemused my then embryonic political interests. I wondered how anyone could seriously entertain and commit to partisan political positions.
Sophocles wrote about, analysed, his literary development into stages. I have written extensively about my literary development, but I won't comment on that here. Stevens' work was meditative and philosophical; he was very much a poet of ideas. This is also true of my own poetic style and content. Stevens's first book of poetry, a volume of rococo inventiveness titled Harmonium, was published in 1923 when he was 44. He produced two more major books of poetry during the 1920s and 1930s and three more in the 1940s. He received the annual National Book Award for Poetry twice, in 1951 for The Auroras of Autumn, and in 1955 for Collected Poems. For more on Stevens go to:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Stevens .....For more on themes poetic, aesthetic and philosophical, go to: http://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/105/209
Many of my pieces of writing are very long, like my autobiography in 5 volumes at 2600 pages or what I call my chaos narrative, my life experience with bipolar disorder now at some 300 pages. But most of my internet posts are short. I follow the advice of Edgar Allen Poe. "There is," he writes, "a distinct limit....to all works of literary art-the limit of one sitting." Poe's advice is just one of 1000s now of pieces of advice for writers. I leave this to readers with the interest to follow-up on this subject of the length of poems, of posts, and of advice to poets and writers. Before leaving this "Part 3" I'll add some words about Mr Poe from an essay about him and his work in The New York Review of Books on 5/2/'15: "Edgar Allan Poe was and is a turbulence, an anomaly among the major American writers of his period, an anomaly to this day. He both amazed and antagonized his contemporaries, who could not dismiss him from the ﬁrst rank of writers. Many felt, though, that his work was morally questionable and in dubious taste. He often scourged them in print regularly in the course of producing a body of criticism that is sometimes ﬂatly vindictive & often brilliant." For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/05/edgar-allan-poe/
The first sentence of Jahan Ramazani’s book Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres is: "What is poetry?” The last sentence of the book more surprisingly notes that poetry “will never be conclusively defined.” Indeed, Ramazani’s definition of what is distinctive about poetry is more fluid—one is tempted to say more Stevensian—than that of many other critics. In “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” Stevens says of poetry that to “fix it is to put an end to it,” and adds, “Let me show it to you unfixed.” The terms we use, including the overarching term “poetry,” have about them a certain “untidiness”, says Ramazani. These terms are “conceptually ragged and historically unstable”.
The sheer range of work Ramazani considers makes visible what he convincingly casts as “inter-linked family resemblances” that are “not static or universal but situational, contextual, shifting depending on the other engaged”. The close readings throughout demonstrate how poetry “is formed by both its ‘domestic’ and its ‘foreign’ relations”.
The word 'Poetry' comes from the Greek 'poiesis' meaning a "making". This Greek word is seen also in such terms as "hemopoiesis"; more narrowly, the making of poetry. Poetry is a form of literary art which uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning. For more of this overview of poetry go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry For more on Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres by Lisa M. Steinman in the Wallace Stevens Journal, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2014, go to:http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/wallace_stevens_journal/v038/38.1.steinman.pdf
POLITICS AND LITERATURE
Paul Lawrence Berman(1949-) is a writer on politics and literature whose articles and reviews have appeared in numerous influential publications. His admirers liken his cosmopolitan style to that of the so-called New York Intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century, whose conversation-shaping essays on big topics came out in the little magazines of the day. His books—published in fifteen languages—include Terror and Liberalism, The Flight of the Intellectuals, A Tale of Two Utopias, Power and the Idealists, and an illustrated children's book, Make-Believe Empire. He edited, among other anthologies, Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems, for the American Poets Project of the Library of America.
Berman attended Columbia University, receiving an M.A. in American history in 1973. He is a contributing editor of The New Republic and a member of the editorial board of Dissent. He has been awarded fellowships from the MacArthur and Guggenheim foundations and from the Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library. He was a Regents' Lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. For more on political philosophy literature go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Political_philosophy_literature For more on political literature go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Political_literature For more on Berman go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Berman
DRAMA: AN OVERVIEW
This is an introduction to my experiences in the world of drama and the evolution of the notes I have gathered in the quarter-century from 1989 to 2014. Any notes I had before 1989, when I was 45, as far back as the late 1950s when I was in my mid-to-late-teens, are now long gone, lost to history and to whatever files I had during those three decades: thrown-away, not needed as I moved on to another grade, to another school, to another job, to another state, to another country. I am now 70.
In these last 25 years, though, since the late 1980s when I began to teach drama to matriculation students in Western Australia, I have begun to seriously watch and write about drama. I had what you might call "my warm-up years", the years from 1949 to 1989. They were warm-up years when I was first reading and watching drama on one of the first TV screens in Canada in the early 1950s, and then writing about drama as a student beginning at the age of 15 in 1959. I began my study of drama in primary school, and then in my years of high school with Shakespeare and Ibsen. Henrik Ibsen(1828-1906) was a major 19th-century playwright, theatre director, and poet. Volume 1.1 of my drama notes is devoted to the study of Shakespeare, a study I only began to take seriously in the last quarter-century. The contents of Volume 1.1 grew out of Volume 1 which came into being in the years I last taught Shakespeare to matriculation students from 1989 to 1994, at what is now a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia.
It has now been 20 years(1994-2014) since I last taught Shakespeare, or any dramatist to students at any level of the formal, institutional, educational enterprize. In these last 20 years I have accumulated additional notes on nearly 40 dramatists, and many aspects of the field of study and scholarship that is drama. Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in 'performance'. The term comes from a Greek word, and when I taught ancient history, in the early 1990s, I also studied the Greek and Roman dramatists. These three volumes of drama content: 1, 1.1, and 2 have begun to serve as a base, a base I had begun to build decades ago. That base was built: (i) in the plays I studied in primary school as far back as I can recall, about 1954, and (ii) at high school from 1957/8 until 1962/63, the year I graduated from secondary school. This base was also built on (iii) the drama I taught in my years of primary and secondary teaching, 1967 to 1973. Drama was part of the curriculum, as I indicate above, during those years.
During the more than 65 years I have been exposed to dramatic productions in one form or another, 1949-2014, I have rarely attended live theatre. The plays I recall seeing during those years are as follows: (i) Waiting for Godot in 1974 at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education where I worked as a tutor in education studies, (ii) three plays put on by Baha’i theatre groups under the direction of Greg Parker, in Perth WA in the 1990s, (iii) the inevitable short dramatic sketches put on at innumerable Baha’i conferences and summer schools, in my own classroom, and at schools where I taught or attended; and (iv) several plays put on in George Town, a little town by the sea where I retired at the age of 55 in 1999. The plays in this latter category were put on by the Tasmanian Regional Arts. Such were some of the elements of this more than half a century of influences from the world of drama.
The first Shakespearean play I recall studying was in grade 11 at the age of 16. From grade 11 to grade 13, one of Shakespeare’s plays were studied each year. After 1962/3 I never studied a Shakespearean play again, except as a teacher from 1989 to 1994. Television and radio, especially TV of course, has provided a fertile ground for dramatic productions of Shakespeare, and many other dramatists. I have seen or heard dramatic productions in the electronic media as early as 1949/50 right up to 2014, with some 20 years off for the period when I had no TV, and listened to no theatre that I can recall on the radio, the years 1956 to 1976.
Drama has begun to have a significant impact on my psychological and emotional, my spiritual and intellectual life, after only transitory and periodic influences for nearly 5 decades from 1949 to 1999. I have begun to study many major dramatists and their works in the last 25 years, and especially in the years after my retirement from FT, PT, and most volunteer work in the last decade, 2005 to 2014. Much remains to be done, as I have indicated above, after this quarter-century of initial investigation and exploratory work. I have often written an essay, a newspaper column, or a prose-poem about my experience of a particular drama. The first piece I recall writing, not including the many pieces I wrote during high school from 1959 to 1963, was in a newspaper in the little town of Katherine in Australia's Northern Territory, in 1983. The play was televised on ABC TV. I have kept all the pieces I have written in these last 3 decades: 1983 to 2014.
I have always found TV productions of the Bard difficult to follow. After my retirement from FT, PT and most volunteer-work by the years 2006 to 2014, I have come to study drama more extensively than ever before, especially in the TV programs that have become a greater part of my life. I now watch an average of one to two hours a day of TV, and have done so since 1999. Before that, before 1999, I had too many demands on my time from employment, the Baha’i community, and family activities as well as various social demands. Of course, this was not the case back in the 1950s when my parents and I had a TV. They got rid of it because they felt that 2 hours of TV a day had a negative effect on my studies. In the last fifteen years, 1999 to 2014, I have begun to make up for my lack of exposure to drama; the lack of my study of this important part of contemporary culture has begun to turn a corner to both exposure and study of this art form. Still, I must emphasize that the wide range of my intellectual and reading, writing and publishing, online blogging and journalism interests militate against any depth, not only insofar as drama is concerned but virtually all other fields of interest and study.
Dramatic programming, television drama, and television drama series are terms for television program content that is: (i) scripted and (ii) usually fictional along the lines of a traditional drama. This excludes, for example, televised sports, television news, reality show and game shows, stand-up comedy and variety shows. Also, by convention, the term is not generally used for situation comedy or soap opera. Most dramatic television programming falls within other standard categories such as: miniseries, made-for-TV movies or certain rather circumscribed dramatic genres. One major category of dramatic programing is Crime Drama. Australian journalist Clive James has written some fine essays on TV drama & I recommend his website at: http://www.clivejames.com/ ....to readers with a more than a superficial interest in this genre.
In the years that lie ahead, into my 70s and into old-age, the years over 80, if I last that long, I’m sure I will continue to remedy my lifelong, my somewhat unfortunate, deficiency in this area of the arts and culture. I must admit, as I pointed out above, to a curious disinclination, for several reasons, to be part of live dramatic productions in the theatre as audience. Perhaps this has been due to my many other intellectual interests, a lack of funds, and the simple demands of life. I feel an enthusiasm for only some things & ideas, some fields & subjects in life's great tapestry. I can see a potential for my personal study in the years ahead, especially due to my exposure to drama on TV, in these years of my retirement from the world of jobs: 2014 to 2044. I will be 100 in 2044, as I say, if I last that long.
My interests in drama have expanded in the last 15 years, as I also say, due to that stimulus that is TV. My son & his wife, my two step-daughters and their families, as well as my wife are all avid TV watchers. In these last 15 years, the TV has enriched my life. There is much more I could say here in this introduction to my notes on the subject of drama, drama produced by the various nations of the world now and in history. There are now dozens of countries with a history of dramatic productions, and dozens of popular television productions and series. In my poetry I have written much in these last 15 years on media productions. I also wrote many newspaper columns about TV programs from 1983 to 1985 when I lived in the town of Katherine in Australia’s Northern Territory. I look forward to a future enriched by dramatic productions and the works of dramatists during my late adulthood, as I say, from 70 to 80, and into old age, 80+, if I last that long.
I did not begin to study the field of drama seriously, as I say above, until the 1990s when I was nearly 50, and when I was a lecturer in English Literature at what is now a polytechnic in Perth Western Australia. In the quarter-century from 1990 to 2014, I collected notes on the following dramatists, and categories of dramatists:
A. Theatre of the Absurd: 1.Eugene Ionesco, 2. Harold Pinter, 3. Tom Stoppard, 4. Samuel Beckett, 5. Gunter Grass, 6. Edward Albee. Go to this link for more:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_the_Absurd;
B. Greek Dramatists of the 5th century BC: 1. Aeschylus, 2. Sophocles, 3. Euripides, 4. Aristophanes;
C. Roman Dramatists: 1. Plautus, 2. Terence;
D. 1. Australian Dramatists: 1.1 Patrick White, 1.2 David Williamson, 1.3 Hal Porter;
E. British Dramatists: 1. William Shakespeare, 2. John Osborne, 3. Tom Stoppard, 4. Harold Pinter, 5. Christopher Marlowe;
F. American Dramatists: 1. Arthur Miller, 2. Tennessee Williams, 3. Eugene O'Neill, 4. Thornton Wilder,
G. Irish Dramatists: 1. G.B. Shaw, 2. Oscar Wilde, 3. Sean O’Casey, 4. Samuel Beckett, 5. W.B. Yeats;
H. Russian Dramatists: 1. A. Chekhov, 2. Ivan Turgenev, 3. Nikolai Gogol, 4. Ayn Rand, 5. V. Nobokov;
I: Other: 1. B. Brecht, 2. H. Ibsen, 3. A. Strindberg, 4. J. Goethe, 5. Moliere.
From 1959 to 1963 at high school I had my first taste of drama: Ibsen, Shakespeare, G.B. Shaw. As a primary and secondary school teacher from 1967 to 1973 I taught a little drama, but after the passing of forty years, I can't remember any specific plays that I studied with students back then. In the 15 years of my teaching in post-secondary schools from 1974 to 1989, I do not recall teaching any plays, although I studied some dramatists in my work as a teacher of the social sciences.
Part 4.1: COMEDY
The two masks associated with drama represent the traditional generic division between comedy and tragedy. They are symbols of the ancient Greek Muses, Thalia and Melpomene. Thalia was the Muse of comedy, the laughing face, while Melpomene was the Muse of tragedy, the weeping face. Western drama originates in classical Greece. The theatrical culture of the city-state of Athens produced three genres of drama: tragedy, comedy, and the satyr play. Their origins remain obscure, though by the 5th century BC they were institutionalised in competitions held as part of festivities celebrating the god Dionysus. Comedy in the contemporary meaning of the term, is any discourse or work generally intended to be humorous or to amuse by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, television, film and stand-up comedy. I have a part of the sub-section of my website on popular culture devoted to comedy. For an excellent overview of the subject of comedy go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comedy
The above sense of the term must be carefully distinguished from its academic one, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in Ancient Greece. In the Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by the political satireperformed by the comic poets at the theaters. The theatrical genre can be simply described as a dramatic performance which pits two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye famously depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old", but this dichotomy is seldom described as an entirely satisfactory explanation. A later view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse in ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter. Drama, of course, is a vast field as readers of this link will easily see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drama#cite_note-13
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" which is derived from the verb meaning "to do" or "to act." The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a collective form of reception. The structure of dramatic texts, unlike other forms of literature, is directly influenced by this collaborative production and collective reception.The early modern tragedy Hamlet (1601) by Shakespeare and the classical Athenian tragedy Oedipus the King (c. 429 BC) by Sophocles are among the masterpieces of the art of drama.A modern example is Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill (1956). For more of this overview go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drama
DRAMA: Part 6:
A. In 1945 Samuel Beckett, then 39, returned to Dublin for a brief visit. During his stay, he had a revelation in his mother’s room: his entire future direction in literature appeared to him. At the age of 39, I began to publish 800 word articles in a local newspaper. My sense of direction in the literary world, in both studying and teaching on the one hand, and writing and scholarship on the other, was a slowly evolving one. It evolved by stages and phases, by sensible and insensible degrees, all my adult life. No literary epiphany or vision was granted to me. My inspiration and my publishing history was a slow and not-so-steady, often surprising process. Every writer has his or her own story.
Beckett had felt, at least until the age of 39, that he would remain forever in the shadow of novelist James Joyce. He was certain that he could never best Joyce at Joyce's literary game, so to speak. This revelation in Dublin prompted Beckett to change his literary direction. He acknowledged both his own stupidity and his related literary interest in the subjects of ignorance and impotence. He put that realization this way: "I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, and being in control of one’s material. Joyce was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in the opposite direction, that of impoverishment, of lack of knowledge, of taking away and in subtracting rather than in adding."
B. Knowlson argues that "Beckett rejected the Joycean principle that knowing more was a way of creatively understanding the world and controlling it. In future, his work would focus on poverty & failure, exile & loss and, as he put it, on man as a 'non-knower' and as a 'non-can-er.'" This revelation of Beckett's "has rightly been regarded as a pivotal moment in his entire career." James Knowlson expressed this view in his Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett(Simon & Schuster, 1996). In 1986 Knowlson, a leading scholar of Samuel Beckett's writing, said, ''I have found biography to be of little help in understanding the works of Samuel Beckett.'' Three years later Beckett asked this doubter, James Knowlson, to write his biography.
Beckett also had a fascination with the thought that a person might never really have been born. The poet Dylan Thomas also had that fascination as well as possessing what Paul Ferris in his excellent biography called ‘a curious sense of unreality about his personality’. Ferris writes that Thomas was ‘always building it up and reassembling it – almost as if he didn’t believe in himself, not as a complete person.’ His hit-and-miss genius lay in those moments when he made a personal sense of unreality into charismatic verse. The philosopher Kierkegaard said he felt old when he was born. I mention these idiosyncrasies of several writers, not because I share them, but because I have my own. One such idiosyncrasy is the death wish which I have had from the autumn of 1963 when I was 19 and in the earliest stage or phase of my bipolar I disorder. This death wish was not an obsession as the subject of death apparently was to the great German writer Thomas Mann. By my 60s, from 2004 onwards, this death wish was significantly ameliorated thanks to the medication cocktail I came to take for my bipolar disorder. I write of this in other places.
C. "Samuel Beckett: The Private Voice" by Fintan O’Toole is a review(19/3/'15) of Echo’s Bones by Samuel Beckett, edited by Mark Nixon(Grove, 120 pages). Echo's Bones, finally published 80 years after it was written, is a wonderful, mind-bending curiosity that points teasingly both towards and away from Beckett's later development as a writer. Nicholas Lezard writes these words in The Guardian(19/5/'14). "Samuel Beckett," continues Lezard, "thanks to the line containing the words "fail better", is enjoying a new and unlikely half-life among captains of industry, tennis players and motivators (amusingly, Richard Branson, acknowledging the quote's primary authorship, said "from the playwright, Samuel Beckett, but it could just as easily come from the mouth of yours truly"). "Fail better" came from a late work, Worstward Ho, one of the very last things Beckett wrote; dense, spare, language stripped to the bones, and if anyone quoting its most famous line has read it all the way through I will eat my hat. His short story "Echo's Bones", published now for the first time since its composition in 1933 is, in a way, one of the very first things he wrote. Which raises the question: is it a failure? That is: a worse failure than what came after it?" For more of this review go to: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/09/samuel-beckett-echos-bones-rereading
D. A review of Lance Duerfahrd's The Work of Poverty: Samuel Beckett’s Vagabonds and the Theater of Crisis(Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013) in the online journal Postmodern Culture(Volume 24, Number 2, January 2014) begins as follows: "Why does Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot have such resonance when performed in extreme circumstances? Why does a play in which little happens, & which offers little hope for transformation, have such strong “emotive appeal” when performed for those locked in prisons for long sentences, for those undergoing the siege of Sarajevo, or suffering from the hurricane, flood damage, and inadequate government response in New Orleans? Why does a play that is not overtly political or “committed,” and that does not put forth a prospect for change, illuminate the conditions in which it is performed (the prison, the city in crisis) in ways that the plays of Brecht would not?" For more of this review go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/postmodern_culture/v024/24.2.wallen.html
DRAMATIST AND TRANSFORMATION
“This Nobel Prize,” said Eugene O’Neill in his banquet speech on receiving the Nobel Prize in literature, “is a symbol of the recognition by Europe of the coming-of-age of the American theatre. For my plays are merely, through luck of time and circumstance, the most widely-known examples of the work done by American playwrights in the years since the World War--work that has finally made modern American drama in its finest aspects an achievement of which Americans can be justly proud.”(1) These were this famous American playwright’s words on December 10th 1936, spoken while the American Baha’is were preparing to launch their first Plan in April 1937, another stage in the greatest spiritual drama in humankind’s history.
Whatever the source of this playwright’s pessimism, his sense of the tragic—and there were many--the line of his development was marked out until his death in 1953. He was political, but not in the partisan sense. O'Neill became by degrees the uniquely and fiercely tragic dramatist that the world has come to know. He appeared on the drama's stage with his first play in 1916. By then the tragic realities of the first 70 years of the Babi-Baha’i experience had set a stamp on Baha’i history, as had the secular history of the previous two years of WW1. His finest play, a tragedy, appeared on the eve of WW2. The conception of life that he presents is not a product of elaborate thinking, but it has the genuine stamp of something lived through. It is based upon an exceedingly intense, one might say, heart-rent, realization of the austerity of life, side by side with a kind of rapture at the beauty of human destinies shaped in the struggle against odds. The Nobel Prize was awarded to O’Neill for dramatic works of vital energy, sincerity, and intensity of feeling, stamped with an original conception of tragedy.(1) -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Eugene O’Neill in Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, editor, Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.
I’ve often felt you were
one of the finest Baha’i
dramatists; of course we
don’t have explicitly Baha’i:
poets, dramatists, artists,
musicians, etc., et cetera.
We just have Baha’is who
are inspired by a new spirit,
in a new age, with a new
cosmology and we have
people like you Eugene
who had died many times
before you even put pen
to paper and documented
the tragedy of our age
as Aeschylus did long
ago in another tragic time.(1)
That religious dramatist,
documenting the verities
of our human universe
when another world was
being transformed before
Athenian eyes--part of the
complex evolution of that
history of the units of social
organization on this planet.(1)
(1) Aeschylus(525 BC-456 BC), the great Greek tragedian and powerful dramatist. This was a critical period when Greece was moving from the family and clan to the city state as the unit of social organization.
27/2/'06 to 26/1/'14.
DRAMA IN FILM
A Beautiful Mind is a 2001 American biographical drama film based on the life of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. I watched the film last night, a dozen years after its opening and after it grossed some 400 million dollars. I won’t give you chapter and verse on: who wrote the screenplay and the novel on which it was based, who directed and produced it, who acted in it, and what awards it enjoyed. You can read all that in cyberspace at several sites of which Wikipedia1 was my main source.
The story is also one I only sketch here, FYI.The film begins in the early years of a young prodigy named John Nash. Early in the film, Nash begins developing paranoid schizophrenia and endures delusional episodes while painfully watching the loss and burden his condition brings on his wife and friends.
Like historical fiction novels, biographical film and drama cherry picks aspects from the real life of the person concerned and the society, the mise-en-scene, in which they lived. All biography and autobiography, genres I’ve been studying & writing-in for the last 30 years, cherry pick. I remember after writing the first draft of my autobiography during the years 1984 to 1993, just after I turned 40, I found the result so boring I could hardly bare reading it, and so began the next twenty years of my personal cherry-picking. Cherry-picking is not, therefore, a pejorative term; everyone has to do it as they survey their lives and try to give some sense and sensibility, context and texture, to what is often a rag-and-bone shop of everyday, quotidian reality, however moving and engrossing their life may be.
To make this film both more interesting, more entertaining and, as writers and film-makers know, more popular in the market-place a whole army of people, often called the credits, are involved. In addition, a certain poetic or literary license takes place, often unbeknownst to the casual reader or film-goer.Although this film was well received by critics, it has been criticized for its inaccurate portrayal of some aspects of Nash's life, especially his other family and a son born out of wedlock, and its treatment of paranoid schizophrenia,However, the filmmakers have stated that the film was not meant to be a literal representation.
The film begins in the late 1940s when John Forbes Nash, Jr.(1928-) arrives at Princeton university. Nash is an American mathematician whose works in game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations have provided insight into the forces that govern chance and events inside complex systems in daily life. His theories are used in market economics, computing, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, accounting, politics and military theory. The film ends in 1994 when Nash, then serving as a Senior Research Mathematician at Princeton University gets the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
In 2002, PBS produced a documentary about Nash titled A Brilliant Madness, which tells the story of this mathematical genius whose career was cut short by severe mental health problems. In his own words, he states:″I spent times of the order of five to eight months in hospitals in New Jersey, always on an involuntary basis, and always attempting a legal argument for release. After I had been hospitalized long enough, I would finally renounce my delusional hypotheses. I would then revert to thinking of myself as a human of more conventional circumstances; it was only then that I would return to my mathematical research. In these interludes of, as it were, enforced rationality, I did succeed in doing some respectable mathematical research.
Thus there came about the research for "Le problème de Cauchy pour les équationsdifférentielles d'un fluidegénéral"; the idea that Prof. Hironaka called "the Nash blowing-up transformation"; and those of "Arc Structure of Singularities" and "Analyticity of Solutions of Implicit Function Problems with Analytic Data". After my return to the dream-like delusional hypotheses in the later 60's, I became a person of delusionally influenced thinking. My behaviour was relatively moderate, and thus tended to avoid hospitalization and the direct attention of psychiatrists.” -Ron Price with thanks to1Wikipedia, 15 October 2013.
LITERATURE AND ARCHITECTURE
The cover of David Spurr’s highly enjoyable Architecture and Modern Literature dramatizes some of the narrative opportunities as well as descriptive challenges involved in bringing together thees two fields of cultural production: architecture and literature. The cover shows a picture of a solitary man with a hat and briefcase, viewed from behind while crossing a foggy and nearly empty Piazza San Marco in Venice. The image instantly displays narrative potential and conjures up a whole history of Venice-based stories. At the same time, it reminds us of the stark differences in how media are able to deal with material settings. All attempts at evoking the buildings surrounding the piazza in language are at a disadvantage from visual media, which provide a wealth of detail and an immersive, sensuous effect that are unavailable to ploddingly descriptive words.
In his fifty-page introduction, “Meaning in Architecture and Literature,” Spurr goes out of his way to put the two cultural activities on a par as not only “defining the world in which we live” but being “potentially the most unlimited of all art forms in their comprehension of human existence itself”. So he mentions only late and in passing how the cultural weight of the two has in fact undergone a sea-change in our age of visuality and spectacle. Both the production and consumption of literature have become marginal in a global culture that has been transformed into the production of images, so that a new building by a star architect like Frank Gehry or Daniel Libeskind, to say nothing of the destruction of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, creates a much greater symbolic and perhaps more lasting impact on the public consciousness than any new literary work can hope to achieve. For a review of Architecture and Modern Literature by David Spurr by Bart Eeckhout in the Wallace Stevens Journal, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2014, go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/wallace_stevens_journal/v038/38.1.eeckhout02.pdf
ROBOTS AND LITERATURE
"The Robots Are Winning!" by Daniel Mendelsohn is a literary review of robotic figures in western literature as far back as Homer and Hesiod among the Greeks. The review focuses on two films: (i) Hera, a film directed by Spike Jonze, and (ii) Ex Machina, a film directed by Alex Garland. The review is found in The New York Review of Books, 4 June 2015. We have been dreaming of robots since Homer. In Book 18 of the Iliad, Achilles’ mother, the nymph Thetis, wants to order a new suit of armor for her son, and so she pays a visit to the Olympian atelier of the blacksmith-god Hephaestus, whom she finds hard at work on a series of automata. These are not the only animate household objects to appear in the Homeric epics. In Book 5 of the Iliad we hear that the gates of Olympus swivel on their hinges of their own accord, automatai, to let gods in their chariots in or out, thus anticipating by nearly thirty centuries the automatic garage door. In Book 7 of the Odyssey, Odysseus finds himself the guest of a fabulously wealthy king whose palace includes such conveniences as gold and silver watchdogs, ever alert, never aging. To this class of lifelike but intellectually inert household helpers we might ascribe other automata in the classical tradition. In the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, a third-century-BC epic about Jason and the Argonauts, a bronze giant called Talos runs three times around the island of Crete each day, protecting Zeus’s beloved Europa: a primitive home alarm system.
The branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation, and application of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing is robotics. These technologies deal with automated machines that can take the place of humans in dangerous environments or manufacturing processes, or resemble humans in appearance, behavior, and/or cognition. Many of today's robots are inspired by nature contributing to the field of bio-inspired robotics. These robots have also created a newer branch of robotics:Soft robotics. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robot and http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jun/04/robots-are-winning/
ENGLISH GRAMMAR AND THE USE OF THE PASSIVE VOICE
It is right and good to instruct students & novice writers in how they might improve their writing. I got plenty of advice in primary and secondary school back in the 1950s and early 1960s. I also studied Latin & a second language, French. All this helped give me a good grounding in English grammar. But being handed simplistic prescriptions and prohibitions did not do me any favors. ‘Avoid the passive’ was typical of such virtually useless advice. The claims about why one should avoid passives—the allegations about why they are bad—were and are all bogus. The advice was often supplied by advice-givers who were commonly hopeless at distinguishing passives from actives. The recipients of the advice could not identify passives either, so they were powerless to spot the blunders of their teachers. Even if the students managed to follow the advice rigorously, which they could hardly do if it was not clear to them what a passive was, it would usually not improve their writing one whit anyway. It would certainly make them write less like great writers of the past--& more like a little child. The standard teaching about shunning the passive should be abandoned entirely.
The issue regarding the avoidance of the passive is not so much a construction as a strange cultural trend that emerged in the 20th century among language mavens, writing tutors, and usage advisers. I was one such writing tutor. Unneeded warnings against sentences that had nothing wrong with them were handed out by people, like me, who actually were not very clear about how to identify instances of what they are warning against. By the 1970s and 1980s, English grammar had moved to the periphery of English curricula in the West. The people that the teachers aimed to educate, or intimidate, didn’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they were offered. It was a case of the blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger. After high school in 1963, I rarely got anywhere near a study of grammar. Indeed grammar seemed to just about disappear from the curricula that I had to teach as an English teacher from the 1970s to the 2000s. When it did appear, it was in a very simplistic form like the advice on not using the passive voice.
How and why had this all happened? Oversimplification and overkill by well-meaning advisers had a lot to do with it. Arnold Zwicky also noted that usage advisers tended to go for overkill, adopting a kind of zero-tolerance principle: that if students or novice writers do something too much, or if doing it sometimes gets them in trouble, they should be told not to do it at all. Arnold M. Zwicky is a perennial Visiting Professor of linguistics at Stanford University, and Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Ohio State University. For more on Zwicky go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Zwicky
One thing is certain: such teaching could hardly have worse results than the policies now in place. These policies have given us usage critics, writing tutors, and even style guide authors who have no idea what they are warning against when they hand out the standard warnings against the perennially hated passive voice. I went to school at a time when English grammar was taught for its own sake – we studied parsing and analysis; we learned about the structure of sentences and how to put them together in paragraphs; we read books and noticed the way they were written as well as the story they were telling; we wrote essays that were good preparation for the essays and theses we would have to write at university. We used, and still use, the subjunctive mood; we know the difference between ‘will’ and ‘shall’; we know which preposition goes with which word to make sense – ‘responsible to a boss’, ‘responsible for a task’.
Since the “process writing” revolution of the mid-1960s, writing skills have been seen as an enemy to writing. Without completely abandoning “process writing” instruction, teaching elementary and secondary students a few basic grammatical rules would eliminate a whole galaxy of writing errors. The world of grammar became somewhat sloppy as the 1960s became the 1970s. The scene is beginning to change after education systems in the West had virtually given the teaching of grammar away for the 40 years from 1970 to 2010. In Australia, it is being taught again, but the teachers are from that cohort that was denied an English grammar foundation at school, so they don’t have the wisdom or experience of a lifetime of being immersed in English grammar and are perhaps just one page ahead of their students in class. I am now long gone from the world of teaching which kept me busy for several decades. For an overview of this subject go to:
http://www.cesa-edu.com.au/newsletters/november2012/grammar.html For the entire article on which the above piece is based go to: http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~gpullum/passive_loathing.pdf
English grammar is the body of rules that describe the structure of expressions in the English language. This includes the structure of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. There are historical, social, and regional variations of English. Divergences from the grammar described here occur in some dialects of English. This article describes a generalized present-day Standard English, the form of speech found in types of public discourse including broadcasting, education, entertainment, government, and news reporting, including both formal and informal speech. There are certain differences in grammar between the standard forms of British English, American English and Australian English, although these are inconspicuous compared with the lexical and pronunciation differences. For more on this subject go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_grammar
Public speaking, sometimes termed forensics, is the process and act of speaking or giving a lecture to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain a listening audience. Public speaking is commonly understood as face-to-face speaking between individuals and an audience for the purpose of communication. It is closely allied to "presenting", although the latter is more often associated with commercial activity. Most of the time, public speaking is to persuade the audience. In public speaking, as in any form of communication, there are five basic elements, often expressed as "who is saying what to whom using what medium with what effects?" The purpose of public speaking can range from simply transmitting information, to motivating people to act, to simply telling a story. Good orators should be able to change the emotions of their listeners, not just inform them. Public speaking can also be considered a discourse community. Interpersonal communicationand public speaking have several components that embrace such things as motivational speaking, leadership/personal development, business, customer service, large group communication, and mass communication. Public speaking can be a powerful tool to use for purposes such as motivation, influence, persuasion, informing, translation, or simply ethos.
It is quickly apparent why Bernard Shaw was so in demand as a speaker: he knows how to make himself understood. Most orators forget that they must speak much more simply than they write because their audience will only hear their words once. Indeed, most orators speak as if they were delivering a dissertation. Shaw, on the other hand, has the ability to talk clearly without talking down. It helps that his choice of language is often vivid, especially, for example, when describing how a war cannot be won or even waged on credits. He uses words in his speeches that, other than the occasional adjective like ‘‘belligerent,’’ can be understood & would themselves be used by a ten year old. In addition, he discusses an important economic subject, such as the removal of Britain from the gold standard, with reference to ‘‘fried fish and chips,’’ which would endear him to the least knowledgeable listener. This ability to be clear comes across throughout his broadcasts. For those who have not listened to Shaw, it is worth remembering what an extraordinary voice he had. He speaks slowly and with complete clarity. Every syllable is in place. When he says, ‘‘I write plays,’’ the word ‘‘plays’’ seems to have three distinct sounds. When he utters words such as ‘‘ordinary’’ or ‘‘society,’’ it is as if he were about to begin singing, such is the vitality he rubs into them. His diction is so good that one almost thinks his performance should be compulsory listening for aspiring actors and newsreaders everywhere. For more on the following aspects of public speaking in general: History, Training and Education, National and international organizations, Non-Scholastic, Intercollegiate, and High School go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_speaking
SOME ANTHOLOGIES: AN OVERVIEW
The year I retired after a 50 year student-and-working-life, 1999-2000, a host of anthologies were published. They are listed below:
(i) The Oxford Book of English Verse edited by Christopher Ricks, Oxford, 690 pages, 1999.
(ii) The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume One edited by M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 2974 pages, 1999.
(iii) The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume Two edited by M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 2963 pages, 2000.
(iv) The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Volume One edited by David Damrosch Longman, 2963 pages, 1999.
(v) The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Volume Two edited by David Damrosch, Longman, 2982 pages,1999.
(vi) Night & Horses & The Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature edited by Robert Irwin, Allen Lane, 480 pages, 1999.
(vii) News that Stays News: The 20th Century in Poems edited by Simon Rae, Faber, 189 pages, 1999.
(viii) Time’s Tidings: Greeting the 21st Century by Carol Ann Duffy, Anvil, 157 pages, 1999; and
(ix) Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the 20th Century in Poetry edited by Peter Forbes, Penguin, 640 pages, 1999.
In February 2000 these books were reviewed in the London Review of Books as follows: "Anthologies attract good haters. In the 1790s, the reformer Hannah More blamed her editors for the decay of morals: to let people assume that you had read the entire work from which an anthology piece was excerpted, she warned girls, was no better than lying outright. In the 1840s, less predictably, Engels took time out from The Condition of the Working Class in England to sneer at the anthologies littering the sofa tables of the Manchester bourgeosie. In the 1980s, the American poet David Antin charged that ‘anthologies are to poets as the zoo is to animals.’ More recently, Marjorie Perloff called for undergraduates to swear off Evian, in the hope that tap-water drinkers could afford unabridged books rather than hackneyed fragments." For more of this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v22/n03/leah-price/elegant-extracts
FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM
Feminist literary criticism is literary criticism informed by feminist theory, or by the politics of feminism more broadly. Its history has been broad and varied, from classic works of nineteenth-century women authors such as George Eliot and Margaret Fuller to cutting-edge theoretical work in women's studies and gender studies by "third-wave" authors. In the most general and simple terms, feminist literary criticism before the 1970s—in the first and second waves of feminism—was concerned with the politics of women's authorship and the representation of women's condition within literature. This included a study of the depiction of fictional female and the exclusion of women from the literary canon. Lois Tyson suggests this was because the views of women authors were often not considered to be universal ones. For more on this subject go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminist_literary_criticism
Feminist literature is fiction or nonfiction which supports the feminist goals of defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. Feminist literature often identifies women's roles in contrast to men's roles as unequal to men's in status, privilege and power and the usually negative consequences to women and or men, families, communities, and society. This is a list of feminist literature, listed by year of first publication at this link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_feminist_literature
FEMINISM AND WONDER WOMEN
Ladies, listen up! Barnard College President Debora L. Spar has a message for you: Stop trying to be perfect. Nobody can have it all. Not even Wonder Woman. This advice comes from a six-time author, mother of three, wife of 25 years and former Harvard Business School professor. In Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection Debora L. Spar joins the ranks of ambitious, accomplished super-moms, including New America Foundation President Anne-Marie Slaughter and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. She discusses the work-life balance, the future of feminism and the futile pursuit of “having it all.” There are several reviews of this 2013 book and readers with the interest can access them at:https://www.google.com.au/#q=+Wonder+Women
THE EQUALITY OF THE SEXES
"From Oppression to Equality: The Emergence of the Feminist Perspective" by Hoda Mahmoudi is a paper which analyzes the Bahá’í principle of the equality between women and men. It provides a historical survey of the obstructions and prejudiced attitudes and behavior toward women as promoted by religious institutions, leading philosophers and intellectual and patriarchal social systems. Reasons for the current strain and lack of communication between women and men are presented and discussed. The convergence between the Bahá’í concept of equality and the current feminist perspective is developed. The question of what it means to be a liberated woman is pursued in relation to the Bahá’í writings and current feminist thought and theory in the areas of morality, rationality, and science. It is argued that the feminist model as well as the Bahá’í guidelines toward the achievement of equality are both imperative in bringing about a balanced and just global social system. Finally, the paper concludes with a discussion of the necessary steps to bring about the type of social change for the attainment of full equality between the sexes. Go to this link to read the entire article published back in 1989: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/1.3-Mahmoudi.pdf
What follows are different branches of feminist theory that are recognized by feminists & feminist scholars. These different theories of feminism are widely acknowledged and taught in women's studies courses, gender studies courses, and the like. Often people have created their own definition of feminism to best suit them. The definitions given here are theoretical, and are an example of the diversity among feminists. Why one believes in feminism, and what their ideas are to make feminism a reality, is the primary source of conflict within the feminist movement. You may find that you believe in the theory of feminism, but do not see yourself fitting into the branches of feminism in this article; that is common. You can believe that women and men should be politically, economically and socially equal for your own reasons and hold your own ideas pertaining to how you can make that happen. If that is the case you are likely practicing some form of feminism whether or not you directly associate yourself with the feminist movement or theory.
There are a range of different types of feminist theories. Feminism is the organized movement which promotes equality for men and women in political, economic and social spheres. Feminists believe that women are oppressed simple due to their sex based on the dominant ideology of patriarchy. Ridding society of patriarchy, so the argument goes, will result in liberation for women, men, minorities, and gays. For more on the different types of feminism go to: http://www.caragillis.com/LBCC/Different%20Types%20of%20Femini.htm Feminism is the theory that men and women should be equal politically, economically and socially. This is the core of all feminism theories. Sometimes this definition is also referred to as "core feminism" or "core feminist theory." Notice that this theory does not subscribe to differences between men and women or similarities between men and women, nor does it refer to excluding men or only furthering women's causes. Most other branches of feminism do. For more go to: http://www.sascwr.org/files/www/resources_pdfs/feminism/
Cultural feminism developed from radical feminism, although cultural feminists hold many opposing views. It is an ideology of a "female nature" or "female essence" that attempts to revalidate what cultural feminists consider undervalued female attributes. It is also a theory that commends the difference of women from men. Its critics assert that because it is based on an essentialist view of the differences between women and men and advocates independence and institution building, it has led feminists to retreat from practicing public politics to a focus upon individual "life-style". Readers who would like to examine my comments on feminist sociology go to:http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/SOCIOLOGY-Theories.html
For more on cultural feminism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_feminism
THE SCREEN AND THE BOOK
Philip Roth(1933- ) is one of the most awarded U.S. writers of his generation: his books have twice received the National Book Award, twice the National Book Critics Circle award, and three times the PEN/Faulkner Award. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel, American Pastoral, which featured one of his best-known characters, Nathan Zuckerman, the subject of many other of Roth's novels. The Human Stain (2000), another Zuckerman novel, was awarded the United Kingdom's WH Smith Literary Award for the best book of the year. In 2001, Roth received the inaugural Franz Kafka Prize.
"The book can't compete with the screen," writes Roth. "It couldn't compete in the beginning with the movie screen. It couldn't compete with the television screen, and it can't compete with the computer screen. Now we have all those screens, so against all those screens a book couldn't measure up." Roth has often expressed pessimism over the future of the novel and its significance in recent years. Talking to Robert McCrum of The Observer in 2001, he said that "I'm not good at finding 'encouraging' features in American culture. I doubt that aesthetic literacy has much of a future here." In October 2012, in an interview with the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles, Roth announced that he would be retiring from being an author, and confirmed subsequently in Le Monde that he would no longer publish any fiction.
I am not as skpetical as Roth particularly about aesthetic literacy. In poetry, short stories, novels & non-fiction, authors use a variety of techniques to appeal to our aesthetic values. Depending on the type of writing, an author may employ rhythm, illustrations, structure, time shifting, dualism, juxtaposition, imagery, fantasy, suspense, analysis, humor, cynicism, & thinking aloud. The field of applied aesthetics is itself a burgeoning one, & I encourage readers with the interest to go to this link to widen the scope of their knowledge of this useful branch of the philosophy of aesthetics to social constructs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applied_aesthetics#Literature
LITERATURE AND LITERACY
In Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourse, James Paul Gee describes literacy as a whole way of being in the world. James Gee (1948-) is a researcher who has worked in psycholinguistics, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, bilingual education, and literacy. Gee is currently the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. For more on Gee go to: http://en.wikipedia "People have to learn to use different kinds of literacies in society," writes Gee, "and in the process they become members of different language and discourse communities." From this perspective, literacy is said to be a constructed or negotiated entity. It is constructed in interactions framed in all sorts of cultural contexts or what Gee calls "schemata." Gee refers to this as the "social turn" within literacy studies whereby literacy is no longer described as a neutral and individual cognitive or technical skill, but as a "socially situated" practice.
With the concept of multiliteracies the fields of psycho- and socio-linguistics aim to connect technological developments with the "social turn" in literacy studies. They emphasize not only a multitude of cultures, but also a multitude of text forms, discourses, and media. New Literacy Studies are about literacy as an engagement with language in specific contexts. New literacies generally refers to new forms of literacy made possible by digital technology developments, although new literacies do not necessarily have to involve use of digital technologies to be recognized as such. The term "new literacies" itself is relatively new within the field of literacy studies.
The acquisition of literacy, then, has a particular context for Gee and his academic colleagues in psycho-lingustics. It is approached as a process of socialization situated in the context of the power structures of society and its institutions. This has led to a large corpus of scholarship on the situated nature of literacy from sociological, ethnographic, & linguistic perspectives. When literacy is seen in the context of society's power structures a range of important questions are raised for Gee, psycho-linguists and socio-linguists: What literacies are dominant? Why are some literacies marginalized? What should we teach our students? What exactly do we mean by "we"? The concept of literacy implies a focus on all sorts of issues like how human beings use symbols to construct and negotiate meaning, among others.
I first came across psycho-linguistics & socio-linguistics in 1974 as a senior tutor in education studies at what is now the University of Tasmania. They were useful fields as my academic career effloresced, and when I came to teach and lecture: (i) in discourse analysis & media studies later in the 1970s at what is now the University of Ballarat, (ii) in bilingual education in the late 1980s at what is now a polytechnic in Western Australia, and (iii) in a variety of communication studies at yet another polytechnic in the city of Perth WA. For more on these interesting, but often complex subjects, go to the online journal CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture(Volume 15, 2013, Issue 3). The essay in question in that volume which explores these issues is entitled: "Introduction to Literacy and Society, Culture, Media and Education" at: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2238&context=clcweb
PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE
In one of several papers in the online journal Essays in Philosophy the problem of determinacy in translation is examined in the context of the Western philosophical and translation theoretic traditions of the last century. Translation theory and the philosophy of language have largely gone their separate ways. The former opted to rebrand itself as “translation studies” to emphasize its empirical and anti-theoretical underpinnings. Yet translation theory and the philosophy of language predominantly share a common assumption that stands in the way of determinate translation. It is that languages, not texts, are the objects of translation and the subjects of semantics. The way to overcome the theoretical problems surrounding the possibility and determinacy of translation is to marry the philosopher of language’s concern for determinacy & semantic accuracy in translation with the notion of a “text-type” from the translation theory literature. The resulting theory capable of explaining determinacy in translation is what is called the text-type conception of semantics (TTS). It is a novel alternative to the salient positions of Contextualism and Semantic Minimalism in the contemporary philosophy of language. For more of this essay and several other essays on the philosophy of language go to: http://commons.pacificu.edu/eip/vol8/iss1/ For the full essay read Shyam Ranganathan(2007) "Philosophy of Language, Translation Theory and a Third Way in Semantics," Essays in Philosophy: Vol. 8: Iss. 1, Article 1.
POETRY: AN INTRODUCTION
When poets write prose about their art the result tends to be either a manifesto or ars poetica. The result is a grab bag of lectures, expanded reviews, and commencement addresses, or a manual, a teaching aid. The English poet Glyn Maxwell’s new book On Poetry is a curious alloy of all the contents of this grab-bag. It comprises soapbox declarations of what makes poetry endure, close readings of various canonical pieces, and a fictionalized account of a poetry workshop run by Maxwell himself for four apprentice writers. Books by poets about poetry tend to argue for the primacy of their own kind of writing, and Maxwell’s is no different. Indeed, I am no different. I have written extensively about poetry in general and my poetry in particular. For more on Maxwell's book go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/dec/19/glyn-maxwell-defiant-exhilarating-poetic/ For more on my poetry go to:https://www.google.com.au/#q=Ron+Price+poetry
PROSE AND POETRY
That famous American poet W.H. Auden once explained that his business was poetry, and that he wrote prose because being a poet was an ill-paid vocation. I write both poetry and prose in this the evening of my life as I go through my 70s, having earned my living & to pay the bills by teaching and tutoring, lecturing and being an adult educator among a host of other jobs. I had several dozen jobs and roles as a student, & in FT & PT work from 1950 to 2005. For the last 25 years, 1989 to 2014, I have been writing prose-poetry extensively. I began this exercise, writing this genre of literary work in my closing years of FT paid-employment; I am now engaged in writing full-time and have been since 2005. By 2005 I no longer was involved in any form of paid-employment: FT, PT or casual/volunteer.
The online journal Connotations had a series of articles on these interlocking and interdependent, intertwined and often blurred genres: prose and poetry(5). Prose poetry is poetry written in prose instead of using verse. Prose poetry should be considered as neither primarily poetry nor prose; it is essentially a hybrid or fusion of the two; it is often accounted a separate genre altogether. Prose poetry can be identified primarily as prose for its reliance on prose's association with narrative. Some writers, like Edgar Allen Poe, saw prose in terms of the expectation of an objective presentation of truth. For more on this subject of prose-poetry go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prose_poetry
The following comments on the subject of prose poetry are taken from the 2013/14 issue of the journal Connotations. Connotations encourages scholarly communication in the field of English Literature beginning from the Middle English period to the present. It is an international, refereed journal which focuses on the semantic and stylistic energy of the language of literature in a historical perspective & aims to represent different approaches.
Although poetry & prose may differ metrically, formally & stylistically, both may be poetical or, for that matter, prosaic. The latter case is exemplified by Wordsworth, who, in his “Preface to Lyrical Ballads,” defines the poet as “a man speaking to men.”(1) This emphasis on the ordinary human nature of the poet is at the root of Wordsworth's view that prose and poetry can be, and are, easily conflated stylistically. Wordsworth wrote that: “some of the most interesting parts of the best poems will be found to be strictly the language of prose, when prose is well written.”(1) It could be argued that the Psalms are a conflation of poetry and prose. Go to this link for an extensive overview of the Psalms: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psalms#Poetic_characteristics
Walt Whitman’s book of poetry, according to the famous novelist Henry James, “exhibits the effort of an essentially prosaic mind to lift itself, by a prolonged muscular strain, into poetry.” (2) James’s vituperation is an example of how the generally evaluative meaning of a word (“prosaic”) goes together with the criticism of style. Prose and poetry become qualities of the mind, and it is of course the master of prose, Henry James, who is sceptical of a poetry that looks like prose. “He pursues these objects through a hundred pages, pages which remind us irresistibly of the story of the college professor who, on a venturesome youth’s bringing him a theme done in blank verse, reminded him that it was not customary in writing prose to begin each line with a capital. The frequent capitals are the only marks of verse in Mr. Whitman’s writing.” (3)
To Henry James, the imperfection of poetry as a form of writing is not remedied by poetry used as a mode of expression--as Whitman did in his Leaves of Grass. To James such writing is neither poetry nor poetry-in-prose; it is prose dressed-up as poetry. "Prose", wrote James, "in order to be good poetry, must first be good prose."(4) James regards Whitman’s form of free-verse writing as pretentious rather than the result of some painstaking process of poeticizing prose. Edgar Allan Poe had yet another view. He saw poetry as having to do with the function of beauty, and prose with the function of truth; these functions, wrote Poe, could be, and often are, mixed. Ezra Pound, to whom I'll give the last word here, in his the ABC of Reading, wrote that: "Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree." This book was published
in 1934. In it, Pound sets out an approach by which one may come to appreciate and understand literature. He focused primarily on poetry. Despite its title the text can be considered as a guide to writing poetry.
By the early 1990s, as I say in the first lines of this topic of prose and poetry, I had begun to write prose-poetry extensively. This form of writing was not all that I wrote, but it had become one of the three dominants forms of my literary oeuvre. The others were: books and ebooks, and essays and internet posts. I trust this section helps to explain to readers, with the interest in my work, just how I see this major form, indeed, genre, of my writing.
(1) This passage is quoted from the 1802 version of Lyrical Ballads but it was already included in the preface of the 1800 edition.
(2) This quotation comes from papers presented at the 12th International Connotations Symposium, “Poetry in Fiction: Poetic Insertions, Allusions, & Rhythms in Narrative Texts,” which took place in 2013.
(3) On this notion, see Fishelov in the issue of Connotations at the link below.
(4) In this respect, there is a link to the topic of the previous Connotations symposium, “Poetic Economy.”
(6) Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading. 1934. London: Faber and Faber, 1961; quoted in:“Poetry in Fiction”: A Range of Options" Matthias Bauer in Connotations below.
(5) For more of this somewhat complex discussion of prose and poetry go to V. 23, N. 2, 2013/2014, Connotations at: http://www.connotations.de/pdf/volumes/connotations0232.pdf
Anthologies attract good haters. In the 1790s, the reformer Hannah More blamed the editors of anthologies for the decay of morals. Such a decay, More argued, was due to editors having people assume that reading part of an entire work from which an anthology piece was excerpted was no better than lying outright. In the 1840s, less predictably, Karl Marx's colleague, Friedrich Engels, took time out from his The Condition of the Working Class in England to sneer at the anthologies littering the sofa tables of the Manchester bourgeosie. In the 1980s, the American poet David Antin charged that ‘anthologies are to poets what the zoo is to animals.’ More recently, Marjorie Perloff called for undergraduates to swear off Evian, in the hope that tap-water drinkers could afford unabridged books rather than hackneyed fragments. In popular culture, Evian, for the uninitiated like myself, is portrayed in popular culture as a luxury and expensive bottled water.
But nobody seems to be listening. A dozen or so years ago, in 2000, records for anthologies were set: even without counting the millennial gift books already piling up on remainder tables. In 1999, the year I finally retired from FT employment, it was the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Christopher Ricks’s successor to Arthur Quiller-Couch’s Oxford Book of English Verse. That book was revised in 1939, and was followed in 1972 by Helen Gardner’s New Oxford Book. The Longman Anthology of British Literature, a brashly devolutionary challenger to the Norton Anthology of English Literature’s supremacy in the American textbook market. In the last month of the last century, the Norton’s own radically overhauled 7th edition opened with a new translation of Beowulf commissioned from Seamus Heaney for the occasion. These anthologies are making literary history, not just reporting it. For more on this subject go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v22/n03/leah-price/elegant-extracts
WHAT IS STYLE?
I have been learning and studying English all my life in one way or another. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I taught English Literature to matriculation students. I also taught creative writing from time to time in the 1980s and 1990s before retiring and teaching a small group of students at a school for seniors in this little town by the sea in northern Tasmania. The subject of "style" was not an easy one to study or teach. It is not an easy term to understand, but I will begin with some thoughts from Archibald Lampman (1861-1899), a Canadian poet who has been described as 'the Canadian Keats.' He is perhaps the most outstanding exponent of the Canadian school of nature poets. The Canadian Encyclopedia says that he is "generally considered the finest of Canada's late 19th-century poets in English. He wrote this essay on style. It contains what for me are some of the most useful words on the subject: http://www.uwo.ca/english/canadianpoetry/cpjrn/vol07/mothersill.htm
Tim Parks(1954- ) also has some more helpful thoughts on the subject. Parks was educated at Cambridge University and Harvard. He is the author of several works of fiction, one of which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997. He has also written non-fiction, and worked as a teacher and translator. In the 1980s Parks taught Literary Translation and Technical Translation at the Independent University of Modern Languages, formerly the Free University of Languages and Communication, in Italy. He wrote in a November 2013 issue of The New York Review of Books, in an article entitled "Literature Without Style," that “style is the transformation the writer imposes on reality.” These are the words of Marcel Proust.
We know what Proust means, perhaps, but the claim hardly helps us describe how a style is created or how it achieves its effects. In fact I can think of no adequate definition of style, if only because it is always diffuse throughout a text. It cannot be pinned down or wrapped up. All the same, we know at once when style is present, especially when it is extreme. Style involves a meeting between arrangements inside the prose and expectations outside it. You can’t have a strong style without a community of readers able to recognize and appreciate its departures from the common usages they know. What I’m getting at is that style is predicated on a strict relation to a specific readership and the more that readership is diluted or extended, particularly if it includes foreign-language readers, the more difficult it is for a text of any stylistic density to be successful.
In the past, a work of literature would establish a reputation in its culture of origin, first among critics who were presumably equipped to appreciate it, then among the larger public; only later, sometimes many years later, would it perhaps be translated by those cosmopolitan literati who wished to make it known in another country. Now, on the contrary, everything is immediate; the work of a major established author is pronounced a masterpiece the day it is published; translations, even of less celebrated authors like myself, are often prepared for simultaneous publication in a score of countries. In the long run, whether through a growing awareness of the situation on the part of writers, or simply by a process of natural selection, it seems inevitable that style will align with what can be readily translated more or less into multiple languages and cultural settings, or into a readily intelligible international idiom. For more on this theme go to:http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/nov/07/literature-without-style/
"The Prince of Elegant Writers" is an article in The New York Review of Books(21/5/'15) by Phillip Lopate. Lopate begins: "Max Beerbohm has always been a minority taste. “There are only fifteen hundred readers in England and one thousand in America who understand what I am about,” he estimated. This did not dismay him. On the verge of being forgotten, he always seems to have the good fortune of being rediscovered and championed by those with a taste for invigorating prose. One such enthusiast, the critic F.W. Dupee, wrote: 'Rereading Beerbohm one gets caught up in the intricate singularity of his mind, all of a piece yet full of surprises…. That his drawings and parodies should survive is no cause for wonder. One look at them, or into them, and his old reputation is immediately re-established: that whim of iron, that cleverness amounting to genius. What is odd is that his stories and essays should turn out to be equally durable.'
Beerbohm himself claimed, “What I really am is an essayist,” and, to the degree that one values essays, one is apt to consider him not only durable but indispensable. In her 1922 piece “The Modern Essay,” Virginia Woolf singled out Beerbohm as an exemplary practitioner, while also nailing the paradox of his art. Calling him “without doubt the prince of his profession,” she went on: 'What Mr Beerbohm gave was, of course, himself. This presence, which has haunted the essay fitfully from the time of Montaigne, had been in exile since the death of Charles Lamb. Matthew Arnold was never to his readers Matt, nor Walter Pater affectionately abbreviated in a thousand homes to Wat. They gave us much, but that they did not give.'
Woolf continues: 'Thus, some time in the nineties, it must have surprised readers accustomed to exhortation, information, and denunciation to find themselves familiarly addressed by a voice which seemed to belong to a man no larger than themselves. He was affected by private joys and sorrows, and had no gospel to preach and no learning to impart. He was himself, simply and directly, and himself he has remained. Once again, we have an essayist capable of using the essayist’s most proper but most dangerous and delicate tool. He has brought personality into literature, not unconsciously and impurely, but so consciously and purely that we do not know whether there is any relation between Max the essayist and Mr Beerbohm the man. We only know that the spirit of personality permeates every word that he writes.' For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/may/21/max-beerbohm-prince-elegant-writers/
Having studied and taught creative writing for perhaps fifty years, I took an interest in this article "Creative Writing, Cultural Capital and the Labour Market" by Scott Brook. It appeared in Issue 53, November 2012 of the Australian Humanities Review. Scott Brook is Assistant Professor of Writing at the University of Canberra. His research is interested in modern governmental accounts of creativity, cultural sociologies of artists’ careers, and the rise of ‘Young and Emergent Writers’ as a policy formation in Australia. He has published widely on Vietnamese Australian cultural production; and has overseen, and made submissions to, scoping studies on municipal cultural planning.
Brook is concerned about how creative writing courses should be situated in the broader policy context that has emerged alongside the continuing massification of tertiary creative arts education. By considering the labour market conditions that dispose young people towards the creative arts in the first place, we might learn to regard hyperbolic claims of the increased importance of ‘creativity’ (for the economy, workplace, urban planning, classroom, retail sector et cetera) as retrospective responses to, if not rationalisations of, a slightly less rosy transformation in the relationship between education and work. These changes have clearly had an enormous impact on young people who are forced to bear an ever-rising share of the cost of tertiary education, even as the labour market value of their qualifications is structurally determined to decline. We might take the notion of an expanding ‘creative class’ as referring to a quite different set of individuals from the glamorous caste of mobile professionals imagined by Richard Florida, and the idea of the ‘creative city’ as reflecting a far less utopian set of social and economic conditions than believers in the new economy are willing to entertain. For Brook's complex and lengthy article go to: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-November-2012/brook.html
DOES READING GREAT LITERATURE MAKE US BETTER PEOPLE?
Exposure to challenging works of literary fiction one would like to think is good for us. That’s one reason some deplore the dumbing-down of the school curriculum, among the many worlds of dumbing-down, and the rise of the Internet & its hyperlink culture of endless distraction. Perhaps most people do not read very much that they would count as great literature; perhaps some people are apt to feel guilty about not reading great literature, seeing it as one of the ways they fall short of excellence.
Wouldn’t reading say: (i) Leo Tolstoy(1828-1910) who was the Russian writer of Anna Karenina, (ii) the good folk in the novel by George Eliot(1819-1880), Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, and/or: (iii) Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), the French philosopher, Christian existentialist and playwright expand our imaginations and refine our moral and social sensibilities? Go to this link for more: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/01/does-great-literature-make-us-better/
FRANZ KAFKA and THE INNER LIFE
“I am made of literature" wrote Kafka, "I am nothing else and cannot be anything else.” This was a constant theme of his mature years, and one that he expanded on in a highly significant diary entry from August 1916: “My penchant for portraying my dreamlike inner life has rendered everything else inconsequential; my life has atrophied terribly, and does not stop atrophying.” For many writers and thinkers, as well as people from a wide range of backgrounds and roles in life, the inner life is the real life, and the social self is something put on display, so to speak. For virtually everyone these two worlds exist in some kind of tension, balance, and varied expressions.
Franz Kafka(1883-1924) was a German-language writer of novels and short stories, regarded by critics as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. Kafka strongly influenced genres such as existentialism. Most of his works, such as The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and The Castle, are filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent–child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, labyrinths of bureaucracy, and mystical transformations. For a recent review in the New York Review of Books on 24/10/'13 of three new books on Kafka go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/oct/24/different-kafka/ For more on Kafka go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Kafka
Kafka is not the first writer, nor will he be the last, to figure himself as a martyr to his art—think of Flaubert, think of Joyce—but he is remarkable for the single-mindedness with which he conceived of his role. Who else could have invented the torture machine at the center of his frightful story “In the Penal Colony,” which executes miscreants by graving their sentence—le mot juste!—with a metal stylus into their very flesh?
His conception of himself as tormented artist is allied closely to his view of his predicament as a man struggling to maintain his health and sanity in the face of an unrelentingly inhospitable world. In the annals of lamentation, from Job and Jeremiah to Beckett’s Unnamable, surely no one has devoted himself to the sustained moan with such dedication, energy, and exquisite finesse as the author of the “The Judgment” and the “Letter to His Father,” of the diaries, and of the correspondence with Felice Bauer and his lover Milena Jesenská, as well as his friend Max Brod.
REFERENCES AND ALLUSIONS
I've used many literary sources, sources from the social sciences and the humanities, as well as from the physical, biological and applied sciences. I've synthesized, recreated, and transformed them as I've used them. There's a larger argument that I often make in relation to literature. It is an argument that many other writers make in a variety of ways---from the famous 20th century poet T.S. Eliot(1888-1965) to the American writer and filmmaker, professor, literary icon, and political activist Susan Sontag(1933-2004). That argument is: that all of literature is a series of references and allusions. Of course, literature is also much more, so much more. Some of that 'more' is defined below.-Ron Price, "Reflections on Literature", with thanks to Susan Sontag and T.S. Eliot.
LITERATURE: DEFINED AND DESCRIBED
Literature comes from the word for letters in Latin: litterae. It is the art of written work, but it is not confined to published sources. Under some circumstances unpublished sources can be included. The word literature literally means "acquaintance with letters." A part of literature, written work, is often taken for the whole or, as it is said in Latin: pars pro toto. If one is a student of literature, then, as I have been since at least 1950, one is usually a student of some part of literature, of its total corpus. The term "letters" is sometimes used to signify "literature," as in the figures of speech "arts and letters" and "man of letters." The four major classifications of literature are: poetry, prose, fiction, and non-fiction.
Literature can be defined as texts based on factual information as is found in journalistic or non-fiction writing. Literature can also be seen as original imaginative writing from polemical works: (a) writing related to controversy, argument & refutation, as well as (b) biography, autobiography and reflective essays. The content of what is found in belles-lettres is also part of literature. Literature can be divided according to historical periods, genres, and political influences. The concept of genre, which in earlier decades and centuries was limited, has now broadened especially in the last half century, the half century in which I have been writing seriously: 1963 to 2013. In 1963 writing was the main part of my academic survival if I wanted to keep away from the tedium of boring jobs and carve-out a career that was challenging, interesting and suited to my capacities. That survival was in my first year of university, a year I started in September just two months before the assassination of JFK.
The term genre indicates a particular variety of artistic works which fall within a certain central theme & content; examples of genre include: crime, romance, mystery, fantasy, erotica, and adventure, among others. Important historical periods for these several genres are many, very many. They include: the 17th Century, Shakespearean, Elizabethan, Middle English, Old English, 19th Century Victorian, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the 18th Century Restoration, and 20th Century Modernism. Important political and social, literary and critical movements that have influenced these genres & literature generally include: feminism, post-colonialism, psychoanalysis, post-structuralism, post-modernism, Marxism, romanticism, and more. Literature is also observed & sometimes classified in terms of: gender, race and nationality, among other terms. Such a classification might include: Black writing in America, African writing, Indian writing, Dalit writing, women's writing, and so on. I advise readers who have the interest to examine in more detail the great variety of artistic works and the several genres, the historical periods and movements which I have outlined in summary fashion above. There is a vast literary world, a vast literature, in the many categories I have mentioned above.
I have been inspired by many of the writers in the last three millennia going back to Homer and the pre-socratics among the Greeks. The other major root of my inspiration, insofar as the western intellectual and literary tradition is concerned, goes back to the Hebrews: The Jahwist, also referred to as the Jehovist, Yahwist, or simply as J. J refers to the author or authors of the first five books of the Bible. Both of these traditions begin for all practical purposes in the 500 year period from 1000 BC to 500 BC. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament has been of special influence on my writing, an influence going as far back as my childhood in both primary school and in my home. There have been so many writers and poets, prophets and singers along the line, the line of, say, 1000 BC to the period of my own life, post-WW2 into the 21st century. The modern, the contemporary, period of literature I shall define as the period after 1844, although the modern period can be variously defined in terms of the nineteenth and twentieth century, all or part thereof and even, by some literary historians, as the entire period after the Renaissance and Reformation, after, say, 1400 to 1600.
Since literature takes as its subject all human experience, and particularly the ordering, interpreting, and articulating of experience, it is no accident that the most varied theoretical projects find instruction in literature. The results of this instruction are relevant to thinking about literature. What is true for literature, is also true for the other arts, such as painting and cinema, photography and sculpture, among the great flowering of the arts, a flowering that includes many media or mediums. According to some literary critics, the human being is entangled in three registers: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real. The imaginary constitutes the perceptual realm of the ego, the register that accounts for an illusive notion of wholeness and autonomy. The symbolic is the field of mediation that works according to a differential logic. The human subject is thus doubly split: on the imaginary level between the ego and its mirror image. On the symbolic level it is language and the inscription into a specific socio-cultural reality and its rules. This split bars the subject from any unity and, if unity is achieved, it is unity in diversity--a complex notion at the best of times. For more on this quite, this inevitably, complex subject go to this link: http://www.othervoices.org/1.3/bh/highway.php
Samuel Johnson(1709-1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson was a devout Anglican and committed Tory, and has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is also the subject of "the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature": James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson. Perfecting the art of being easygoing and chatty, Boswell picked the brains of the great minds of his time. For more on Boswell go to: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/robert-zaretsky/boswells-enlightenment/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Boswell
By 1759 Johnson was already fifty years old, and had published his dictionary, for which he was paid 1,500 pounds sterling—which became 1,600 when his publishers decided to give him 100 more—when he finished. He was slowing down. He then published his edition of Shakespeare, which he finished only because his publishers had received payments from subscribers, so it had to be done. Dr. Johnson spent his time engaged in conversation &, in spite of his numerous accomplishments, Johnson had a natural tendency toward idleness. He preferred to talk rather than write. For more on Johnson go to: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/jul/28/lecture-johnson-and-boswell/ You can also go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Johnson
THE LITERATURE FOUND IN JOURNALS
Pick up a peer-reviewed journal in just about any academic discipline & what will you find? You will find: impersonal, stodgy, jargon-laden, abstract prose that ignores or defies most of the stylistic principles that are typically advocated in any book on effective academic writing. Is that why I favour journals that allow me to spread my wings and write in a more conversational manner, like Geology Today and the Journal of Scholarly Publishing? I try on this website, as well as in the books and essays, poetry and online posts that I write to be as simple as I possibly can. Some of my pieces need to be packed with data and interpretations, the standard fodder for the peer-reviewed journals in most fields but, even then, I try to keep my eye on the reader, and anticipate his problems with my prose. There are other places in cyberspace where I publish for fun, for the joy it gives me to communicate with a wider audience. There are more and more academics doing this. But many academics never try to do this, and their writing is turgid and often impossible for the average educated reader to understand. The typical academic defense is that they are writing for a coterie of specialists.
THE GREATEST WRITERS
There are many reasons that my writing is far, far, from the category of "the greatest of writers." My writing does not rise to a level of impersonality. My writing is highly memoiristic and autobiographical; indeed it relies on authorial self-projection. Writers such as Jane Austen and Shakespeare are considered the greatest of wirters for many reasons. One reason is that their characters rise to a level of impersonality that is not to be explained, or explained away, as authorial self-projection. Their characters are defined crucially by their autonomy, independence and integrity. This is not simply because the characters are endowed with voices of their own, that is, endowed with their own highly individuated speech patterns. They also live within what one could call the context of the whole universe that is the literary work in which they appear.
As a crucial passage in Aristotle's Poetics expresses this idea: the force of great artists is not merely in representing men and women, but in a mimesis of action, or what might be called pure action. In this realm of pure action neither authors nor actors are primarily interested in presenting, directly or indirectly, their own characters. The greatest of writers "embrace their characters for the sake of the actions they are to do.”(1) --Ron Price with thanks to Aristotle, Poetics, page 73. For a detailed discussion of this somewhat complex subject go to;http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/animus/Articles/Volume%2015/3_Baxter.pdf
ENGLISH: AS A DISCIPLINE AND A PROFESSION
In the book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976) by Raymond Williams, the term Literature is placed more or less in between the term Liberation and the term Management, words which might also, more or less, capture the predicament of the professional study of literature. There are various interests and practices that continue to be gathered together under the nebulous heading of English—at tertiary institutions today. Williams(1912-1988), a Welsh academic, novelist and critic, mentions literary criticism in his entry. He has nothing much to say about English as a discipline and a profession. The modern history of literature, the range of the interests it encompasses, and the ‘communities' it fosters and depends upon, can be seen as part and parcel of English as both a discipline and a profession.
The question of what kind of discipline English is—what it does or should do, how it does it, and to what end—is certainly worth pursuing and I shall say something about this later on both in this opening, this introdctory, section on literature and in the other 3 sub-sections on the subject of literature at this 4th edition of my website, a website that goes back to 1997 and the last two years when I was employed FT as a teacher and lecturer. The question of English as a set of communities, a discipline defined by forms of sociality, is also important, both to its future and to its past. Of course, we routinely think of English today not as a community at all but as a fractured, fragmented and even, for some readers, as a promiscuous practice that plays host to a range of methodologies, touching many other disciplines in the process, and covering a remarkably diverse array, or disarray, of texts and topics.
It is methodology that fractures English most of all, as practitioners know only too well when they are asked to define it in various types of grant applications. This was true for me back in the 1980s and 1990s when filling in forms associated with getting grants at technical and further education institutions. By the 1990s post-secondary institutions all over the West, in Australia and overseas, were becoming more and more to resemble businesses with students as clients. How much money a lecturer, or public relations officer and marketer of college programs, like myself---could make for the college which employed me an important part of my responsibilities as a member of the college.
‘Approach and Method' is always the weakest section of such grant applications when English is the field in which the application is being written. The part of an application that seems to be the most difficult to articulate is in the box marked: Approach and Method. This is because the discipline that financial grants broadly identify as ‘Literature Studies' or 'Literature' has been so methodologically porous, so entangled by the methods and practices of other disciplines. Literature Studies and Literature is now affiliated with so many other disciplines at the expense of developing a discrete identity for itself. This problem is not one that will generally concern readers at this part of my website.
Literary Studies for some scholars & students of the field is a clear discipline without the ambiguities suggested above. People like Marjorie Garber (1944- ), a professor at Harvard university, in her book, A Manifesto for Literary Studies (2003) identify literary studies through ‘the way it differs from other disciplines—in its methodology and in its aim—rather than in the way it resembles them. Literary studies, for students like Garber, take literature as its object of study, but what this object can be made to signify—how it can be put to work, read and understood—is always negotiable. Garber speaks up for the relative autonomy of literary studies, relishing literature's ahistorical resonances—‘style, form, genre, grammar, rhetoric, and syntax; tropes and figures; assonance and echo'—its playfulness and its irreducibility.
Garber also thinks that the particularity of academic English lies in its prioritising of ‘human nature' and human freedom. This is a humanist, secular & countercultural defence of a discipline. It is a defence which is hardly new &, as a defence, it speaks to a long, complicated and often non-secular history of literary formations. Such a view of the discipline of English takes us back to the question of community and how we might think through the notion of community. What does community mean in relation to literary study and literary production? One point of origin might lie in the ‘republic of letters.' This term, the republic of letters, is a term that Anne Goldgar, Reader in Early Modern European History in the Department of History at King’s College London, has noted as first appearing in western Europe. It first appeared in Germany and across the Continent in the fifteenth century. The term was used more frequently in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to account for an increasingly affiliated group of literary writers and scholars. I will say no more on this somewhat esoteric subject. Readers who would like to explore these terms and defintions can do so at: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-November-2009/gelder.html Readers who would like to examine the origins and the future of literary studies can go to: http://web.stanford.edu/group/SHR/6-1/html/gumbrecht.html
Comparative Literature Studies is an academic journal in the field of comparative literature. It publishes essays ranging across the traditions of Africa, Asia, Europe, and North & South America. Articles also explore movements, themes, forms, the history of ideas, relations between authors, and the foundations of literary and cultural criticism and theory. Each issue includes reviews of significant books of literary criticism that fall under the rubric of comparative literature noted above. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_Literature_Studies
English Study is an academic discipline that includes the study of literatures written in the English language. These literatures include those from: the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and the Middle East, among other areas. English linguistics is a subject that includes English phonetics, phonology, syntax, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, corpus linguistics, and stylistics. English sociolinguistics includes: discourse analysis of written and spoken texts in the English language, the history of the English language, English language learning and teaching, and the study of World Englishes. Go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_studies for more on this subject.
Early Modern Literary Studies is a peer-reviewed academic journal covering the study of English literature and literary culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was established in 1995 & is published with the support of the Humanities Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. For more go to: http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/emlshome.html
THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE
The history of literature is the historical development of writings in prose or poetry which attempt to provide entertainment, enlightenment, or instruction to the reader/hearer/observer, as well as the development of the literary techniques used in the communication of these pieces. Not all writings constitute literature. Some recorded materials, such as compilations of data are not considered literature, & this article below relates only to the evolution of the works defined above. For an excellent overview of the history of literature beginning with a discussion of literature & writing, and the very first writings from ancient Sumer, which by any reasonable definition do not constitute literature, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_literature
I have divided THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE into modern and pre-modern. I adopted the following pattern after discarding several alternatives.
A. The pre-modern I have divided into several stages:
A.1 Greece and Rome: 1000 BC-500 AD
A.2 Middle Ages 500-1400 AD
A.3 Renaissance and Reformation 1400-1600 AD
A.4 Early Modern 1600-1844 AD
B. The modern period I have also divided into several stages:
B.1 Modern Phase 1: 1844-1921
B.2 Modern Phase 2: 1921-1963
B.3 Modern Phase 3: 1963-Present
THE HISTORY OF ENGLISH
More than 30 years ago, in the London Review of Books(V. 6 N. 4, 1/3/'84), Earl Miner wrote a review entitled "In Praise of History." Miner wrote: "For a successful history of English from a single pen, we must no doubt go back to Saintsbury, who is still readable. There is also Legouis and Cazamian. But the two serviceable histories which we now possess are written by Americans. As long ago as 1948, Malone, Baugh, Brooke and Chew brought out A Literary History of England in nearly 1700 good-sized pages. In the same year we had the fruits of an editorial board headed by Spiller, Thorp, Johnson and Canby, with a large number of contributors to a Literary History of the United States in three volumes. The Oxford History of English Literature exists, but with no joint effort by its separate authors. That, on the historical side, is the history of a silence." This article was a review of some 6 books involving the history of Japanese literature, and readers wanting more of this review can go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v06/n04/earl-miner/in-praise-of-history
THE NOVEL: HERE TO STAY
Though few thinkers still bother to attack it, let alone go on proclaiming its death, the novel remains exceedingly well defended, commanding larger, more ferocious armies than such a modest institution requires. Indeed, protecting novels from all threats, real and imagined, seems at times to constitute a more vigorous cultural enterprise than the actual writing of the things. The form's latest self-styled guardian is Cynthia Ozick(1928- ), an accomplished novelist herself and a high-ranking literary critic. Along with so many other traditionalists, she cherishes the belief, now quixotic, that serious fiction and those who dream it up are still controversial enough to be embattled and "in danger of obsolescence."
In the past, Ozick suggests, novelists could rely on a nearly infinite attention span from their audience, but TV and the movies have wrecked all that. She ends one of her essays in this collection defiantly, refusing to recant her youthful ambitions and her dreams of "dominion, energy and honor." For Ozick, the disappearance of the old order is not an event to be passively beheld but an outrage worth shaking a Lear-like fist at. The image of the novelist as a species of intellectual royalty, administering vast realms of mental space with absolute, divine authority while resisting the claims of social relevance and popular amusement, reappears in a number of the essays, and always as something to be revered and mourned rather than archaeologically inspected.
"Ozick is waging a fight largely with long words over big issues", so writes Walter Kirn(1962- ) an American novelist, literary critic, and essayist who reviews Ozick's book of essays. Kirn's latest book is the 2009 memoir Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever. Kirn continues: "But they are big issues which, to most people, now feel small, not to mention slightly archaic. Nothing gets older faster than an apocalypse that was scheduled for two days ago. If the novel did die a few years back, well, we survived, apparently. And if it didn't, it probably never will. Either way, the din of our destruction is mostly in Ozick's head".
In "The Din in the Head," the title of this new collection of essays, many of them written for publications like The New Yorker, The New Republic and The New York Times Book Review, Ozick sounds the latest of a million warnings about the oft postponed catastrophe that only novelists still fear, despite their perennial attempts to make the public dread it, too. For more on Ozick, the novel and a review of her collection of essays in The New York Times July 2006 go to this link:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/02/books/review/02kirn.html?ref=cynthiaozick&_r=0
In Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination & Public Life Martha Nussbaum postulates that novels can be read as metaphors in order to understand the stories of others. She also argues that literature should be used to help citizens to orient themselves as cosmopolitans and to stimulate their moral imagination and practice. More recently, in Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities she argues that democracies need the humanities. Martha Craven Nussbaum(1947-) is an American philosopher and the current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, a chair that includes appointments in the philosophy department and the law school. For more on Nussbaum go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Nussbaum
In the London Review of Books(V. 29, N. 6, 22/3/'07), David Trotter reviews the following two books: (i) The Novel: Vol. I: History, Geography and Culture edited by Franco Moretti(Prnceton, 900 pages, 2006); and (ii) The Novel: Vol. II: Forms and Themes edited by Franco Moretti(Princeton, 950 pages, 2006). Trotter asks: "What counts as a novel? Any ‘fictitious prose work’ over fifty thousand words was E.M. Forster’s answer, in Aspects of the Novel. a book I read at the start of my teaching in post-secondary schools, colleges, and universities back in the 1970s. It’s a broad enough definition, in all conscience, though it has begun to do some useful work by excluding a wide variety of short fiction in prose, & some long poems, such as Eugene Onegin or Vikram Seth’sThe Golden Gate, which are not quite prepared to admit to being long poems. But it may be too broad." Trotter contines:
"Forster explicitly includes, alongside Emma and the rest of the Great Tradition, texts as unlike each other, and as unlike Emma, as Pilgrim’s Progress and W.H. Hudson’s Green Mansions. No one’s arguing about Emma. But Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegorical dream-vision; while Green Mansions (a story set in the forests of western Guyana featuring a female spirit-presence, a lost tribe, and enough spiders, centipedes and moths to stock a decent-sized natural history museum) is an adventure story of the kind Rider Haggard devised in King Solomon’s Mines and She, as an alternative to the English novel’s stuffy domestic preoccupations. Green Mansions is an eco-romance:She with added insect ecology (Haggard wouldn’t have got out of bed to describe anything smaller than a wildebeest). Well-understood generic convention organises Pilgrim’s Progress and Green Mansions in such a way as to distinguish them sharply from each other, and from whatever kind of book it is that Emma is." For more of this discussion of the nature of the novel and its future go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n06/david-trotter/into-the-future
ARABIC LITERATURE AND THE NOVEL
Arabic literature is the writing, both prose and poetry, produced by writers in the Arabic language. The Arabic word used for literature is "Adab", which is derived from a meaning of etiquette, and which implies politeness, culture and enrichment. Arabic literature emerged in the 5th century with only fragments of the written language appearing before then. The Qur'an, widely regarded by Muslims as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language,would have the greatest lasting effect on Arabic culture and its literature. Arabic literature flourished during the Islamic Golden Age, but has remained vibrant to the present day, with poets and prose-writers across the Arab world achieving increasing success. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_literature
Published in Paris in 1855, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg Over Leg is often called the first novel written in Arabic. It does not read at all like Little Dorrit, whose first installment was published the same year, and certainly not like Madame Bovary, published two years later, but “novel” is as good a word as any to describe it. What else should we call a fiction with chapters of rhyming prose, countless dirty jokes and digressions, an elegy for a donkey, long lists of rare words for genitalia, perfumes, and games played by children, all hung on the frame of a travelogue to Egypt, Malta, England, and France? Al-Shidyaq knew that he was up to something new. He called his book “an innovation singular beyondcompare.” For more go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/oct/08/first-great-arabic-novel/
THE IMPLICATIONS OF DIGITAL PUBLISHING
The following article appeared in the online electronic journal entitled CULTURE MACHINE(V.12, 2011). The article was entitled: "The Digital Future of Authorship: Rethinking Originality" by Kathleen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick(1967- ) is an American scholar of digital humanities. She is Director of Scholarly Communication of the Modern Language Association, Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College, as well as Visiting Research Professor of English at New York University, and co-editor of MediaCommons.The article begins with this quotation from Sir Isaac Newton: ‘If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.’
This article was of particular relevance to me since, by the time I read this piece in that online journal, I had been publishing online for two decades, 1995 to 2015. Fitzpatrick says, at the outset, that she has spent her last several years writing about the kinds of social and intellectual changes that digital publishing will require of academics and writers, essayists and novelists, and their institutions. These changes encompass, she says, many aspects of the ways that scholars and writers work. But, she continues, "few of those changes will be so deeply felt" as those that the digital world presents for the conceptions and identities of writers & authors. What writers are doing, why they are doing what they are doing, & how to go about doing what they are doing: these are all very real questions facing writers. These changes are hard to grapple with. They have certainly kept me busy in the last decade or so after trying to get my writing published for the previous two decades, 1981 to 2001, before I got going in cyberspace in the first years of the 21st century.
"When I was originally contacted by the journal editors of Culture Machine," Fitzpatrick writes, "it sounded as though they were interested in republishing some part of the work I’d done in my online book manuscript, Planned Obsolescence. The old model of publishing which I wrote about in that book is one we all understand: you publish something somewhere, and then sometimes, if you’re lucky, that something gets reprinted somewhere else, in whole or in part. There is, though, a difference that the Internet brings to such a process. In print, in traditional publishing, reprinting makes sense: an article appears in a journal and then re-appears in an anthology, or perhaps in a single-author book expanding on the argument. The different context of that reprinted article allows it to reach different audiences, to accomplish different tasks, than the original text has done. On the Internet, however, such literal reprinting makes far less sense; if the editors of Culture Machine wanted their audience to read my text as previously published, why wouldn’t they simply link to it? The seamlessness of the Internet makes nearly all texts available as part of the same vast and, at times, poorly edited anthology.
The example of the word processor is just one example of some of the many changes that have taken place in the world of the writer. In the not too distant past, many writers had secretaries, or perhaps typists or, at the very least, wives and in my case a mother, who handled a key aspect of the production of their work. Over the last three decades, a series of technological & social changes has made such a phenomenon all but unheard of; with very few exceptions, everybody operates their own word processor, manages their own email, writes their own memos, and so forth. Since I began to write poetry seriously in 1992, and prose in the early-to-mid '80s, the word processor has been at my beck-&-call 24/7, whenever I needed it. It was then, as it is now, my right arm. Typing has ceased to be a technological process that followed the intellectual act of writing, which thus allowed it to be outsourced. Instead it has become the core of the writing process itself. This change has, in turn, had dramatic effects on the ways I write and, certainly, on the ways and especially the extent to which I get published.
The technologies that support Internet-based writing and communication developed in a milieu, among writers like myself, in which a high value was placed on the sharing of information. This was, in some cases, an even higher value than on the individual authorship or ownership of particular texts. Electronic literature has seen the conditions of literary work dramatically transformed since the inception of the internet. So rapid has been the development that one can speak of two generations of works. Dating the watershed between the generations is a matter of critical debate, but most people agree it falls somewhere between 1995 and 1997. It was during this watershed between the two generations that I had my first website. I see my own online publishing has having its inception during the years 1995 to 1997.
First generation works were often written in what was called Storyspace or Hypercard. They were largely, or exclusively, text-based with navigation systems mostly confined to moving from one block of text to another. Second generation works, authored in a wide variety of software including Director, Flash, Shockwave and xml, were fully multimedia, employed a rich variety of interfaces, and had sophisticated navigation systems. The trajectory traced by developments after 1997 can be broadly characterized as moving deeper into the machine. In real terms this meant that people like me could get their writing published with relative ease.
My website went online in 1997 and, since then, I have published literally millions of words in cyberspace. Increasingly, electronic literature devises artistic strategies to create effects specific to electronic environments. In short, it is learning to speak digital in attractive, in aesthetically pleasing, ways. Some of my writing online is placed in settings designed by some online web-design company that is highly pleasing to the eye using various fonts, styles, settings and formats. All I needed to do was click on several little boxes in order to make my choice of background, the setting, in which my writing was to be placed.
In all of this, the key issue is interaction. The author is not operating and, of course, has never operated, in a vacuum. He or she has always been a participant in an ongoing conversation. Some aspects of the interactions made possible by new network technologies may seem daunting or, even, alarming to us today. In the long run, and used with care, they have provided significant possibilities for the kind of advancement of knowledge that we all seek. It is an advancement that requires a broad communal framework. Earlier thinking about the intersection between authorship and computer technologies often overlooked this communal framework. This was, in part, because such examinations were focused on stand alone computers running discrete hypertexts. For more of this article go to: http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/433/466
The 1980s and 90s witnessed a shift according to Paul Delany in his Literature, Money & the Market: from Trollope to Amis(Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002) “to what may be called a postmodern literary system.”(Delaney, p.180). While literary publishing has always been a business, at least since the emergence of the novel form itself, prior to the 1980s it could be viewed as a trade based on loyalty between a publishing house and its authors. Now, however, most of the fiction industry is controlled by multinational conglomerates—including Bertelsmann and Time Warner at the top—so that relationships between authors & publishers have become more tenuous. Further, this shift has meant a reconfiguration of the players in the marketing of manuscripts, published novels, and future work. Richard Todd shows that since the abolition of resale price maintenance following the end of the Net Book Agreement in 1995, publishing functions within a triangle of forces: the author and agent, the publisher, and retail, with the latter holding the most power. Publishers acting within the multinational conglomerate system, for their part, seek out top-selling authors as brand names, “buying a literary property rather than taking on an author, & investing large advances as a form of speculation, effectively “gambling with the company’s money" on both the sales of a novel and that celebrity author’s future work. For more on this subject go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/login.cgi While most of this does not apply to me, since I am not involved in that triangle of forces: the author & agent, the publisher, & retail, my wirting now takes place in a postmodern literary system.
LITERATURE IN MODERN ASIA: A CONTEXT
The growing literary assessment of the ideology and practice of Asian capitalism is now seen in many books that come off the presses. In Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke, the first two volumes of a projected trilogy of novels, Amitav Ghosh panoramically depicts the arrival in Asia of Western-style capitalism on the back of gunboats and indentured labor. Three new novels set in contemporary Asia, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid, Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw, and Beggar’s Feast by Randy Boyagada, examine the deeper perils and fantasies of an economic system that Asians themselves deem mandatory across the continent. For more on this subject read the following paragraph and go to this link:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/25/asia-explosive-transformation/
The new literature from Asia is a kind of moral reckoning that happened at another time in the West. For European and American fiction writers in the nineteenth century, or American ones in the early twentieth, a state of affairs in which money was the measure of all things, & material success redeemed intellectual and emotional inadequacy, was still radically new. Writers—from Dickens to Balzac and Zola and Dreiser—regarded with appalled fascination not only the gigantic and impersonal workings of business and industry but also the sudden respectability of selfishness and greed, which had been stigmatized for centuries by traditional religions and philosophies. A sense of outrage over conniving bankers & politicians, and their apparent handmaidens, the press and the judiciary, drove Balzac’s La Comédie humaine as well as Dreiser’s An American Tragedy & The Titan. In the early twentieth century, Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, described, even tragically enacted, the doomed individual search for a meaningful ethical principle and aesthetic value in what were then cultures of unprecedented conformity and social-climbing. Readers who find some of the ideas here somewhat complex should not unduly concern themselves since what I am writing about is, in fact, not that simple.
LITERARY STUDY AND THE SOCIAL ORDER
Determining how literary study relates to the social order has occupied the best minds at least since Plato excluded poets from his ideal republic in the late 5th century BC. The subject has been thoroughly aired over the centuries. "It is difficult", in the words of that English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer, Samuel Johnson(1709-1784) "to say anything new about it that is true, or true about it that is new." Plausible arguments contend that the study of literature is a civilizing influence that nurtures good citizenship by providing instruction and models in compassion, justice, and the moral law. But forceful arguments also contend that engagement with literature is primarily an aesthetic experience having no direct practical consequences for civil affairs.
As I was taking a sea-change and an early retirement to northern Tasmania at the age of 55 in late 1999, Stephen L. Tanner, a Professor of English at Brigham Young University, published what I found to be an excellent overview of an issue that is perennially relevant. Each age grapples with its implications in the context of the time and its own views. Its views regarding the nature of literature and the ideals of society are at the heart of that context. Readers can go to the electronic journal Humanitas, Vol. 12, No.2, 1999, for Stephen L. Tanner's article "Literary Study and the Social Order".
After centuries of consideration, the matter still defies resolution. My purpose in what follows is to survey some significant recent contributions to this endless debate over what literary study can or should do to promote the civic good and offer some observations concerning the debate and the direction it should take in the future. Go to this link for further discussion on this topic:http://www.nhinet.org/humsub/12-2.htm
A HOST OF NATIONAL LITERATURES
In a world with more than 200 countries and independent territories, the number of national literatures is, to say the least, extensive. Then there are the ethnic or cultural literatures making a diversity which, to say the least, is staggering. I will say a few things about only one of these many literatures below.
Japanese literature is often about nothing happening, because Japanese life is, too; at least that was the case until recently. There are few emphases in spoken Japanese—the aim is to remain as level, even as neutral, as possible—and in a classic work like The Tale of Genji, as one recent translator has it, “The more intense the emotion, the more regular the meter.” As in the old-fashioned England, though more unforgivingly so, an individual’s job in public Japan was to keep his private concerns and feelings to himself and to present a surface that gives little away. That the relation of surface to depth is uncertain is part of the point; it offers a degree of protection & lets you be yourself. The fewer words that are spoken, the easier it is to believe you’re standing on common ground.
The viewer or reader has to supply much of the meaning to a scene, and so the colorless surfaces again advance a sense of collusion, which in turn leads to a kind of intimacy. For the visitor who has just arrived in this country of conflict-avoidance, the innocent browser who’s just picked up a twentieth-century Japanese novel, it means that the first impression may be of scrupulous blandness, an evasion of all stress, self-erasure. For those who’ve begun to inhabit this world, it means living in a realm of detonations, under the surface and between the lines.
Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the diffusion of Buddhism in Japan. Eventually, Japanese literature developed into a separate style in its own right as Japanese writers began writing their own works about Japan, although the influence of Chinese literature and Classical Chinese remained until the end of the Edo period, the period of early-modern literature (1603–1868). Literature during this time was written during the largely peaceful Tokugawa Period. Since Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western and Eastern literature have strongly affected each other and continue to do so. For more on Japanese literature go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_literature For more on Japanese literature go to Pico Lyer's article "Masters of Doing Nothing at All" in The New York Review of Books, 7 February 2013 at this link:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/feb/07/masters-doing-nothing-all/
Hermeneutics is the attempt to analyze or interpret works of art for their hidden meanings. Broadly speaking hermeneutics is the art and science of text interpretation. Traditional hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of written texts, especially texts in the areas of literature, religion and law. A type of traditional hermeneutic is biblical hermeneutics which concerns the study of the interpretation of the Bible. In religious studies and social philosophy, hermeneutics is the study of the theory and practice of interpretation. Modern hermeneutics encompasses everything in the interpretative process including verbal and nonverbal forms of communication as well as prior aspects that affect communication, such as presuppositions, preunderstandings, the meaning and philosophy of language, and semiotics. For more on this subject go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutics
LITERATURE AND PHILOSOPHY
James Ryerson has worked as an editor at The New York Times Op-Ed page, The New York Times Magazine, Legal Affairs, Lingua Franca, and Feed. He writes frequently about philosophy and has contributed introductory chapters to Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, by David Foster Wallace, and Take Care of Freedom and Truth Will Take Care of Itself: Interviews with Richard Rorty. At the Cullman Center, he is working on a book about the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser. James Ryerson, in his essay "The Philosophical Novel" which appeared in The New York Times(20/1/'11), wrote as follows: "Can a novelist write philosophically? Even those novelists most commonly deemed “philosophical” have sometimes answered with an emphatic no. Iris Murdoch, the longtime Oxford philosopher and author of some 24 novels often treated highbrow themes like consciousness and morality. She argued that philosophy & literature were contrary pursuits. Philosophy calls on the analytical mind to solve conceptual problems in an “austere, unselfish, candid” prose. She made this point in a BBC interview broadcast in 1978. Literature, argues Murdoch, looks to the imagination to show us things “mysterious, ambiguous, particular” about the world. Any appearance of philosophical ideas in her own novels was an inconsequential reflection of what she happened to know."
“If I knew about sailing ships I would put in sailing ships,” Murdoch said. “And in a way, as a novelist, I would rather know about sailing ships than about philosophy.” For more on the subject of philosophy and literature go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/23/books/review/Ryerson-t.html
George Richard Wilson Knight (1897–1985) was an English literary critic & academic, known particularly for his interpretation of mythic content in literature, & his essays The Wheel of Fire on Shakespeare's drama. You can access The Wheel of Fire at: https://archive.org/stream/wheeloffire Knight was also an actor and theatrical director, & considered an outstanding lecturer. Among the many academics who were impressed with Wilson's writing was L. James Hammond who is a professor of literature and philosophy. Hammond has written (i) Conversations With Great Thinkers: The Classics for People Too Busy to Read Them; and (ii) Realms of Gold: A Sketch of Western Literature, among other books. I quote below from Hammond's 2003 essay "G. Wilson Knight on Shakespeare." Hammond begins:
"I continue to be impressed by the work of the eminent literary critic and Shakespeare specialist G. Wilson Knight. I’d like to devote a few pages to a discussion of Knight’s work because Knight throws more light on Shakespeare than anyone I’ve ever read, and also because Knight’s work pertains to subjects that my newsletter Phlit has often discussed at: http://www.ljhammond.com/phlit/newsletter.htm Knight wrote several volumes of essays on Shakespeare. The volume that I’d like to focus on is The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearean Tragedy. Knight de-emphasizes character, and thinks that earlier Shakespeare critics, like A.C. Bradley, sometimes over-emphasized character. He sees an analogy to his approach in modern physics: “the belief in rigid particles with predictable motions has been replaced by concepts of form, pattern and symmetry......For ‘particles’ put ‘characters’ and we have a clear Shakespearean analogy.” For Hammond's website with its extensive corpus of writing on literature and philosophy go to: http://www.ljhammond.com/ For more go to: http://www.ljhammond.com/phlit/2003-07.htm For "A Study of George Wilson Knight's Imaginative Interpretation of Shakespeare" go to: http://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2361&context=luc_theses
Readers need to be warned before reading philosophical analysis of literature that the level of complexity, the level of difficulty, in the language used by such writers is often difficult. It is often more difficult than reading a novel, a newspaper or a popular magazine. T.S. Eliot's introduction to G. Wilson Knight's The Wheel of Fire may place demands on the reader, demands with which he or she can not cope. Knight's book is also, & often, too difficult for readers whose reading level, whose literary competence, is not sufficiently high. Some call this a "higher illiteracy." Similar expanded skill sets in various disciplines have been called: multimedia literacy, computer literacy, information literacy, statistical literacy, and technological literacy. For more on literacy go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy#Literacy_in_the_21st_century
THE CENTRALITY OF LANGUAGE
The centrality of language to human experience, its expression, its communication, and its analysis, and the limitations of this phenomenon in fully realising the symbolization of being in the world, provides a link between the disciplines of philosophy, psychoanalysis, and poetry. While all three attempt to express, question, & reflect upon the human condition, the superiority of the poetic word as a medium with a greater potential to disclose and articulate the truth of being human, is asserted by many philosophers, psychoanalysts, & poets. Love, that strange unmanageable phenomenon or form of life, is something about which the writer and philosopher Martha Nussbaum has some helpful things to say.
Nussbaum writes that "while literary form is not separable from philosophical content, the language of literature may enable a greater understanding. There may be some views of the world & how one should live in it, views, especially, that emphasize the world’s surprising variety, its complexity and mysteriousness, its flawed and imperfect beauty, that cannot be fully and adequately stated in the language of conventional philosophical prose. this can only be done in a language and in forms themselves more complex, more allusive, more attentive to particulars." (Nussbaum, 1992, p. 3). For a discussion of philosophy and literature go to an article in the online journal Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy(Vol. 4, Nos. 1-2, 2008). The article is entitled "The Question of Love’s Possibility Explored Through the Poetry of William Wordsworth" by Kathleen O’Dwyer. The full article is found here: http://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/105/209
A HISTORY OF FICTION
In any attempt at a comprehensive history of fiction in our globalizing, planetizing, literary milieux, however angled, biased or unbiased, that attempt may be, there will be ten thousand novelists excluded for every one included. Those excluded will, most of them, be what some historians of literature call “second- and third-raters.” Even 2nd and 3rd rate writers of fiction, though, are not wholly unmemorable. The first-raters one could easily argue with some justification, at least most of them, have received plenty of attention in the history and presentation of fiction in the public marketplace. Having been a student and/or a teacher of literature and history for more than fifty years, for the most part in relatively strict curricular confines, I know well enough who some of the first-raters are. But I am a generalist not a specialist and, even ofter more than half a century stepping into the literary waters of fiction, as well as those of history, I have spread my reading and studying over far too wide a range of disiplines, to claim any expertise.
I would not even attempt to give more than a very small sense of what lies either inside or outside the conventional confines of the history of fiction. And that is all I do at this website. Any idiosyncratic selection I might make of writers of fiction is carried out for the most part based on the principle of personal taste, and often this taste is based on more interest in the writer than in what he or she writes. My choices, my selection, though, is not the product of perverted judgment. My choices are the product of simple personal preference and institutional-curricular exposure.
Doris Lessing(1919-2013) was a British novelist and poet, playwright and librettist, biographer and short story writer, as well as recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. She once wrote, and in a talk given in 1990 made the point, that it is literature, not history, which has created a map of this or that society. She was talking about the novel not from an aesthetic point of view, but as information, and as providing an understanding of a society or culture. Lessing gave a personal example as follows: "a businessman friend of mine, when he is sent off to some new town or country, goes to the library for all the novels from there. That’s where you learn what a place is like, says he, not from blueprints and pamphlets. We all know about pre-revolutionary Russia because of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov and the rest." For more of Lessing's comments in this vein go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v12/n01/doris-lessing/unwritten-novels
STUDIES IN THE THEORY OF FICTION
If Frank Kermode was able to create a syllabus it would be the curricular embodiment of his belief in the primacy of the difficult. The modern poet Kermode most respected was Wallace Stevens. Stevens was never a writer who yielded to the reader without a struggle. Kermode has lots of company in the halls and lecture-rooms of academic institutions across our tortured planet where difficult prose and poetry has kept generations busy trying to figure-out what some writer has said, and meant. After more than 50 years of wading through the difficult and searching, as well, for the simple and the easy, I have developed an admiration for writers and academics like Kermode, well, at least some. There are many, both fiction writers and non-fiction writers, whose literary worlds I have never had any intention of entering for all sorts of reasons, of which 'difficulty' is but one. After more than 50 years in classrooms trying to make the difficult easy for my students and for myself, the syllabi I would create are those I would use to help people make sense out of the terra incognita of life, of some subject, of themselves.
Now, in my 70s, I am far, far removed from both following & creating syllabi. Instead, I have become an online blogger & journalist, writer & author, poet & publisher, reader & scholar, editor & researcher. Perhaps the one similarity I have to Kermode is that I have no followers, and I do not seek them out, followers that is. There are no Kermodians; there are no Priceans. I did engage in the internet activity of following others and seeking followers in the first 15 years of my active cyberspace life, 2000 to 2014. But I gradually disengaged myself from such literary practices. I even unfriended some 150 of my former Facebook friends as I entered my 70s in mid-2014.
The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction is the most famous work of the literary scholar Frank Kermode. It was first published in 1967 by Oxford University Press. The book originated in the Mary Flexner Lectures, given at Bryn Mawr College in 1965 under the title 'The Long Perspectives'. Kermode begins: "It is not expected of critics as it is of poets that they should help us to make sense of our lives; they are bound only to attempt the lesser feat of making sense of the ways in which we try to make sense of our lives." This is what Kermode sets out to do in the book. Kermode claims that humans are deeply uncomfortable with the idea that our lives form only a short period in the history of the world. So much has gone before us and so much will come after us. We look for a 'coherent pattern' to explain this fact, and invest in the idea that we find ourselves in the middle of a story. In order to make sense of our lives we need to find some 'consonance' between the beginning, the middle, and the end. Literature, as Kermode saw it, cannot make sense of our lives – and the end points, or destinations that we like to think we are heading for in our lives.
Men have always used all sorts of meaning systems to impose structure on the terra incognita of life and its idea of eternity. Beginning with Homer, Plato, and Augustine in the Greek-Christian tradition, and the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, Jewish legal literature & philosophy in the Hebraic tradition. Readers are advised to do some Googling if they want to have some overview & detail about these 2 general traditions on which western civilization as it evolved into the Middle Ages was based. Other traditions played their parts: Rome, Islam, the Celts, and various animistic cultures alll played thier part as Western civilization evolved from, say, 476 to 1492, to choose two often used and convenient dates.
Stemming from a long tradition now of Jewish, Christian and Islamic apocalyptic thought in the West, we now have the idea of a beginning which was Edenic, golden , in some way. The middle is the age in which we now live. It is characterised by 'decadence'. What was good has declined and is in need of 'renovation'. In order to usher in a new age, a process of painful purging (or 'terrors') needs to be undergone. This allows us to explain the chaos and 'crisis' we see unfolding around us. The more pessimistic individuals see no golden age in the past & none in the future. In the choice between utopia and oblivion they side with oblivion. The subject is, of course, complex. For more on this subject, and several reviews of this book, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sense_of_an_Ending:_Studies_in_the_Theory_of_Fiction
EDMUND WILSON: 1895-1972
Wilson was an American writer, literary and social critic, and noted man of letters. Wilson was interested in modern culture as a whole, and many of his writings go beyond the realm of pure literary criticism. His early works are heavily influenced by the ideas of Freud and Marx, reflecting his deep interest in their work. The latest inclusion in the Library of America, that clothbound hall of literary fame, is two big volumes of Edmund Wilson’s critical writings. It’s about time, considering that the Library of America was Wilson’s idea in the first place. He modeled it after the French Pléiade series, insisting back in the 1960s that the texts be readable and accessible, without a forest of footnotes, and it was he who chose the volumes’ pleasingly compact format.
For five decades he published lucid and magisterial essays on whatever caught his interest, whether it was books, politics or 16th-century garden sculpture. He was, like his idol Jules Michelet(1798-1874) a French historian, someone who had read all the books, looked at all the monuments and pictures and had it all under his hat. For more on Edmund Wilson go to these two links: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/04/books/review/04TOIBIN.html?ref=edmundwilson and: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/books/07mcgr.html?ref=edmundwilson
ESSAYS and ARTICLES, DIARIES and JOURNALS, LETTERS and NOVELS
All of the above, in the heading to this section, are forms of literature. They are all forms in which I have written extensively beginning in the early 1960s when: (i) I began to write essays and articles in high school and university, and (ii) I began to write letters and articles as part of my travelling-pioneering for the Canadian Baha'i community. I have now been writing a great deal for half a century. I gave novels a shot in the late 1980s but realized, by 1991/2, that novel-writing was not for me. Diaries and journals came into my life in my 40s and have been on my literary agenda now for over 30 years.
Literature is the art of written work & can, in some circumstances, refer exclusively to published sources. The word literature literally means "things made from letters;" the term "letters" is sometimes used to signify "literature," as in the figures of speech "arts and letters" and "man of letters." Literature is commonly classified as having two major forms, fiction & non-fiction. It is also said to possess two major techniques, poetry & prose.
The following paragraphs were written by Frank Kermode. At the time these words were written, in 1985, Kermode(1919-2010) was a literary critic and teaching at Columbia University. Below is Kermode's review of a book of essays by William Gass(1924- ) entitled: Habitations of the Word. The review appeared in The New York Times back in 1985. By 1985 I had published several dozen essays or articles in a local newspaper, the Katherine Advertiser; I had also started to keep a journal or diary. I knew nothing of either Kermode or William Gass.
Gass is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. He is not alone among leading American fiction writers in giving some of his time and talent to nonfiction, but nobody does it more energetically than Gass, so Kermode emphasizes. Gass, then, has an alternative role as essayist & not novelist. Gass wouldn't mind being called a philosopher, but would certainly object to the description ''literary critic.''
Gass has small regard for most of the writing done by literary critics. The best, most acceptable term to refer to Gass is: ''essayist.'' Mr. Gass has strong views about the essay & thinks it worthy of his best attention. Since 2000, Gass has been the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. For more on Gass go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_H._Gass
An introduction to literature, which is the function of this section of my website, must give some attention to the essay and, I must add, its gasy-and-not-so-gasy-emissions. Habitations of the Word was Gass's first collection of essays since The World Within the Word published seven years before in 1978. I was finishing my three years of teaching at the Ballarat College of Advanced Education in 1978. One of my tasks at this CAE was to help students writer essays. Even though I had become, by the mid-to-late seventies a specialist in the art of essay writing, I had not heard of Gass.
Seven years later in 1986 I was an acting lecturer in management studies and handled public relations for Hedland College, now a polytechnic, in the Pilbara in the north of Western Australia. I had, by then, published some 150 essays in newspapers, but it would be another five years before the kind of writing Gass did would be on my agenda, and more than 25 years before I had both the time and the inclination to study Gass.
His book, A Temple of Texts (2006), won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism even though Gass did not see himself as a literary critic. Mr. Gass has a genial contempt for reviewers, and his own specimens clearly indicate his determination to be as unlike them as possible. Not for him the plain expository manner that reviewers probably think is appropriate to their task; everything must be charged by the virtuoso's passion for language, says Gass passionately. I was not aware of this fine essayist back in the late 1970s and 1980s, occupied as I was with: (i) other fields of study on my teaching agenda, (ii) health problems, (iii) the challenges of being both a parent of three children and a husband, (iv) responsibilities in the Baha'i community and other interest/volunteer groups like the Red Cross and a disability organization, (v) being unemployed with a family of three children, and (v) jobs completely outside my field of experience.
In the first years of my retirement, in the first decade of the 21st century, I began to make up for the many gaps in my reading since I had become free from the 60 to 70 hour a week demands of life referred to above, and I could finally do what I wanted and not what life demanded of me. One of the many gaps in my reading was the increasing number of fine essayists who had come into the marketplace in the last century, and before. The fact that most people Downunder or, I am sure, in most countries, neither knew of, or read, most of the fine essayists in our globalizing civilization was not a concern to me in my years of retirement. Reading the world's finest essayists had been a peripheral concern to me in my years of teaching in tertiary educational institutions and, indeed, in most of the years since the start of my serious reading back in the early 1960s. I was far too busy dealing with my job as a teacher or tutor, lecturer or adult educator, among the many FT and PT jobs I had had for decades, to say nothing of my community, family & social responsibilities. In our world of print & image glut, of information overload, the average reader, student and citizen was now up-to-their-ears in "stuff" which the internet and the print and electronic media played and catered to their interests and activities, to their position in the lifespan and to their responsibilities.
Novels and magazines, newspapers and now, in this digital age, a wide variety of online material keep most people away from the finest essayists in the past and present. The visual world of cinema and television, and now the internet & cyberspace, also consumes much of the time of Everyman in our globalizing, developed and undeveloped, nation states. Here is a link to what one writer regards as the 10 best essays by Americans from 1950 to 2000: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/54337-the-top-10-essays-since-1950.html
It should be said, though, in defence of the reading tastes of Everyman these days, that many now read their favorite columnists in newspapers and magazines, even online journals. These columnists are the writers of short essays & many of these popular columnists have extensive readerships. Thankfully, cyberspace is making access to the finest essays and essayists easier and easier. For example, here is a link to some of Gore Vidal's essays: http://www.gorevidalpages.com/essay-complete/ A link to an index on Wikipedia of dozens of essayists, & another link to the contributors to the London Review of Books follows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_essayists, & http://www.lrb.co.uk/contributors I am working my way through both lists as I go through my 70s from 2014 to 2024, and my 80s, if I last that long. For a comprehensive overview of the subject of essays go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essay
This average reader, this Everyman, in the 21st century is beset by more options, more choices, on how to spend his or her time than the people in any previous generations in history. The writings of William Howard Gass are just one sample of thousands of offerings from writers and authors, essayists & novelists, in a smorgasbord of print and images, activities & possible interests that now swamp individuals in developed countries. Many are already swamped with their responsibilities of job, family and community; or they confine their interests to sport and TV, gardening and cooking or whatever their particular interest inventory is, an inventory which keeps and will keep them far, far away from the best writers the world now offers and has offered to readers. "To each their own" is at the core of the way it seems to be working out in our planetizing world. There is no one way to skin a cat, as they say colloquially, & this applies a fortiori, to reading, to what is read, how much and when and why.
"The essayist’s fluency is often only apparent, like its simplicity, which is, or ought to be, a work of synthesis, and not of subtraction." These are the words of Australian essayist Clive James from his introduction to his The Meaning of Recognition. He writes about the importance of an essay making a clear argument while remaining faithful to nuance. This nuanced clarity is at the heart of an essay's readability. A good essay is a tribute, says James, to the complexity of experience and a legitimately lyrical response to the tragic. See: http://www.clivejames.com/books/meaning/intro I have gravitated to the essay form as both a writer and a reader for its tight, but not too tight, parameters.
I believe that the success of the essay today may have something to do with the diminishing national attention span. “These days,” Joseph Epstein says, “one sees a novel of 400 pages, sighs, and says, ‘There goes a week of my reading life." Epstein's personal contribution to the essay form is from a position of a nonideological cultural conservatism. The care with which he builds context, an exercise which he carries out with far more diligence than other practioners of the genre, is a delight to take in as a reader. He will lay out in detail what a writer is trying to do, draw from his own extensive reading about the subject, and then apply his personal standards and sensibilities.
The result for readers, & for this reader especially, is an in-depth, sharply rendered profile of the writer or public figure under examination, with his own imprint imposed upon the individual. Epstein writes for the intelligent general reader rather than for academics. He turns to writers & thinkers not for theory or doctrine but for “that body of knowledge known as unsystematic truths.” Reading “endless stories, poems, & plays” has left him with “an abiding skepticism about general ideas, systems, and theories.” For more on Epstein go to: http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=981&theme=weciv&loc=b
Before dealing with the essays of William Gass, I'll mention a writer who some regard as the finest American essayist in the last half of the 20th century, James Baldwin(1924-1987). Go to this link for one of his essays:http://english.duke.edu/uploads/media_items/baldwin-native-son.original.pdf In Baldwin's hands, as in Orwell's, the essay lost its stigma of benign belletristic coziness, and became a matter of life and death. Baldwin was also a novelist and a playwright, but his most lasting literary achievement was in his essays, at least for some literary critics and commentators. Joseph Epstein is also an essayist and "perhaps the smartest American alive who also writes well," as one writer called him. His agreeably approachable and fluid prose no doubt is the result of invisible but careful labor; his opinions are tart and confidently expressed; he seems to have read just about everything and quotes from that reading with daunting authority. For more on Epstein go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Epstein_%28writer%29
In the collections of Gass's essays, reviewers have an obvious problem. They may feel obliged to give some account of the gist of Mr. Gass's thinking about his chosen topics, & that could easily be done; but if there's one thing Gass hates more than another it's a gist. This may be, in part, because summary would falsely suggest that he is often repeating what he has said before, or what others have said in more pedestrian ways. But mostly it is because he won't have what is said separated from the manner of its saying. His prose has been described as flashy, difficult, edgy, masterful, inventive, and musical. Steven Moore, writing inThe Washington Post, has called Gass "the finest prose stylist in America." He has, he says, a hatred of readers who tear through a book looking for gists. This hatred is well expressed in the following paragraph, specially designed to show how much more than gists there is in his prose.
"For the speeding reader paragraphs become a country the eye flies over looking for landmarks, reference points, airports, restrooms, & passages about sex, among other literary favorites. The speeding reader guts a book the way the skillful clean fish. The gills are gone, the tail, the scales, the fins; then the fillet slides away swiftly as though fed to a seal; and only the slow reader, one whom those with green teeth chew through like furious worms; only the reader whose finger falters in front of long words, who moves the lips, who dances the text, will notice the odd crowd of images, perhaps: flier, butcher, seal---which have gathered to comment on the aims and activities of the speeding reader, perhaps like gossips at a wedding.
To the speeding reader, this jostle of images, this crazy collision of ideas - of landing strip, kernel, heart, guts, sex - will not be felt or even recognized, because these readers are after what they regard as the inner core of meaning; it is the gist they want, the heart of the matter; they want what can equally well be said in their own, other, and always fewer words: so that the gist of this passage could be said to be: readers who read rapidly read only for the most generalized and stereotyped significances.'' As a reader and writer, I eschew jargon and convoluted syntax as much as I can; I want to demonstrate in what I write that difficult ideas need not be expressed in difficult language. I also want this kind of experience in what I read. This preference for simplicity of expression in these years of the evening of my life comes, in large part it seems to me, from half a century in classrooms as either a student or teacher where the philosophy of KISS, Keep It Simple Silly/Stupid, was the operating MO.
And Kermode continues:
"And that is by no means all. The seal and the fish turn up again. Sentences of more than 300 words, marked by just this bundling together of metaphors, just this redundancy, just this self-reference or, if you like, self-regard, are quite common. Mr. Gass's gists are always lavishly cocooned. And that is why he writes essays, not articles. Articles are spiritless, orderly things, not a gist out of place. Essays can be loose, baggy, abundant. Mr. Gass leads off with an essay called ''Emerson and the Essay.'' It is given this pole position because it demonstrates what he can do in emulation of the American master of the form; but he probably owes more to other masters."
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre and is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism---is one such master. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes. Montaigne's essay ''On Certain Verses of Virgil'' is important to him. Gass also admires some 17th-century English writers, notably Thomas Browne(1605-1682) an author of varied works which reveal his wide learning in diverse fields including medicine, religion, science and the esoteric. Mr. Gass's own baroque abundance is fully displayed in this Emerson essay, though it seems to me the least successful in the book, Kermode states. That essay tells us that Mr. Gass, like Emerson, has ''a need to be immense,'' and that, like Emerson again, he will ''essay to be'' by writing essays, which in his case means a good deal of disorder and hectic digression. Insights into Emerson have to fight their way through swathes of gorgeous prose. For more on this theme go to:http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/01/specials/gass-habitations.html
DIARIES AND JOURNALS
These two forms of literature in the heading above are deserving of this special section of my "introduction to literature". I have been keeping a diary now for more than 30 years, 1984 to 2015, and I've had a life of reading journals for more than half a century, since the autumn of 1963. I deal with each of these two forms of literature in separate paragraphs below. A diary can also be called a journal, and in my first 3 decades of keeping a diary I often referrred to it as a journal. After 30 years of using these two terms somewhat interchangably, though, I began to apply the terms to my writing in quite specific ways, at least more specific than I had in those opening decades. The term 'diary', as I use the term now in my 70s, and as I reflect on my periodic entries over the last 30 years, is a record with discrete passages of my writing arranged by date reporting on what happened over the course of a day or other period of time. My personal diary includes my experiences, thoughts, & feelings, as well as comments on current events outside my direct experience. As a keeper of a diary, I refer to myself, at least in this literary capacity, as a diarist. As readers will see below, though, the use of the term journal and diary are difficult to keep entirely separate.
Diaries undertaken for institutional purposes play a role in many aspects of human civilization. This can include government records; for example, Hansard, as well as business ledgers & military records. My diaries do not fall into these institutional categories. In an article by H. Elliott entitled 'The Use of Diaries in Sociological Research on Health Experience,' in the journal Sociological Research Online(V.2, No.2, 1997) we find the following words which I have paraphrased: "Diaries track the contemporaneous flow of public and private events. They are not given all of a piece, all at once as in a book, such as a life history might be. But rather, they are written discontinuously, either daily or over longer intervals of time and as such provide a record of an ever-changing present. Other types of autobiographical texts or life documents such as letters & poems, essays and internet posts, rather than documenting the present, tend towards making retrospective sense of a whole life or towards retelling significant moments, epiphanies or crystallizations of experience. This proximity to the present, the closeness between the experience and the record of experience means that there is the perception at least that diaries are less subject to the vagaries of memory, to retrospective censorship or reframing than other autobiographical accounts."
The psychologist Gordon Allport in his book The Use of Personal Documents in Psychological Science(New York: Social Science Research Council, 1943). identifies 3 distinct models of diary familiar in everyday life. I utilize each of these models in my own diaristic writing: (a) the intimate journal, in which private thoughts and opinions are recorded, uncensored; (b) the memoir - an 'impersonal' diary, often written with an eye to publication; and (c) the log, which is a kind of listing of events, with relatively little commentary. While the memoir may assume an audience, the log and the intimate journal are essentially private documents, written primarily for the diarist themself. They are constructed within the diarist's own frame of reference, & can assume a forgiving, understanding reader (Allport, 1943; Jackson, 1994) for whom there is no need to present a best face.
Within the autobiographical tradition, diaries are one of the 'documents of life', that are a 'self-revealing record that intentionally or unintentionally yields information regarding the structure, dynamics and functioning of the author's mental life' (Allport, 1943: p. xii). The use of such documents is common within historical and anthropological research. There is a strong tradition of autobiographical and diary-based research within feminist research (Personal Narratives Group, 1989; Swindells, 1995; Stanley, 1995). Part of this feminist project has been the recovery of private documents, including diaries, written by women, to shed light on 'ordinary' lives (Hampsten, 1989). This kind of work has been influential in broadening the focus of autobiography from the 'elite few ' (Stanley, 1995: p. 13) and making visible experiences which are often hidden.
Diaries had been rather neglected within sociology (Plummer, 1983), although this has been changing in recent years. Recently there has been a growth of interest in auto/biography within sociological research. This has drawn on a wealth of sources, including lonely hearts columns (Pearce, 1996), and Quaker meetings (Collins, 1996). This interest has highlighted the even greater variety of autobiographical texts in everyday life, ranging from published memoirs to television and radio programmes such as This is Your Life and Desert Island Discs (Stanley, 1992). However, within this literature, there is relatively little discussion of the scope for diary-based research. For example, a trawl through the journal Auto/Biography 1992 revealed only one study which used diaries, in this case the published diaries of Anais Nin (Jackson, 1994). For a detailed overview on the subject of diaries go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diary and to: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/2/2/7.html
The word journal comes through French from the Latin word for daily, "diurnalis". The word journal has several related meanings. The first meaning essentially equates a journal with a diary. That meaning or useage of the word 'journal', sees it as a daily record of events or business. Here a private journal is usually referred to as a diary. It is for this reason that in my first 30 years of diary keeping, I often referred to the exercise as keeping a journal. Other useages of the term 'journal' make it clearly different from a diary. When a journal is seen as a newspaper or other periodical, in the literal sense of one published each day, then it is separate from a diary. Many publications issued at stated intervals, such as academic journals, or the record of the transactions of a society, are often called journals. In academic use, a journal refers to a serious, scholarly publication that is peer-reviewed. A non-scholarly magazine written for an educated audience about an industry, or an area of professional activity, is usually called a trade magazine. For more of a general overview of the subject of a 'journal' go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journal
Henry David Thoreau kept a journal for over two decades, and the following remarks are related to his journalistic activites and views. He saw the destiny of America in terms of life in death, and this was true in the years he kept a journal, 1839 to 1861. This theme of "life-in-death" had become a dominant feature of my writing as far back as the 1980s when my experience of bipolar disorder began to involve 'the death-wish.' There are times in this account when I focus on myself, my experiences, my community; there are other times when I focus on my society, the land, a more open perspective. I seem to be a more tolerant person than Thoreau, although I confess that, now in my 70s, I tire of people and conversations about the ordinarily ordinary. Like Thoreau, I rarely have the public in mind when I write, although I do have a future public in mind for I am very conscious of being in the first generation to respond to the need for pioneers, as expressed by the Universal House of Justice, say, 1963 to 1993. My diaristic work has some similarities to Thoreau's journal and, it is for this reason, that I have had, and still have, some difficulty clearly separating the two genres.
There are many generations to come in the decades and centuries ahead, and by the time my diary is published(if it is) it could be well down the track of the generations in this tenth stage of history. This '10th stage of history', beginning as it did in 1963 from a Baha'i perspective, is now more than half a century old. I still do not feel I have found the flow, the filling up of the springs, the raising of the streams, as Thoreau put it, in my diarisitic writing. The accumulating grists are really yet to be ground in the first 30 years of writing this diary. They may, in fact, never get ground, if poetry and letters, emails and internet posts, essays and narrative steal the material, take the stage and leave this diaristic prose always waiting in the wings.
In the first 30 years of my keeping a diary, 1984 to 2014, I often referred to it as a journal. But in my 72nd year, in July 2015, I began to try and make a clear distiction between the two; I now prefer to use the term: diary. This diary has less concern for form than the poetry, & for that reason among others there is an easier flow, once the flow begins. I have mentioned before that Thoreau has been invaluable but I still await the flow after 7000 poems upstream somewhere. In his last years, from the late 1850s to his death in 1862, Thoreau wrote with energy & control, but with little interest in getting into print. This will inevitably be true for my own diary, although it will not be for other genres of my writing which I often publish in cyberspace.
There is a type of unity in death, thought Thoreau, and we need to learn how to die in order to learn how to live. Part of this process, as far as my diary is concerned, is the pleasure of serendipity. The only thing we leave behind, Thoreau thought, was ourselves. This diary is that: myself. A writer wants what he or she leaves behind to survive for future generations. This diary contains autumnal hints, the reds, browns and golds of autumn but, like the winter season which takes them all away, death may find this diary disappearing into some place in cyberspace or, what is more likely, my computer directory.
Thoreau said that Emerson was more familiar with his work than he was. I’m sure, should this material ever be published, that there will be those more familiar with it than I. I lose touch with it as one often does with aspects of one’s life. Perhaps this is a way to develop friends in the next life and be ready meet them when they arrive. Good God! I’ll follow that theme later. Thoreau said that the best growth it trees is in their old age, with harmony and regularity.(p.198) He also said good deeds act as an encouragement to yourself.
The Letter may refer to all sorts of things; indeed, the list of those things is long beginning with: (i) "The Letter", a poem by Wilfred Owen (1893–1918); (ii) "The Letter", a short story in W. Somerset Maugham's 1926 collection The Casuarina Tree, and (iii) "The Letter", the 38th sura of the Qur'an. For more of this list of items to which the term "letter" refers go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Letter ........For my purposes, and here in this literature sub-section of my website, I attempt to place in a general perspective the approximately 10,000 letters, emails & internet posts I wrote from 1960 to 2015. None of the collected letters of any Bahai, thus far in the Bahai Era, have been published. At least not yet and as far as I know. My collection of letters, what has become by sensible and insensible degrees a voluminous epistolarium, comes from my Bahai life, 1953 to 2015, & especially that part of my Baha'i life when I was a pioneer-traveler in and for the Canadian Baha'i community beginning in August 1962. In 1953 I was 9 & in 2015 I was 71. The letters come from my mid-to-late adolescence; then from the early, middle & late adulthood stages of human development as the psychologists call the phases of the lifespan from: 16 to 19, 20 to 40, 40 to 60, and 60 to 80.
In addition to my 5000 letters, there are 5000 emails and internet posts. I have not kept the internet posts. They are scattered throughout the world-wide-web and, in many cases, will be untraceable. Virtually this entire body of epistolary material was written during what I have come to see as "a dark heart of an age of transition", an age which was and is my life, certainly one of the darkest in history as well as, paradoxically, in that century of light, the 20th century & the first & decades of the new millennium, the first decades, as well, of a new paradigm, a new culture of growth, learning, and community development in the international Baha'i community spread, as it now is, across well over 200 countries and territories on the planet.
For more on the subject of my letters go to: http://bahai-library.com/letters_memoirs_poetry_autobiography
The history of the epistolary form could be seen as the history of the man who explores, discovers and philosophizes, while the woman awaits his messages, responds to his actions of conquest, seduction and abandonment. Indeed the core of epistolary literature has been described as a man’s narrative and a woman’s reaction to that narrative, her monument to his passages through her life. Other analyses of epistolary narratives are not descriptions of scenarios driven by seduction, erotic love or male dominance. Such is the case of my collection of letters. The analysis of my epistolary narrative is a description of scenarios of a different kind.
My collection of letters, and the several other sub-categories of my writing: narrative, expository, and descriptive accounts in poetry and prose, in diary and journal, in essay & book form are, one & all, part of this writer's effort to compensate for the fact that the art of letter writing has suffered a series of grievous blows in the last two centuries, say 1815 to 2015, and even more grievous since the outbreak of the Great War in 1914: the photograph and the telegraph, the telephone and the radio, television and the internet. The most recent blow has been, what might be called: the "e-mail-Facebook-twitter-age". This last blow has only been with us for a decade, perhaps two: 1995 to 2015. The telephone has had a full century or more to erode the letter-writing experience of humankind. Radio and television have now had, each in their own ways and together, nearly a century to erode the letter-writing experience of the peoples of the world. Of course, the experience and the results of all of these technological changes depend somewhat on where one lives. Keeping people's eyes away from print in all its forms is happening as billions more human beings are now on Earth. In 1815 there was 1.1 billion people on Earth, and now 7.4. When I began writing letters in the early 1960s the world's population was 3.1 billion. Paradoxically, there are probably more people reading and writing letters now, especially their hybrid forms the email and the internet post, than at any time in history.
My collection of letters and autobiogrpahical material also compensates for the tendency of my fellow Baha’is throughout the history of this new world Faith not to leave an account of their lives and their times, their experiences and their interpretations, as Moojan Momen has made so clear in his 'Preface'(p. xvii) to The Babi and Baha’i Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts. This book of Momen's was published in 1981 and, since then, there was been an avalanche of interpretations & commentary on the Baha'i Faith, its scriptures & its history, its organization and administration, its views on life and society. Other genres of writing and literature have also begun to appear along with my own and, so it is, that my literary endeavours are now found in an increasingly wide company. My epistolary narrative is yet one more attempt, along with my other several genres of writing, to provide a prose-poetic mix of sensory, intellectual, and descriptive impressions to try to capture the texture of a life, and times, however ineffably rich & temporarily fleeting. -Ron Price with thanks to Elizabeth C. Goldsmith, editor, Writing the Female Voice: Essays in Epistolary Literature, Pinter Publishers, London, 1989.
WRITING: A CAUTIONARY NOTE
The publication in 2001 of J. D. F. Jones' book The Story Teller: The Many Lives of Laurens van der Post offers a warning to any autobiographer like myself, indeed, a cautionary note to everyone, would-be writers and non-writers. I won't attempt to list all the so-called success stories of van der Post. Nor will I outline what Jones tells us in order to set the record straight, right the word, the doctorings, of a person Jones sees as a con-man, a dithering fibber, who profitted from the credulous. Van der Post is an undoubted phoney in a long 90 year life-story with himself as the star. He was a great teller-of-tales--about himself. And van der Post fooled millions: the ordinary and the famous, royalty and prime ministers. History is littered with many con-men and swindlers, cheaters and deceivers, smoothies and crooks of all sorts. I leave it to readers with the interest to delve into this labyrinth. For a review of this book go to: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/oct/06/biography.highereducation1 Of course, even con-men and swindlers have other sides to their personality and life-narrative. In the end Jones is not sure and neither are his readers about many aspects of van der Post's life.
Jones has written what you might call 'a demolition job.' Jones's hints and innuendos about the veracity of van der Post's wartime exploits look like an assault on the memory of a brave soldier. The lines become blurred between what is the truth as laid out in van der Post's autobiographical writing and what is fiction in his novels is no real surprise. That those same lines should have been blurred even in van der Post's own mind may cause little more than eyebrows to be raised. But slowly, methodically and pedantically over 476 pages, Jones lays out his case that the blurring was deliberately misleading and "always designed to enhance van der Post's own distinction". He was an egotist. In true journalistic style Jones has sniffed out his lead and doggedly clings to it. Perhaps, though, as Freud once wrote, "a true biography can never be written."
Where does autobiography end and fiction begin? There is fiction in autobiography & autobiography in fiction. As the famous French writer Gustav Flaubert wrote: 'Madam Bovary, c'est moi.' Madam Bovary is the French writer Gustave Flaubert's debut novel. Published in 1856, the story focuses on a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs & lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities & emptiness of provincial life. If the text is an exaggeration or invention then it is better to call it a novel. When all is said and done, wrote Paul Valery, 'a book is merely a selection from its author's monologues.' Or as Roland Barthes put it: 'language knows a subject not a person.'(1) -Ron Price with thanks to Roland Barthes, "the Death of the Author," Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, editor, David Lodge, Longman, NY, 1988, p.169.
There's a tension, Philip,
between paralysing fact
and a heightening of life
in that borderland world
between fact and fiction.
Is it the natural subjectivity
of autobiography that seems
to constitute its truth? The
world through which we all
travel is the place where we
create our selves, and we do
this endlessly, endlessly......
Gregory Peck wanted to be
remembered, after all was
said and done, as a man
who gave pleasure in the
telling of stories.....and it
made him world famous.
What I write, Philip, is not
some sound and fury, some
stuff signifying nothing, but
some expansion of self, not
some idiocy. I trust it brings
some satisfying sense of the
unity of life to the people who
read my writing, and their real
five senses, their sensibilities.(1)
(1) With appreciation to John Dewey, Art as Experience, Capricorn Books, NY, 1958(1934), p.195. I am not 'making a case' here, just stabbing-in-the-dark.' It is a prose-poem I sent to a man named Philip on 26/2/'02. I did not keep a copy of that email, and cannot recall just who that Philip was now only a dozen or so years later.
MORE ON THE ESSAY
Perhaps because I have practised both forms for more than half a century, the essay and the poem strike me as different expressions of the same impulse. That fine essayist, Clive James, a man I often quote at this website, uses the word “impulse” advisedly, because in either case he finds it a matter of inspiration. He can’t get started, he says, without an unmistakeable inner urge to get something said. A less grand term for the essay is the article. I have always found this to be the case. Many of my first essays, from the early 1960s to several I had to write while working on a M.A. in Ed. Admin. at the University of New England, and at least two Grad. Dips. at what were then Colleges of Advanced Education, in Australia, from the late 1970s to the early 1980s, were written without this impulse, this inspiration.
As a consequence, it seems to me now in retrospect, those essays to which I have just referred were less than successful. James is one of the great essayists of our time: humane, lively, formidably intelligent, and—to use a word that the radical like to think they have a monopoly on—committed. If you took the literary showmanship out of James's essays, his stuff would be like everyone else’s. Anyone can write an essay about serious subjects that most people would not want to read that were, in a word, "unreadable". The ability to write am essay that makes the reader laugh out loud is a rarer gift. In an age when the average academic writes prose that makes the general reader feel unwelcome, if not repulsed, James has applied himself to the infinitely more taxing task of getting the general reader in. It would take a pretty rancorous critic to condemn him for that. I find that talent, that style, remarkable; he often hitches it to his equally remarkable knack for clear perception and, in the process, he writes prose that is delectable not just for its richness but for its rightness. His essays brim with quotable generalisations, but the generalisations always proceed from a tight focus on a particular thing—a novel, a poem, a biography, a television show. For more on his writing go to:https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2009/9/the-shadow-of-barbarism/
Though Montaigne, who invented the essay, published no articles, almost every essayist since has done so: especially for English literature almost all the short factual prose pieces that have ever mattered began their lives in newspapers and periodicals. An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, reflections of the author. The definition of an essay is vague, overlapping with those of an article and a short story.
Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays; for example, Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man. While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples. For an article in The New York Times about the funeral of a man whom some call "the master essayist of our age", Gore Vidal, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/books/memorial-for-gore-vidal-in-manhattan.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2 For more on the subject of the essay go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essay
THE FUTURE OF THE ESSAY
Clive James says that the main reason he likes the word “article” is that it smells of hot metal. Even today, when he has not been a regularly salaried journalist for almost 25 years, he still publishes most of his prose pieces as articles first, and he still composes them in the measures dictated by journalism in its various grades. Those measures, he says, happen to fit the natural breath of a prose piece. A thousand words is a natural length to aim at for a short feature in a newspaper. About two and a half thousand is a natural length for a longer feature in a newspaper. Three, four and five thousand are natural for articles in serious magazines. Keep at it for about forty years and you get the knack of planning the number and order of themes in your head so as to fit those frames. "I can’t exactly compose when I’m out walking, but if you catch me sitting there looking glazed it’s usually because I’m cooking something up, and if it isn’t a poem it will almost certainly be an article," says James. For more from James on this subject go to:http://www.clivejames.com/articles/clive
Sometimes it looks like the best journalism; sometimes its style more closely resembles fiction. The modern essay can take many forms, but there is no doubt that these days the essay is a far cry from the stilted version of it I laboured over in school back in the late 50s and 1960s. Peter Craven, Amanda Lohrey and Hilary Mantel gathered to discuss the nature and future of the essay in a panel organized by the Media Department at Macquarie University for the 2004 Sydney Writers Festival. Go to this link for their discussion:http://scan.net.au/scan/magazine/display.php?journal_id=29
CYNTHIA OZICK: ESSAYS
In her last book of essays, Cynthia Ozick(1928- ) tried to set down a definition of the essay as an art form. She said that an essay is "an experiment, not a credo," something "made up in response to an excited imagination." " It's a short story told in the form of an argument or a history or even, once in a very great while, an illumination." Certainly not many writers are capable of creating such "bewitched contraptions," but Ms. Ozick is among those happy few, as she demonstrates with customary passion, authority and grace in Fame and Folly, her glittering new collection of essays, reviews and reminiscences. For more on ozick and her essays go to:http://www.nytimes.com/1996/05/07/books/books-of-the-times-of-writers-fickle-fame-and-the-enemy-within.html
BEING A READER and A WRITER
The life of William Howard Gass(1924-), the American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor is an example, for me, of the reader and the writer that it is useful to be in academic life, especially in the humanities and social sciences. First I will say a few things about his life as a reader. As a boy Gass read anything he could get his hands on. From The Shadow to The History of the French Revolution, Gass read constantly, although there were no bookstores in the town of Warren where he grew-up. Later he would claim that the advent of "pocketbooks" saved his literary life. He'd save up all the money he earned or obtained and every two weeks head down and buy as many pocketbooks as he could afford. Even though Gass was always a reader his father disapproved of his aspirations and often berated him for it.
My maternal grandfather was also such a reader; he read to preserve some centre in his life in the midst of life's tests and difficulties. I came to reading little by little and year by year. I won't give readers here the details of the evolution of my reading life but, as I look back over 7 decades of living, 1943 to 2013, I can see markers in each decade that have led to the inundation that I now experience with the written word. Given the immensity, the enormity, the massive and burgeoning quantity of print, a writer who wants to say something needs a number of feathers in his bow. Reading is one of those critical feathers.
Gass is also one of the many models for me of the writer. Gass has cited the anger he felt during his childhood as a major influence on his work, even stating that he writes "to get even." Despite his prolific output, he has said that writing is difficult for him. In fact, his epic novel The Tunnel, published in 1995, took Gass 26 years to write. On the subject of his slow and methodic pace he has said, "I write slowly because I write badly. I have to rewrite everything many, many times just to achieve mediocrity." As I head into my 70s, I am more than a little aware of how slowly the development of my own writing ability, the transition from potentiality to actuality, has been. I still feel very beginnerish even after more than sixty years of holding a pen in my hand.
Gass has written two novels, three collections of short stories, a collection of novellas, and seven volumes of essays, three of which have won National Book Critics Circle Award prizes and one of which, A Temple of Texts (2006), won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. His 1995 novel The Tunnel received the American Book Award. Earning a living for himself and his family from university teaching, Gass began to publish stories that were selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of: 1959, 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1980, as well as Two Hundred Years of Great American Short Stories. When Gass began to be published in 1959, I was: just 15, in grade 10, in love with a girl around the corner from my home in a small town in southern Ontario, a home-run hitter and local success-story on the mound. I had just joined the Baha'i Faith and more than 50 years later it still shapes my life. I would know nothing of Gass for another 50+ years.
MORE ON GASS AS A MODEL
Critical responses to Gass's The Tunnel include the following: Robert Kelly(1935- ), an American poet, declared that it was an "infuriating and offensive masterpiece," and Steven Moore, founder of the Club for Growth and member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board. claimed that it was ”a stupendous achievement and obviously one of the greatest novels of the century.” Michael Silverblatt of the Los Angeles Times wrote in his review of the novel: "A bleak, black book, it engenders awe and despair. I have read it in its entirety 4½ times, each time finding its resonance and beauty so great as to demand another reading. As I read, I found myself devastated by the thoroughness of the book's annihilating sensibility and revived by the beauty of its language, the complexity of its design, the melancholy, horror and stoic sympathy in its rendering of what we used to call the human condition." Gass, in reference to the harsh and disquieting nature of The Tunnel said "I don't think anything is sacred and therefore I am prepared to extol or make fun of anything. People who have very settled opinions are going to dislike this book because Kohler, the main character, is the worm inside all that stuff." An unabridged audio version of The Tunnel was released in 2006, with Gass reading the novel himself.
Gass typically devotes enormous attention to sentence construction. His prose has been described as flashy, difficult, edgy, masterful, inventive, and musical. Steven Moore, writing in The Washington Post, has called Gass "the finest prose stylist in America." Much of Gass's work is metafictional. In an interview with Anglistik Gass commented on the subject of his genre and form defying works, laughing off the title "Postmodern," and coining himself "Late" or "Decayed Modern"
We all need mentors and in life I have found many. Gass is but one and i include the following paragraphs to show readers here why I feel indebted to him. Gass has received many awards and honors, including grants from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1965 when I was beginning my third year of university majoring as I was in sociology. He also got a grant from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1970. my last year in Canada before moving to Australia. He won the Pushcart Prize awards in: 1976, 1983, 1987, and 1992. In 1994 he received the Mark Twain Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Literature of the Midwest. During all these years my career as a teacher continued and, by 1994, I had my eye on retirement and giving myself to writing full-time.
In 1959 he was awarded the Longview Foundation Prize for Fiction for his story "The Triumph of Israbestis Tott." That year I won the most valuable player in the league and the most home runs; it would be at least four decades before I entered the literary world with any seriousness as a writer. Chicago Tribune Writers' and Critics' Poll named him one of the ten best American writers and one of the ten best Midwest writers in 1973---my last year of high school teaching. He has teaching awards from Purdue University and Washington University; in 1968 the Chicago Tribune Award as One of the Ten Best Teachers in the Big Ten. In 1975 he received the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. By 1975 I was teaching in a technical college in Melbourne. He was a Getty Foundation Fellow in 1991–1992 and I was teaching at another technical college in Western Australia by then.
He received the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997; and the American Book Award for The Tunnel in 1997. In 2000 he was honored with the PEN/Nabokov award and the PEN/Nabokov Lifetime Achievement award which he has called his "most prized prize." By then I had retired and was writing FT. Gass has received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism three times, for Habitations of the Word (1985), Finding a Form (1997) and Tests of Time (2003). Gass also received the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay in 2003.
Professor Gass founded the International Writers Center at Washington University in 1990 whose purpose was to "build on the strengths of its resident and visiting faculty writers; to serve as a focal point for writing excellence in all disciplines and in all cultures; to be a directory for writers and writing programs at Washington University, in St. Louis, in the United States, and around the world; and to present the writer to the reader." He retired from teaching full-time in 1999 the same year as I did. But Gass remains professor emeritus at Washington University. He has made numerous presentations of his photography, and he has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. He also serves on the contributing editorial board of the literary journal Conjunctions. In 2000, Gass received the PEN/Nabokov Award. In 2003, he won the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Test of Time. In 2006, William H. Gass was a featured speaker at Lake Forest College for the 2006 & NOW Festival and the Lake Forest Literary Festival.
More recently, Gass has won the 2007 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism in Memory of Newton Arvin. The winner of this award is chosen by a panel of six authors, and s/he also receives a cash prize of $30,000. The panel awarded Gass for his 2006 collection of essays, A Temple of Texts.
Frederic Raphael would have been valuable if he had written nothing else except criticism – see especially his works on Byron and Somerset Maugham – but Clive James thinks this other sideline, as a writer of highly compressed reflective prose, might prove in the long run to be an even better demonstration of how an artist can think continually & rewardingly in terms of aesthetic judgment, moral value and the unpredictable interactions of human character. Proust’s great novel is a fiction essentially made of critically factual remarks, and Frederic Raphael has much of that same rare quality. Frederic Raphael has written many essays. Here is the beginning of his 'Review of Collins English Dictionary, the New Oxford Dictionary of English, the Chambers Dictionary and the Cassell Concise Dictionary, in the Times Literary Supplement, 1998.'
"Katharevousa is defined, in the New Oxford Dictionary of English, as 'a heavily archaized form of modern Greek used in traditional literary writing, as opposed to the form which is spoken and used in everyday writing (called demotic)'. If there is nothing wrong with this definition, it fails to emphasise (or should that now be emphasize?) that Katharevousa was deliberately confected, as Chambers does say, from ancient sources. Inaugurated in the wake of the liberation from the Turks, it was intended to dignify Greeks by their common use of a language purged of servile slackness." For more go to:http://www.clivejames.com/frederic-raphael/benefits-of-doubt/english
BIOGRAPHY AS LITERATURE
The years of my retirement from FT, PT and most volunteer work began in 2006. Except for volunteer work of a literary nature for several causes in cyberspace, and for the Baha'i Faith in real space, my lifetime of employment, paid and unpaid had ceased. During the last decade, 2006 to 2015, I have begun to make a list, a collection, of my favorite essayists and biographers. "The fascination of reading biographies," wrote Virginia Woolf, "is irresistable." Woolf also wrote that "biographies are an impure art." "My God, how does one write a Biography?" Virginia Woolf's question haunts her own biographers. How do Woolf's biographers begin to write the narrative that was her life? How does any biographer begin? Due to the many biographies of Woolf's life her "status has grown beyond anything that even she, with her strong sense of her own achievements, might have imagined." For more on Woolf go to:http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/06/08/reviews/970608.08merkint.html
I am a pugnacious believer in the relevance of biography to the study of literature, but it is not a sine qua non. My complete autobiographical opus can be read, in some ways, as the biography of a generation, the generation that came of age in the '60s, grew into middle age in the '80s, and into what the human development theorists call late adulthood, the years 60 to 80, in the first decades of the twenty-first century. Old age, the years beyond 80, will begin for that generation in the years after 2024. William Wordsworth's poem The Prelude could be read as the biography of the romantics of the 1790s who grew into old age, if they lived that long, in the years after 1850.
The case is obviously an arguable one and, at best, only partly true. In the case of Wordsworth or myself the mind, the imagination, is a binding, sympathetic medium and the writing which comes out of this prose-poetic matrix speaks with or against the historical grain. It also speaks, quite obviously, for their lives and the lives of their contemporaries or coreligionists. These personal writings are at the heart of an inner life which is given a primary place in the ideology of both men, in the creation of their personal identities and is the place where the important changes of life take place, albeit slowly and unobtrusively. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 26/3/'01 to 10/12/'13.
Yes, perhaps, in some ways,
to each man his own story.
Mine is quite precise in places,
but there's a matrix here
for everyone to tell their own.
Mine, growing out of the first epochs
of this Formative Age has a certain:
tone, mode, manner, content, style,
relevance, timeliness and scope---
bound together in this sympathetic
medium, this inner space for and
about the seekers among my
contemporaries--and me and
what it all means, for if it means
nothing to me, it is nothing.
26/3/'01 to 10/12/'13.
For an outline, a history, of biography beginning in 44 B.C., and continuing into the technological advances of the twenty-first century, go to the link ten lines below. Multimedia biography became more popular than traditional literary forms. Along with documentary biographical films, Hollywood produced numerous commercial films based on the lives of famous people. The popularity of these forms of biography culminated in such cable and satellite television networks as A&E, The Biography Channel, The History Channel, and History International.
More recently, CD-ROM and online biographies have appeared. Unlike books and films, they often do not tell a chronological narrative: instead, they are archives of many discrete media elements related to an individual person, including video clips, photographs, and text articles. Biography-Portraits was created in 2001 by the German artist Ralph Ueltzhoeffer. Media scholar Lev Manovich says that such archives exemplify the database form, allowing users to navigate the materials in many ways. General "life writing" techniques are a subject of scholarly study. Go to this link for more details on biography over the last 2000 years:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biography
David Nokes is in the list of my favorite biographers. David Nokes(1948-2009) was a scholar of 18th-century English literature. He was also a leading reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement and The London Review of Books. In many ways David Nokes epitomised the best qualities of the 18th-century literary culture to which he devoted much of his life's work. Intellectual elegance, urbane style, sociability, erudition, grace under pressure, and above all, a combination of acerbic wit with insight and genuine feeling: he had all these in abundance, & his gifts for friendship & for language enhanced any gathering. He was responsible for sharpening the zest for literature, not to mention the wits, of generations of students, colleagues, and friends. Nokes's successful academic career, his research, writing and teaching, were achieved in spite of poor health and irksome physical restrictions, arising from the effects of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and, in the late 1990s, a serious stroke. In 1997 Nokes married Marie Denley, at that time a colleague at King's, and she helped him with his research in recent years.
Nokes's four great biographies – Jonathan Swift: A Hypocrite Reversed (1985); John Gay: A Profession of Friendship (1995); Jane Austen: A Life (1997) and Samuel Johnson: A Life (2009) – are notable for his scholarship, his delightful style and his humanity. They also brought him the large and appreciative readership that his talents deserved. The Swift biography won the James Tait Black memorial prize. His biography of Johnson, which he lived to see well received, gave fresh attention to Johnson's family, especially his brother, as a source of shadowy disturbance. It was characteristic of Nokes to spot terrain missed by other biographers, and to use it to supply a psychological dimension of discomfort which his subjects concealed, while suggesting how their evasions left traces in their literary writings. He also made the point, shocking to some Johnsonians, that Johnson had married "Tetty", a woman 20 years his senior, for her money. Johnson, he said with memorable candour, was poor and he was ugly, and so here was an opportunity he could not pass up.
Joseph Epstein is one of the best essayists in contemporary American letters. A traditionalist who adopts a wary view of literary trends, habits, and personalities.....Here is how his review of Sigrid Nunez's memoir of Susan Sontag begins: "Susan Sontag, as F.R. Leavis said of the Sitwells, belongs less to the history of literature than to that of publicity." Not only has Sontag been put in her place, that place is among literary predecessors who have made spectacles of themselves. Mr. Epstein is, in some respects, a throwback to the Leavis era, with its touting of a "great tradition" in literature. But Mr. Epstein is not a throwback insofar as he is constantly engaged with the present and with an impressive array of subjects: from Malcolm Gladwell to George Washington, from Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Joe DiMaggio "Essays in Biography" is divided into sections on Americans (the largest), Englishmen, popular culture and "Others." He could have included an entire section devoted to critics, since he has pieces on Dwight Macdonald, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin and James Wolcott. For an October 2012 review in The Wall Street Journal of Epstein's 600 page books Essays in Biography go to: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444813104578015023707923646 Mr. Epstein's ability to capture a subject in a memorable 3,000 words should be the envy of biographers, who write at greater length but sometimes with no greater effect. Biographies are vats of facts that take patience to digest; Mr. Epstein's essays are brilliant distillations. Biographers are rarely as nimble and pithy as he can be, and they labor under constraints he would surely chafe at. Indeed, the author once returned the advance for a biography of John Dos Passos that he had agreed to write, an enterprise that would surely have taxed his desire to say what he really thinks.
Sir William Empson(1906-1984) was an English literary critic and poet, widely influential for his practice of closely reading literary works, a practice fundamental to New Criticism. The New Criticism was a formalist movement in literary theory that dominated American literary criticism in the middle decades of the 20th century. It emphasized close reading, particularly of poetry, to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object. For more on the New Criticism go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Criticism
Empson's best-known work is his first, Seven Types of Ambiguity, published in 1930. For more on Empson go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Empson I often try, as Empson tried, to situate the work of a writer in the context of their life. The lives of some artists and writers, poets and serious thinkers, generally, have a special importance because of their status as outsiders or rebels, challengers of convention, thinking outside the square, and initiators of the spark of truth that comes from the clash of differing opinions. Such individuals are often condemned, due to what you might call their temperamental orientation, to some measure of social isolation. This isolation, in all likelihood, has its roots in various combinations of nature and nurture. Such social isolation may very well go back to their genes.
Frank Kermode makes this point in his article "The Savage Life" in the London Review of Books(Vol. 27 No. 10, 19 May 2005). His article is a review of William Empson: Vol. I: Among the Mandarins by John Haffenden(Oxford, 700 pages, 2005). Kermode discusses Empson's remarkably large body of surviving letters. "Many of these letters are of great biographical interest," Kermode emphasizes as he discusses the literary effusions of some writers and poets which are considered shocking at the time. Such a combative, tendentious person, Empson believed, is only doing his ethical and political duty, a duty to become morally independent of his formative society. To put this another way: he or she needs to speak their mind, however at variance his opinion is to that of the group. This is one of the grandest themes in all literature because it is one of the main means of achieving moral progress, the establishment of some higher ethical concept.
Consciousness of what such a person sees as an honourable intellectual calling may induce the poet and writer to present himself as at once dignified and eccentric. Such epithets catch some aspects of Empson's personality, his social presence. Part of Empson's eccentricity was his interest, unshared by most literary people, in the greatest imaginative achievements of the modern mind which have come from the sciences. Such a writer must try to persuade the ignorant of the importance of modern science; human and moral progress depends on science. Not to have some understanding of physics and biology is to get the whole world picture wrong, and to fail to understand the true, perhaps tragic situation of the individual in society. The modern individual exists in a world transformed by science. He or she should know something about the sciences. In the course of carrying out such a programme, it seemed clear that some poems needed to be explained in notes, and the practice of annotating poems which used scientific metaphors was one he was always ready to justify. For more go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n10/frank-kermode/the-savage-life
SOME OF WHY I WRITE POETRY
The poetic word enables a creative and insightful perspective on philosophical issues through a mode of expression which is less curtailed by the academic and traditional conventions more commonly assumed in philosophical works. The poetic perspective is potentially more daring, more courageous, more challenging and ultimately more honest than that afforded by ‘pure’ philosophy. I assert this claim here, with particular reference to an understanding of human subjectivity. Readers interested in an exploration of the complex issue of subjectivity, creatively explored in poetic form and dealing with such concepts as: identity and recognition, time and memory, loss and change, vulnerability and fragmentation can go to:http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/163/446
The centrality of language to human experience, its expression, its communication, and its analysis, and the limitations of this phenomenon in fully realising the symbolization of being in the world, provides a link between the disciplines of philosophy, psychoanalysis, and poetry. While all three attempt to express, question, & reflect upon the human condition, the superiority of the poetic word as a medium with a greater potential to disclose and articulate the truth of being human, is asserted by many philosophers and psychoanalysts. Until, say, the 1960s, poetry could bring in a large audience. But that era vanished; a poet could achieve the fame of a rock star until the 1960s. In 1956, for example, 14,000 fans filled a football stadium to listen to Eliot lecture. But that world vanished long ago; modernism stood unchallenged in the 1950s, inside and outside academe.
For the following words I want to thank Kathleen O'Dwyer for her article in Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy (Vol. 4, nos. 1-2, 2008) entitled "The Question of Love’s Possibility Explored Through the Poetry of William Wordsworth." She writes that: "Nietzsche, although somewhat critical of poets in some ways, himself adopted a poetic form in his use of aphorisms, his Zarathustra reads like a confessional lyric poem, and he admits that ‘there are so many things between heaven and earth which only the poets have let themselves dream!’ (Nietzsche, 2003: 150). Freud speaks enviously of the relative ease with which poets discovered and expressed truths of the human condition; ‘Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me’, and goes on to explain: ‘We laymen have always been intensely curious to know…from what sources that strange creature, the creative writer, draws his material, and how he manages to make such an impression on us with it and to arouse in us emotions of which, perhaps, we had not even thought ourselves capable’ (Freud, 1995: 436).
In his study of love ‘as an experience common to all human beings’, the contemporary psychoanalyst, Andre Green, echoes the sentiments of Freud as he humbly asserts that ‘the creation of poets goes far beyond the psychoanalytic interpretation of love.’ Green goes on: "I think that art, mainly literature, & especially poetry, undoubtedly gives a better introduction to the knowledge of love, which we grasp by intuition, the detour through imaginative and poetic language of a very general human experience has proved to be more efficient than the ideas born from an experiment which has undeniably committed itself to the most constant and careful investigation of love relationships." (Green and Kohun, 2005, p.5).
The philosopher Martin Buber sees in lyric poetry ‘the tremendous refusal of the soul to be satisfied with self-commerce’, and a manifestation of relation as essential to human being: ‘Poetry is the soul’s announcement that, even when it is alone with itself on the narrowest ridge, it is thinking not of itself but of the Being which is not itself ’ (Buber, 2004, p. 213). In an interview with Richard Kearney, Paul Ricoeur offers his reflections on the ‘prejudice and bias’ of ordinary language, and concludes that ‘we need a third dimension of language which is directed…towards the disclosure of possible worlds…this third dimension of language I call the mytho-poetic. The adequate self-understanding of man is dependent on this third dimension of language as a disclosure of possibility’ (Ricoeur, 1991, p. 490). Ricoeur states that ‘the philosopher relies on this capacity of poetry to enlarge, to increase, to augment the capacity of meaning of our language’ (Ricoeur, 1991, p. 450).
The power of poetry to disclose truth, to lift the veil of accustomed modes of seeing, and to express new visions of possibility and reality, is aptly described by Guillaume Apollinaire as he gives his definition of the poet: "Poets are not simply men devoted to the beautiful. They are also and especially devoted to truth, insofar as the unknown can be penetrated, so much that the unexpected, the surprising, is one of the principal sources of poetry…since men must live in the end by truths in spite of the falsehoods with which they pad them, the poet alone sustains the life whereby humanity finds these truths." For more of this essay by O'Dwyer go to: http://www.cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/viewFile/105/209
With the passing on 30/8/'13 of Seamus Heaney(1939-2013): the Irish poet and playwright, translator and lecturer, as well as the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, I will say a few words about his life, his poetry, and his conception of poetry. In the early 1960s he became a lecturer in Belfast after attending university there. He began to publish poetry from then until his death. Robert Lowell called him "the most important Irish poet since Yeats" and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have echoed the sentiment that he was "the greatest poet of our age". Robert Pinsky has stated that "with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller". Upon his death in 2013, The Independent described him as "probably the best-known poet in the world".
Some poems were like drawings, he used to say, & some were like paintings. You were lucky if the poem came quickly, all in one piece. He often quoted Robert Frost from “The Figure a Poem Makes”: “like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.” Heaney spoke of the need for a poet to remake himself. W. B. Yeats said the same in “Adam’s Curse.” All poets have to do this, said Heaney. I have felt this strongly since the 1990s when I began to write poetry seriously. Indeed, I wrote poetry to a large extent because of the feeling it gave me of remaking myself which, by the early 1990s, I had to do to keep going in the journey of life.
During the 1970s & 1980s, rapid technological change combined with the privatization & deregulation of major industries to create the conditions for the emergence of a new political and economic order. It was a complex process, and the conditions for the emergence of my life as a writer also combined to create my poetic, my literary, efflorescence in the 1990s. A new international system emerged in the 1990s, as many have noted, like The New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman, and it replaced the Cold War system that had governed the world for half a century. Globalization, Friedman explains, "has its own defining technologies: computerization, miniaturization, digitization, fiber optics, satellite communications, and the Internet. And these technologies helped to create the defining perspective of globalization. If the defining perspective of the Cold War was "division," the defining perspective of globalization is "integration." The symbol of the Cold War system was the wall, which divided everyone. The symbol of globalization is the World Wide Web, which unites everyone. The defining document of the Cold War was "The Treaty." The defining document of the globalization system is "The Deal." These processes of globalization are now creating a new network culture whose complex logic and dynamics we are only beginning to understand.The contrast between grids and networks clarifies the transition from the Cold War system to network culture. I retired after a 50 year student and employment life, just as this network culture was taking off, and I gradually recreated myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher. For more on this subject go to: http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/791173.html
Heaney quoted the following from his friend and fellow Nobelist Joseph Brodsky(1940-1996).Brodsky ran afoul of Soviet authorities and was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972, settling in America with the help of W. H. Auden and other supporters. He taught thereafter at universities including those at Yale, Cambridge and Michigan. Brodsky was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity". He was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 1991. I include Brodsky's words below because so much of my art, of my poetry and prose, is so quintessentially private and autobiographical. In placing much of it in cyberspace, though, my writing and I have become public.
Red brick and slate, plum tree and apple retain
Their credibility, a CD of Bach is making the rounds
Of the common or garden air. Above them a jet train
Tapers and waves like a willow wand or a taper.
“If art teaches us anything,” he says, trumping life
With a quote, “it’s that the human condition is private.”
Science fiction is a genre of fiction with imaginative but more or less plausible content such as settings in the future, futuristic science, technology, space travel, parallel universes, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a literature of ideas. Science fiction has been used by authors and film/television program makers as a device to discuss philosophical ideas such as identity, desire, morality and social structure etc. The literary genre of science fiction is diverse, and its exact definition remains a contested question among both scholars & devotees.This lack of consensus is reflected in debates about the genre's history, particularly over determining its exact origins. There are two broad camps of thought, one that identifies the genre's roots in early fantastical works such as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh with the earliest Sumerian text versions c. 2150-2000 BCE. A second approach argues that science fiction only became possible between the 17th and early 19th centuries, following the Scientific Revolution's major discoveries in astronomy, physics, and mathematics. For more on this history of sci-fi go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science_fiction
A new 2014 documentary series in four parts has been made by BBC America. It was entitled: The Real History of Science Fiction. It was televised in Tasmania in September 2014. From Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey, from Jurassic Park to Doctor Who & everything in between, this doco heads to the frontiers of space and science for the definitive television history of science fiction. There is a diverse range of subjects in this series & they are all embedded in sci-fi history beginning with H.G. Wells 1897 book The War of the Worlds. Viewers travel not just through space, but through time itself. If you could travel through time, would you change the past or the future? What if it couldn’t be changed? What price does the time traveller, and the people they are closest to, pay? This is a journey, as I say, from H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1897) through ideas like The Grandfather Paradox and The Butterfly Effect to the professional time traveller, the ever popular Doctor Who. For more on this series go to: http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/321911363668/The-Real-History-Of-Science-Fiction-S1-Ep4-Time For more on this extensive subject of sci-fi go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fiction
"The Future Is Here" is a review of William Gibson's new book The Peripheral(Putnam,500 pages). To read that review go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/apr/02/william-gibson-future-is-here/?insrc=toc William Ford Gibson(1948-) is an American-Canadian speculative fiction novelist and essayist who has been called the "noir prophet" of the cyberpunk subgenre. Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" in his short story "Burning Chrome" published in 1982. The concept of cyberspace was later popularized in his debut novel, Neuromancer (1984). In envisaging cyberspace, Gibson created an iconography for the information age before the ubiquity of the Internet in the 1990s. He is also credited with predicting the rise of reality television and with establishing the conceptual foundations for the rapid growth of virtual environments such as video games and the World Wide Web. For more on Gibson go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gibson
STRANGERS AND FRONTIERS
During my early to late childhood(3-12) and my early and middle adolescence(13-17) Robert Heinlein was working on his book Stranger in a Strange Land. In June 1961 it was finally published. It is arguably the most famous science fiction book ever written & the first to be a national best-seller. In the following year, in the autumn of 1962, I was just beginning a reading program in my matriculation year, my last year of high school in Ontario, that would only end with my death or some physical and/or mental incapacity. It was a reading program which, in the next half-century (1962-2014), from the age of 18 to 70, would keep me busy with a guesstimated 40,000 books read & partly read, and some 100,000 essays read or partly read. In addition my reading record would include an uncountable number of poems and parts & parcels from newspapers and magazines, newsletters & internet sites. This, of course, is as I say only a guesstimation. But, during those 50+ years, I hardly touched science fiction. Perhaps that was the main reason my own effort, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to write a sci-fi book was unsuccessful.
Heinlein’s book was a challenge to social mores. While Heinlein was writing his book I became first associated with, and then a member of, a religion which also challenged social mores, and claimed to be the newest of the Abrahamic religions. Heinlein’s book is also about a utopia that cannot, could not, be achieved. The religion I had joined in 1959, and pioneered-travelled for in those same 50+ years, 1962 to 2014, was often accused of being utopian, unrealistic or, as the critics of Heinlein’s book put it, “outside the bounds of psychological realism.” Heinlein’s first venture, with this book, was into a more highbrow literary landscape. At the same time, I was beginning my own lifelong journey on another highbrow literary landscape in many other genres.
Heinlein had a period of 22 years, from 1939 to 1961 of writing juvenile novels. I had a period of 22 years, from 1961 to 1983, of writing juvenile essays and poems. Heinlein had an obsession with privacy in those years and the topics he wrote about, like a trip to the moon, were often considered not only surprising but preposterous. My enthusiasm for privacy came much later, more than 60 years later, in the early years of the 21st century. Many of the ideas I hypothesized in my writing were considered unrealistic if not preposterous, simply too utopian.
My experiences in the realm of ideas gave me a sense of communion with Heinlein who died in 1988 just as my life as a poet was really beginning after a 25 year hiatus. For both his work and mine there is an extensive self-referentialism; for Heinlein there is an autobiographical, self-parodying element; for me there is self-parody, self-criticism, self-analysis, self-love, person-centred and existential therapy, gestalt therapy and behavioural therapy, among other efforts to heal and endure.
One writer saw Heinlein as a modern pioneer in the Turner tradition, the tradition of history writing associated with the Frontier Thesis or Turner Thesis. That thesis is the argument advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 that the origin of the distinctive egalitarian, democratic, aggressive, and innovative features of the American character has been the American frontier experience. That same writer thought Heinlein would have been comfortable with Turner’s pioneer, frontier, thesis being the pioneer that Heinlein was in so many ways. I have found Turner’s historical pioneering analysis and backdrop to my own experience heuristic.(1) -Ron Price with thanks to (1) Frederick Jackson Turner, The Frontier in American History, 1893.
Only a small fraction went pioneering
even then, Frederick…..some thought
your emphasis on the pioneer was, to
say the least, exaggerated. Frederick,
those pioneers were the genesis of the
American dream like mine, like mine!!!
Yours, like mine, was a spiritual frontier
as was Heinlein’s.....although my dream
got little press during those first years
of the last stage of history; many went(1)
about transforming the wilderness of
our world and made entirely different
creatures—a new race of men—each
time we touched a new locality on this
incredible earth and, as that Teilhard
de Chardin once said, back in 1955 I
think: the utopians are the realists!!!(2)
(1) One of the Baha’i views of history is that it, history, entered its last stage or phase in 1963. That stage is now just 50 years old and will continue for many centuries to come.
(2) The Future of Mankind, Teilhard de Chardin, 1955.
27/6/’06 to 15/9/’14.
Leonard Simon Nimoy(1931-2015) was an American actor, film director, poet, singer and photographer. Nimoy was known for his role as Spock in the original Star Trek series(1966–69), and in multiple film, television and video game sequels. Nimoy was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Boston, Massachusetts. He began his career in his early twenties, teaching acting classes in Hollywood and making minor film and television appearances through the 1950s, as well as playing the title role in Kid Monk Baroni. Foreshadowing his fame as a semi-alien, he played Narab, one of three Martian invaders in the 1952 movie serial Zombies of the Stratosphere. For more on Nimoy go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Nimoy For a video on his passing go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/arts/television/leonard-nimoy-spock-of-star-trek-dies-at-83.html
Elysium is a 2013 American dystopian science fiction action thriller film. It was written, directed, & co-produced by Neill Blomkamp, & starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga and Sharlto Copley. It was released on 9 August 2013, in both conventional and IMAX Digital theaters; I saw the film on TV on 9 July 2015 here in Australia. In my 16 years of retirement from a 50 year student and paid employment life, 1949 to 1999, I have found that, if I wait, the movies and DVDs that come onto the market eventually turn-up on television. This film takes place on both a ravaged Earth, and a luxurious space habitat on a rotating wheel space station called Elysium. The space station reminded me of the one in 2001 Space Odyssey. The film explores political & sociological themes such as immigration, overpopulation, health care, exploitation, the justice system, & social class issues. Although the film's story is set in 2154, the director-producer stated that the film is a comment on the contemporary human condition. "Everybody wants to ask me lately about my predictions for the future," the director said, "No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now."
I leave it to readers with the interest to find the details about the plot, cast, production, critical reception, and general details. Wikipedia has an informative overview of the film. I have taken an interest in the leading science fiction authors of the last two centuries from Mary Shelley to George Lucas. In many ways these authors have predicted and, accordingly, influenced the development of scientific advancements by inspiring many readers to assist in transforming their futuristic visions into everyday reality. The stories of these two centuries of science-fiction are now told in cyberspace through: film clips, re-enactments, illustrations and interviews. Back in the 1950s I joined the Baha’i Faith which, among other things, is a religion with the very future in its bones. In my 60 years of association with this newest of the Abrahamic religions I have found it has often been criticized as far too utopian with an unrealistic picture of the future. Perhaps this is yet another reason why I have taken an interest in the genre of science fiction.
You’re getting older Jodi,
but there is still plenty of
bloom on the rose. Matt’s
in his element pushing his
body, his exo-skeleton, as
far as it could be pushed.
I said to myself, as I watched
this film: “this is not 2054…
this is now.” Science fiction
& fact into conversation with
one another. I tried to write
sci-fi back in the late 1980s,
but it was not for me, and
neither was novel-writing.
I settled for essay-writing,
poetry, autobiography, &
internet posting on 1000s
of topics with millions of
words. I was not a writer
of sci-fi: no Isaac Asimov,
no Robert Heinlein, nor a
Jules Verne…We all have
to find our place in space,
our skills, our abilities, our
raison d'etre for living in this
time, this climacteric of history.
Explore the inventions, the technology and ideas of science fiction writers at the website, Technovelgy. There are over 2,500 items available. Use the timeline of science fiction invention or the alphabetic glossary of science fiction technology to see them all, look for the category that interests you, or browse by favorite author or book. Browse through more than 4,300 Science Fiction in the News articles. Science fiction technology by year is also available: 1600-1899, 1900-1939, 1940's, 1950's, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s at this link: http://www.technovelgy.com/
"In Hyperspace" is a review in the LRB by Fredric Jameson. It is a review of Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative by David Wittenberg (Fordham, 300 pages, 2013). Fredric Jameson is an American literary critic and Marxist political theorist. He is best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends. He once described postmodernism as the spatialization of culture under the pressure of organized capitalism. Jameson's best-known books include Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, The Political Unconscious, and Marxism and Form.
The review begins as follows:
"It is probably not immediately obvious what interest a new theoretical study of science fiction holds for the mainstream adepts of literary theory; and no doubt it is just as perplexing to SF scholars, for whom this particular subgenre of the subgenre, the time-travel narrative, is as exceptional among and uncharacteristic of their major texts as SF itself is with regard to official Literature. To be sure, so-called alternative or counterfactual histories have gained popularity and a certain respectability; my personal favourite is Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, in which John Brown’s raid succeeds and a black socialist republic emerges in the South, as prosperous and superior in relation to its shrunken rust-belt northern neighbour as West Germany was to the East in the old days.
"And there remains the lingering mystery of what would have happened had the time traveller not stepped on the butterfly: this is from Ray Bradbury’s immortal ‘Sound of Thunder’, but the idea is adaptable to any number of wistful daydreams – had Lincoln not been assassinated, or Bobby Kennedy – or more sombre fantasies, like Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, in which Germany and Japan win the Second World War & divide the US between them. But these historical variants are not genuine time-travel narratives on the order of H.G. Wells’s Time Machine (1895), which inaugurates the standard narrative of the history of science fiction, to the detriment of Jules Verne or that other increasingly popular recent candidate, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). For more go to LRB at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n17/fredric-jameson/in-hyperspace
AN INTERVIEW WITH RON PRICE
The interview below, one of more than 26 recorded from 1995 to 2015, discusses some of the literary influences on my writing, although no attempt was made in the interview to survey all the major influences. Over the years of my immersion in poetry, from the early-to-mid-1990s to the present, to 2014, I have written a set, a series, of simulated interviews. The above historical schema at the outset of this thread, this sub-section of my website, of pre-modern and modern in the evolving stages of literature, was adopted three years after I began the interview below. In addition, this interveiw began to take place a year before I retired from FT teaching in 1999, as I set my sights on a writing life, a leisure life, after some 50 years of being occupied with being a student and in paid employment: 1949-1999. In that half century I read, for the most part, (i) what others set for me to read in the many and varied curricula of primary, secondary and post-secondary education, and (ii) what I had to read in order to earn a living, to raise a family, and to pay the bills in my occupation as a teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator. I also read a great deal that was my own choice. I continued working on this interview, for it is simulated, it is constructed, for the next 17 years with the last update on 21/11/'14.
INTERVIEW NUMBER EIGHT: REVISED AND UPDATED TO 21/11/'14
Preamble: A Note On Typewriters and On Keeping The Interviews of Others
Manual typewriters were the first ones I used to type out an interview that I came across in a book, some interview that I wanted to keep. I used my mother's portable, non-electric manual from about 1965 when I was completing my second year of university in an honours history and philsophy program. When I left home, and began my teacher education-training in September 1966, and through to 1982, I used a Royal or Olivetti manual typewriter. I actually took a typing class in about 1959, in the 9th grade, as I look back over those first four decades of my life, 1943 to 1983. But until 1965, my dear mother did most of the typing I required; this was especially true after she had retired from the working world in 1963, the same year I entered university.
I got my first electric typewriter while I was working as an adult educator in 1983 in Katherine in Australia's Northern Territory. IBM and Remington Rand electric typewriters had a typeball or golfball which moved laterally in front of the paper. In 1986 the computer-word processor came into my life, and I have used it ever since: nearly 30 years. I began to go onto the world-wide-web, the internet, in 1997 and 1998. My first website was designed by my son, Daniel Price, in 1997.
I began to use a photocopier in 1974 to make copies of interview material and, by 1999 when I retired, I had a small collection of interviews. In the last 16 years, my years of retirement from FT paid employment, I have added significantly to my collection. The WWW provides interviews by the 1000s. I have seen, read or listened to 100s of interviews in the print & electronic media, & especially in the particular sub-category of interviews that examine the lives of writers & the process of writing. These interviews, especially those I have recorded from about 1990 to 2015--the last 25 years during which I kept notes and opened files for future reference---have provided virtually unlimited material for an understanding of aspects of my own approach to poetry and poets. This understanding is reflected in this series of simulated interviews, interviews which have embellished my 77 booklets of poetry, their 7000+ poems, and several million words.
Part (ii) The first part of this interview beginning, as it did, in 1997
Questioner(Q): Jorie Graham(1950- ) is an American poet. The U.S. Poetry Foundation suggests "She is perhaps the most celebrated poet of the American post-war generation". She replaced poet Seamus Heaney as Boylston Professor at Harvard, becoming the first woman to be appointed to this position. She said in an interview in American Poet(Fall, 1996) that she would like to see more use of the senses in poetry. Do you think that failure of many contemporary poets to use their senses applies to your poetry?
Price(P): To some extent this is true of my poetry. I try to get a balance between the senses, the rational faculty and the inner faculties of imagination, memory, etc, tradition, intuition and so the senses don't dominate. They are just one of the avenues, parts, in the process of describing truth in all its forms. An American poet, after reading some of my work, wrote to me saying my poetry was too cerebral & did not attend to the senses enough. I think he's right. The TV and the performing arts generally have a high appeal to the senses. Poetry is appropriately cerebral for my taste.
Still, I aspire as the novelist Joseph Conrad(1857-1924) aspired "by the power of the written word to make readers hear, to make them feel... before all, to make them see." I'm not so sure I do this very well. These words of Conrad's are found in his preface to The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897). "That – and no more, & it is everything," Conrad went on. "If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm---all you demand---and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask," were more of Conrad's words from that same preface.
Q: After you have talked a great deal and listened as you must do as a lecturer at a college each week do you find this helps the poetic process?
P: The main affect of my endless talking and listening, now, after 50 years of going into classrooms, into lounge rooms, kitchens and meeting halls for meetings of various kinds in and out of the Baha'i community, as well as the inevitable socializing that goes with growing-up, raising a family and being part of a community, is to make me want my silence back, and want it back desperately. It was the silence I had as an only child. In my retirement from teaching after the age of 55 in 1999, I consciously sought-out that silence. "Excess of speech is a deadly poison" says Baha'u'llah, the 19th century Founder of the Baha'i Faith. By 1999, after 50 years of sound, from 1949 to 1999, I feel as if I have had an excess of speech. This may be partly due to my having to deal with the rigours of bipolar I disorder. My career as been rewarding, enriching, very meaningful; my experience in the Baha'i community has been richly diverse, and both of these, collectively, were exhausting.
The time had come for a change by my mid-50s. I though that I might return to teaching after a few years away. What I did was gradually leave the classroom, first FT teaching in 1999, then PT teaching in 2003, and finally casual-voilunteer teaching in 2005. Whatever teaching I have now done from 2006 to 2014 has been in cyberspace. I went on an old-age pension in 2009 at the age of 65, and I now look forward to continuing that silence of retirement throughout my 70s, and 80s after 2024, if I last that long. Optimism and hopefulness get somewhat tarnished after more than five decades of listening and talking, of service in the teaching profession and large quantities of the social---at least for me. I think my poetry has been born in this observed experience, in a certain weariness and doubt and this tarnished optimism. It has been born in many sources which I often write about in my poetry.
Part (iii) The Interview evolves in the early 21st century
Q: Stanley Kunitz(1905-2006), the American poet who was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress twice, first in 1974 and then again in 2000, said in a recent interview that he was not a member of a religion, but he feels like a religious man. He quoted Keats in talking about the "holiness of the heart's affections." Tell us a little about your own religious proclivities.
P: Anyone who spends much time with my poetry will quickly see that it is overtly religious. It's about my religion, the Baha'i Faith which I joined in '59 after several years of contact with it in my childhood & early adolescence. But there is an element of my poetry which is religious in Kunitz's sense. I find many of the things Kunitz says about poetry are echoed in my experience: that we are many selves over the years; that there is a tension between isolation and the individual on the one hand and the social and community on the other; that there is a power in poetry found in the chaos of its source, the secrets of its path and the mystery of its word. There is a dichotomy between everyday things and the existential concerns of life that is part of the source of poetry's flow, and without this flow there is no poetry. Poetry is the medium of choice for giving my most, my hidden, self, for coming out from behind the mask.
There is something inherently religious in poetry; I'd say in life itself. There is something scriptural, something that clings to the metaphysical. All true prophets are poets. We are saturated with the eternal and the ache we feel, quite often without knowing it, is the ache of the ephemeral, or the ache of feelings. Writing a poem is writing about a single moment, a fracture in time, a fracture not so much in nature's world as in an alternative world. The poem one writes is often difficult to describe, to label its contents. It's an intimation, a penumbra-a partial shadow, a scent, a hiddenness, an elusiveness, 'edgelit' as Adrienne Rich calls it.
Q: The philosopher Paul Ricoeur(1913-2005) the French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation, states that our way of dwelling, of being, in the world is changed by poetry. Each poem, by articulating a mood, a feeling, projects a new way of being, of living in the world. Do you experience the writing of poetry this way?
P: In the last twenty years during which I have been writing poetry a great deal of the time, I feel as if I have been creating a new me. There is a me in my poetry that seems to be separate from the quotidian me, that derives its existence from the quotidian, but is found in reaching out for the beyond, the existential, the divine, the fragrances of mercy which have been wafted over all created things, as the poet Baha'u'llah puts it. I seem to abandon an old identity and dwell on the threshold of ambiguity, openness and indeterminacy—indeed—a type of oneness.
Part (iv) By 2006 I had retired from all FT, PT and casual employment
Q: Various poets in different ways refer to the dark night of the soul, the struggling torment of life toward death, suicide, the abyss, the disconsolate consciousness, the torments of test and trial. Describe this theme in your poetry.
P: I have written some 7000 poems in the last 22 years: 1992 to 2014. Off the cuff I have no idea how this theme is expressed in this great mass of what must be several million words. I write so much, on so many themes. There is sadness, a sense of the tragic, of joy, of happiness. I really don't think I could summarize what I've written on this quite deep subject. Poetry is fed from the inner life and the inner life is a composite from the sublime to the ridiculous. Writing poetry has to do with the interminable, the incessant, said Blanchot,(1955, p.12) with inner voices which only cease when sleep takes over or when one's mind is taken over by the many soporifics of society. Maurice Blanchot(1907-2003) was a French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist. His work had a strong influence on post-structuralist philosophers such as Jacques Derrida. Readers who have no idea of what post-structuralism is can go to this link, if they are interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-structuralism
Perhaps, though, I might offer a general philosophico-religious underpinning to my position on the sadnesses and tragedies of life. I'm sure I have commented on this theme in these interviews before, so I'll be brief. Life is both honey and poison; no one likes the poison, but the poison has the affect of drawing one toward the cup of "pure & limpid water", as 'Abdu'l-Baha calls the "realm which is sanctified from all afflictions & calamities."(Selections, 1978, p.239.) Perhaps this is the reason why so little of my poetry is entertainment. I see it as inviting interactive participation although, I must confess to have been strongly influenced by the infotainment that orients so much of the print and electronic media in recent decades.
Q: Could you comment on the circumstances in which you write your poems?
P: When you have written the number of poems I have written, nearly 3 a week for the last 35 years, you come to have no idea of just how or why you wrote a great many of your poems. A poet's preoccupations and themes over a lifetime of writing poetry don't change, for the most part, so I'm not so sure it matters much that you don't remember, although I would enjoy being able to recall what inspired a particular poem, indeed, all my poems. If I go back and read any one piece, I generally have some idea what gave rise to it in my mind and on the page.
There is a developmental process that goes on in writing poetry, even if the themes stay the same. The poet can put the full diversity of his moods, emotions and knowledge into his poems as time goes on. I think there is a richness, a depth, in my work that was not there at the start of my poetic career, in my case as far back as 1980, and certainly back to 1962 when I wrote my first poem. I think my poetry is also what is left of the incessant striving of life. By my late forties and early fifties, I was beginning to feel as if my life forces were spent. I no longer had the energetic juices of life to play with. Poetry was like turning to a sacred calling or, perhaps more accurately, writing poetry was like giving the sacred calling that had run its course in my life by the age of 50, an appropriate meditative expression, a different turn of daily activity.
The poet sits down to breakfast, as Yeats puts it in a clever way, in a bundle of accident and incoherence and pursues completeness, self-conquest. He redresses the muteness of life, searches out the meaning of experience, lives in dialogue with the forces of silence and his toiling intelligence. He knows he is not linguistically inadequate; he takes a certain pride in his use of language and proceeds to invent a vocabulary, a language. Kafka took refuge to watch pulsating life and, in this refuge, wrote. I participate in pulsating life and writing poetry allows me to find the balance between the pulse and the silence.
Part (v) I am now in my 70s, the years from 2014 to 2024
Q: Much poetry, especially beginning with, say, Eliot and Pound in the first two decades of the 20th century is, for most people completely incomprehensible and, if not completely so, then just piles of words that don't connect with where people are at. Because of this, among other reasons, poetry is certainly very unattractive to many. Poets like Dylan Thomas and John Ashbery, to name only two from later in the 20th century, continued this problem of meaning for millions of readers who got turned-off of poetry for most of their lives once they had left school. Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, & metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning. But millions on our planet never experience its beauty and meaning, except perhaps through modern music. Poetry encompasses all sorts of writing going back several thousand years.(Readers can get an overview of this history or poetry at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry ) Could you comment on this problem so many people have with poetry?
P: I know what you mean since I spent some 50 years in classrooms and got exposed to a great deal of poetry as both a student and a teacher. I'll say one or two things here in response. In dealing with your comment I'll talk about my experience with T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. Readers who know little about these two poets can go to these links, if they have the interest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._S._Eliot and: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dylan_Thomas I first came across the poetry of Eliot in 1963. He was, for me then at the age of 19, quite incomprehensible. More than 50 years later I have a different take on Eliot. I'll post below a somewhat lengthy piece I wrote in relation to one of Eliot's poems:
PRUFROCK, ELIOT, AND ME
“Every poet starts from his own emotions,” writes Eliot. Every poem I write starts with some emotional connection with an event, an idea, a personal experience. What I write here about my sex-life starts with my struggle to transmute my personal and private aspirations and agonies, experiences and thoughts, into something rich and strange, something universal and impersonal. Eliot also acknowledged the revolutionary poetic vision of the romantic poet, a tradition from Wordsworth on; he concurred with Wordsworth’s insistence on the use of language reflecting common speech:
While poetry attempts to convey something beyond what can be conveyed in prose rhythms, it remains, all the same, one person talking to another. The immediacy of poetry to conversation is not a matter on which we can lay down exact laws. Every revolution in poetry is apt to be, & sometimes is, to announce itself to be a return to common speech. That is the revolution which Wordsworth announced in his prefaces, and he was right.(1)
In his essay “Eliot as Philosopher”, Richard Shusterman points to Eliot’s attempted fusion of tradition and interpretation, comparing it with the hermeneutical philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer……He states that: “Eliot recognized, with Wittgenstein, that since language depends on social use, its meaning changes over history through the changing situations and applications which it must address’ (Shusterman, 2006: 41)(2) Thus, in the perceived unfamiliarity of a new age, a new poetic form is deemed essential. Eliot’s poetry was indeed a new form, and mine, my poetry, is my personal idiosyncratic rendition of my experience, my voice, as it is sometimes called.
According to Helen Gardner, one of the earliest commentators on Eliot’s work, the poet has ‘effected a modification and an enrichment of the whole English poetic tradition’ (Gardner, 1972: 2)3. Poems such as “The Waste Land”, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “Four Quarters”, and “The Hollow Men”, wrestle with the uncharted territory of social and individual disenchantment and dissolution, the eclipse of personal and collective meaning and purpose, and the alienation of the subject from previously assumed sources of direction and support. I do the same or, to put it a little differently, I do it in my own way.-Ron Price with thanks to (1) T. S. Eliot, Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot,(Harcourt Inc., Orlando, 1975, p.111); (2) Richard Shusterman, “Eliot as Philosopher” in The Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot, ed. David Moody, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 31-47; and 3 Helen Gardner, The Art of T.S. Eliot,Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1968.
The love song of j. alfred prufrock
A poem which is often the first in a selection of T.S. Eliot's Collected Poems, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was conceived in 1910, and completed in August 1911, the very month 'Abdu'l-Baha began His first Western tour. It was published in 1917, at the same time as 'Abdu'l-Baha was penning His Tablets of the Divine Plan. This work of Eliot could be seen in terms of a comparison and contrast with the Baha'i experience in the last century.
To put this idea a little differently, I could view my own life, and the life of my religion and society, in terms of the varied images and metaphors Eliot uses in his famous poem. The following essay plays with this poem of Eliot's, with my own Baha'i experience over more than 60 years, and with my understandings of life and society. -Ron Price with thanks to T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T.S. Eliot: Selected Poems, Faber and Faber, London, 1988(1954), pp. 9-15.
The poem begins:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…..
Oh, do not ask, 'What is it?'
Let us go and make our visit.
There is intensity here, pathos, fragility, even a certain comic tone. At least that's how I read the poem. And while it has not been the experience of every Baha'i all the time, these opening lines capture, at least for me, some of the essence of what has happened to me in my life, in the Baha'i community beginning as a pre-youth in 1953. The poem has no narrative progression, no organized geography, but is characterized by a dramatic interior monologue in the mind of a single man. I think the reason I identify with the poem so strongly after more than half a century in a religion with an important role to play in the unification of this planet, is that I find that T.S. Eliot is describing so much of the world I have had to deal with, first in Canada until 1971 and then in Australia until the present time, the 21st century. For a useful analysis of Eliot's poetry in Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy(V.9,N.1, 2013) in an article entitled 'Reflections on the Existential Philosophy in T.S. Eliot's Poetry' go to: https://doaj.org/article/22ce171e421341adb33660beca954106
I first came across the poetry of Eliot in 1963 in my final year of high school, right at the start of my pioneering life. Frankly, at the time, I found Eliot just about incomprehensible but, then, so had millions of others who had tried to decipher his poetry in the previous half-century. But now, in the early years of my retirement from teaching, after teaching and studying English literature occasionally in the last fifty years and after some two decades of a serious study and writing of poetry, Eliot seems strangely, subtlely, curiously, complexly, relevant.
Let us go then, you and I, Eliot opens his poem and so I did, so we did, myself, the significant others in my life, and the Baha'i community, at the start of what you might say was the second generation of pioneers in the context of the Plans. I was young, just eighteen 'when the evening was spread out against the sky.' Little did I know, then, as I know now, that the world around me was a patient etherized upon a table. Of course, the world was many things but it was also that etherized patient we find at the start of Eliot's poem.
If I had read the Baha’i Writings more, then; if I had studied Eliot's poetry beyond The Waste Land in 1963, under the tutelage of a sensitive and imaginative teacher, I would have realized that the world I was entering in that springtime of my life in my late teens was asleep. Baha'u'llah had told me so in a passage from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, but I was busy just trying to make the academic grade, connect with the opposite sex, and deal with my bipolar disorder. Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Bob Dylan had arrived on the scene; we were going to outer space; the population was moving quickly toward four billion; TV was in its second decade of information dispensing and entertaining us to death; the sixties looked busy both then and in retrospect, but Baha'u'llah had told me, among other things, that the world was asleep. And Eliot's poem Prufrock reinforces this idea through the use of a subtle but quite graphic metaphor defining the world as a patient etherized upon a table.
Eliot wrote his poem as the old order on which Western civilization was based was about to collapse in the holocaust that was World War 1, as a great tempest was blowing through its soul and shaking it to its very foundations. That old order is still undergoing a process of collapse and a tempest is still blowing. Eliot's words still resonate a hundred years after they were first conceived. In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Eliot describes both the committed and uncommitted mass of human beings that I have been trying to teach for as long as Moses was in the wilderness.
Prufrock is paralyzed, the world is asleep, there is little movement toward the great transforming Revelation except by a discouragingly meager few, and so we could see our lives as measured with coffee spoons, as if we had spit out all the butt-ends of our days and ways and as if we scuttled across the floors of silent seas. Eliot's depressing metaphors are useful to describe our experience. His metaphors reflect our experience, the experience Eliot is conveying to us in his poem. But this reflection is only partial, at the low end, the sad end, sometimes the realistic end. Thankfully that is not all. There is more to the meaning of life since 1917 than Eliot conveys in Prufrock.
The problem of communication between souls seems fraught with problems or, as Eliot writes in the poem, That is not what I meant at all./That is not it, at all. To teach someone one must penetrate their soap bubble, their subjective space. Eliot uses endless metaphorical language and I'm sure the meaning I find in Eliot's metaphors will not be found by everyone, maybe only by a few. That is part of the beauty of poetry. He writes in the last lines of this 130 line poem, Prufrock:
I shall wear white flannel trousers,
and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing,
each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
Prufrock tastes of some visionary experience here in the world of his imagination, perhaps in his dreams. The futility of life seems, for the moment, to disappear. Something of life's activity wakes Prufrock, wakes this same mass of humanity I have been working with, planting the seeds of this new Revelation. He is confident about a great deal in life, symbolized by his white flannel trousers; he knows where he is going, at least temporarily, to walk upon the beach. He has been granted some intense sensory experience: I have heard the mermaids singing. But, for some reason, he does not think that they will sing to him. He has lost hope even though he sees them riding seaward on the waves. Perhaps he heard, for a few instants, 'Abdu'l-Baha penning His immortal Tablets of the Divine Plan. Perhaps this was the source of the mermaids singing.
J. Hillis Miller(1928- ), an American literary critic who has been heavily influenced by, and who has heavily influenced, deconstruction writes that "Prufrock's infirmity of will is not so much a moral deficiency as a consequence of his subjectivism." Eliot has put it thus:
And indeed there will be time
And time for all the works and days of hands
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred decisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo
David Spurr, an emeritus professor at the University of Geneva, writes on modern English and French literature, with a particular interest in the relations between literature and the cultural and philosophical contexts of modernity. He is a Fellow of the English Association of the United Kingdom and a member of the governing boards of the Zurich James Joyce Foundation and the Société de Lecture de Genève. Spurr writes, in his analysis of this poem, that "the poem's language conveys a disordered experience, expresses an imprecision and aimlessness, with speakers trapped inside their own excessive alertness. Their shy, cultivated and overly sensitive awareness seems to be part of the poem's very fragmentation. This is the world we all have to deal with; it is certainly the one I've dealt with in my memory bank going back to 1948. My experience has not been the same as Prufrock, but the poem speaks to me, and to some of the struggle I have had all the way back to those late 1940s. A great deal has happened in those last six decades, a great deal of conflict, confusion. In teaching the Cause I have often:
…………gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?….
………..I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker
There are so many lines I could include here. But I leave this exercise to the reader. Eliot may be worth reexamining, having a second look at, if you ever looked at him at all, dear reader; he may be worth reading for the first time, if his words and lines have never crossed your eyes. He may just speak to you for the first time, a poet who for some was one of the twentieth century's greats.
 The first generation being 1937 to 1962. My pioneering life began in August 1962.
 J. Hillis Miller, Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth Century Writers, Cambridge, MA, the Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1965.
(3) Go to this link: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/eliot/prufrock.htm
Finally, I'd like to say a few things about the poet Dylan Thomas whose poetry is, in many ways, even more enigmatic than Eliot's. In a review of a 2003 biography of Thomas entitled: Dylan Thomas: A New Life by Andrew Lycett we read: "Thomas's notion was that, if you looked after the sound in a poem, it did not matter whether the sense took care of itself. The poet should not worry too much about what the poem means. There was, for Thomas, no message in his poems. They were about the music of the words without ideas. For me, John Ashbery's work is much the same. For a review of Dylan Thomas's poetry, and a review of the following new books on Thomas: (i) The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: The New Centenary Edition edited by John Goodby(Weidenfeld, 400 pages, 2014); (ii) Under Milk Wood: The Definitive Edition edited by Walford Davies and Ralph Maud(Phoenix, 200 pages, 2014); and (iii) Collected Stories by Dylan Thomas (Phoenix, 400 pages, 2014; and (iv) A Dylan Thomas Treasury: Poems, Stories and Broadcasts (Phoenix, 20 pages, 2014).....................go to this link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n22/seamus-perry/everything-is-good-news For more on John Ashbery go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ashbery
Ludwig Wittgenstein was a philosopher obsessed with the difficulties of language. He wanted to help us find a way out of some of the muddles we get into with words. For a u-tube item go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ33gAyhg2c Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein(1889-1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language. From 1929–1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge. During his lifetime he published just one slim book, the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), one article, one book review and a children's dictionary. His voluminous manuscripts were edited and published posthumously. Philosophical Investigations appeared as a book in 1953 and by the end of the century it was considered an important modern classic. Philosopher Bertrand Russell described Wittgenstein as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating". For more on Wittgenstein go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Wittgenstein
A CONTEMPORARY CANADIAN INFLUENCE
Part 1: Some Bio-Data
Margaret Eleanor Atwood(1939- ) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honored authors of fiction in recent history. She graduated from high school in Toronto the year I finished primary school in Burlington, a one hour drive from Toronto. She is my contemporary. She knew she wanted to be a writer by the age of 16. In my case, my literary aspirations grew more slowly, sensibly and insensibly until I was in my 50s. Atwood was a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias award for Literature. She has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Award seven times, winning twice. To read more about her go to this link:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Atwood
Part 2: Atwood: An Influence
I wrote the following piece, a short essay, more than a dozen years ago, in my last year as a teacher, in the year before I left Perth Western Australia in 1999 to take an early retirement and a sea-change at the age of 55 in Tasmania. I include this piece of prose here due to the influence of Margaret Atwood in the writing of this short work and my writing in general. I have updated this short essay today, 5 August 2012.
PIONEERING: THE FIRST GENERATION
HISTORY’S TENTH STAGE
Freud(1856-1939), reinforcing the work of Marx(1818-1883), has encouraged the historian to examine himself and his own position in history, the motives--perhaps hidden motives--which have guided his choice of theme or period and his selection and interpretation of facts, the national and social background which has determined his angle of vision, the conception of the future which shapes his conception of the present.--Ron Price with thanks to E.H. Carr, a liberal and later Marxist British historian, journalist and international relations theorist, and an opponent of empiricism within historiography. Carr is now best known for his 14-volume history of the Soviet Union, The above words come from his book What is History?, Macmillan, London, 1934, p. 134.
These words of that famous historian, famous at least in some history circles, could very well apply to the poet. It certainly applies to me. Poetry and history are branches of the same tree, at least in my literary world, my intellectual perspective. The aim in my poetry is, among other aims, to bring history to life, to convey the true significance of things, at least as I see them, on the printed page. My aim is also to explore both the outer world of action and its sensibility and the inner world, the private chamber, my private domain of thought and feeling. One of the most powerful determinants of this sensibility and this inner world that gives rise to poetry in particular and literature in general in the Baha’i community is my travelling-pioneering experience, an experience that is now half a century in the making: 1962-2012. This experience has been seminal in shaping the creative sensibility of many Baha’i writers, certainly this one.
In 1998 I entitled my overall literary corpus Pioneering Over Three Epochs and, by the end of the first decade of the 21st century, this corpus was entitled: Pioneering Over Five Epochs. The poetry I have written is the largest part of that corpus. My pioneer-travelling life, begun in 1962, just after John Glen went spinning around the earth in the first manned space flight, is rooted in a struggle between the apparently slow growth in the new way of life I am pioneering, trying to bring into reality, and a range of transformations in the wider society. It is difficult to grasp both these time lines, mutually exclusive worlds in many ways. Now nearing the last half of my fifty-third year of pioneering, I watched an Arc of buildings rise on Mt. Carmel, the apotheosis of all my beliefs during this adventure in movement from place to place. This historical event on Mt. Carmel was highly instrumental in the conception of my entire work as Epic.
Describing the struggle within and between these two worlds, an old society and a new one in the making, I write a great deal. I see this writing as a social act, part of social reality, part of historical reality. After all these years, more than five decades, I see many of the aspects of this struggle as boring and tedious, problems I have had to return to again and again in building the sinews, the nucleus, the warp & weft, of this new World Order, to say nothing of my own character. There is so much to focus on in this development that has been described and catelogued by the Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan messages since 1963, more than half a century now of messages. The progress has been immense. These messages provide a way of approaching the seemingly unmanageable diversity of political, social, economic and cultural events and the concomitant activity within the Baha’i community.
The recurring observations of these complex social and cultural stresses in both the wider world and within the Baha’i community are a hallmark of the House of Justice's writing, an immensely positive and heuristic posture toward the events on the entire planet. New posibilities for development are explored in these messages within the matrix of international crises. The main thrust of my remarks here is to place my pioneering experience of the last three epochs within a broad, but brief, framework of institutional developments in the Baha’i Administrative Order, within the experience of the wider world and with my own private, personal experience. This short essay is but one of many that accompany my collections of poetry.
“The process” wrote Shoghi Effendi, referring to the unsuspected benefits of this new order, is painfully slow in becoming visible to the eyes of men. This process is also characterized by “a series of crises which at times threaten to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress ha(s) engendered.”(1) My own hopes and personal development have been blasted on numerous occasions in the areas of health and jobs, marriage and service to the Baha’i community. And so I write, not so much to tell the story of Baha’i history, of the Baha’i community, for that has been told many times. I write as a metaphor for my own release, for personal meaning, to perfect my understanding. I try to tell the truth, memory’s truth, which selects, illuminates, exaggerates, minimizes and glorifies. In the end I am creating my own reality, its heterogeneous but coherent(as coherent as possible) version of events. Vision, I would like to add in conclusion, creates reality.
Of course, my own version of Baha’i history, Baha’i experience, is hardly definitive. Rather, what I write is my own version of reality, memory’s special kind of world. It is only one of what could be millions of versions, of stories, of accounts, of explanations. It seems to me, though, that identity, Baha’i identity, does not exist until our story is told. That certainly became true for me the longer I wrote as extensively as I came to write by the 21st century. My autobiographical writing is a crucial part, the major part, of the desciption of my identity, that story we tell which makes us real to ourselves. Autobiography is part of my aesthetic need to unify and clarify, through my acquaintance, a world, which as that founder of psychology Wiliam James put it, is: “multitudinous, beyond imagination, tangled, muddy, painful and perplexed.”(2) James thought it was harder to conceive of a whole, undivided life than it was to conceive of the pluralistic world in which that life exists.
The Canadian habit of mind, Margaret Atwood says(1939- ), is “synthetic....(with) the ever-failing, ever-renewed attempt to pull all the pieces together, to discover the whole of which one can only trust one is a part.”(3) I have pulled my life together in these poems; I began to tie my life down, to define my life, after twenty-five years of peripatetic existence: 1962-1987. This Canadian-Australian hybrid has written about his experience on two vast continental land masses; he has written drawing on a cosmology taking in all of time and space on the one hand and the microcosm of fragments found in everyday life on the other. He tries to find a middle ground between fragments and infinity while writing about both.
Atwood’s contributions to the theorizing of Canadian identity, an identity that is of interest to me since I am a Canadian and lived in Canada until I was 26,--her contributions have garnered attention both in Canada and internationally. Her principal work of literary criticism, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, is now considered outdated in Canada. But this work remains the standard introduction to Canadian literature in Canadian Studies programs internationally. In Survival, Atwood postulates that Canadian literature, and by extension Canadian identity, is characterized by the symbol of survival. This symbol is expressed in the omnipresent use of “victim positions” in Canadian literature. These positions represent a scale of self-consciousness and self-actualization for the victim in the “victor/victim” relationship.
The "victor" in these scenarios may be other humans, nature, the wilderness or other external and internal factors which oppress the victim. Atwood’s Survival bears the influence of Northrop Frye’s theory of garrison mentality; Atwood instrumentalizes Frye’s concept to a critical tool. More recently, Atwood has continued her exploration of the implications of Canadian literary themes for Canadian identity in lectures such as Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (1995).
Atwood’s contribution to the theorizing of Canada is not limited to her non-fiction works. Several of her works, including The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and Surfacing, are examples of what postmodern literary theorist Linda Hutcheon calls “Historiographic Metafiction”. In such works, Atwood explicitly explores the relation of history and narrative and the processes of creating history. Ultimately, according to her theories in works such as Survival and her exploration of similar themes in her fiction, Atwood considers Canadian literature as the expression of Canadian identity. According to this literature, Canadian identity has been defined by a fear of nature, by settler history and by unquestioned adherence to the community.
Most of what I have written is less than ten years old: 1990 to 1998. This exercise of the middle ground, it would appear, is far from over. As middle adulthood, middle age, turns insensibly in the next few years to late adulthood, or the beginnings of old age-depending on what model one uses to classify the stages of human development---I shall continue to write poetry and engage myself in that sythesis referred to above and to that adherence to community that Atwood emphasized is at the heart of Canadian identity. I have now been pioneering a new model of social organization across two continents in the first half century of its institutional expression in a form known as The Kingdom of God on Earth: 1953-2003.
I am confident that no one will regard my literary corpus now containing millions of words as an event of importance in the early part of the twenty-first century and the late 20th. I am confident, too, that no one will fear that this enormous literary construction is a work, a monstrous construction, of egocentric genius. Unlike Irish novelist and poet James Joyce(1882-1941), my writing and my life has not been strangled by isolation from the outside world, even though I have burrowed, and will continue to burrow, into the sources of my own experience.
Each writer's life, especially if it is like mine, essentially autobiographical, contains only part of his or her life. In reading my work readers should feel that there are such things as fresh air, the intellectual life of my time, as well as my friends and society. Compared with the various mental lodgings of Joyce's obscure and subjective inner life, and Proust's cork-lined room---my writing, I hope, will be seen by readers as a house with all the windows wide-open, as wide open as the Canadian prairies or an Arctic landscape. This house of my literary life, I also hope, will be seen and experienced as high and as majestic as the Rockies, and as pervaded by springs of fresh-water as the lakes of so much of Ontario, my home, are pervaded by fresh water thanks to the workings of the ice-age thousands of years ago. Of course, pollution has detracted from that freshness in many places like the waterfront along the beach where I grew-up in Burlington and Hamilton Ontario. My own lfe, too, has been polluted by my several sins of commission and omission.
Whatever obscurity there is in James Joyce's novels, his letters show many virtues: considerateness, patience, decency, tolerance, politeness, willingness to offer explanations and information, but there is also much arrogance. See the following link for a further discussion of Joyce's letters: http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/01/09/specials/joyce-letters.html What his correspondence lacks can be judged by comparing it with letters of other writers in which there is a real exchange of views & feelings. In letters like those of the theological Fathers of the early Christian Church there is interchange within theology and metaphysics:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Fathers; in the letters of John Keats(1795-1821) and his friends there is interchange within poetry; in those of Vincent(1853-90) & Theo Van Gogh(1857-91) one finds interchange within art; in the correspondence of D.H. Lawrence(1885-1930) and Middleton Murry(1889-1957) the interchange is within wrath. In all these writers and artists there is agreement on both sides that the writer and the person written to, share some overarching conception of life which is outside and beyond them both. I think this is also true of my letters which readers might want to read about at: http://bahai-library.com/letters_memoirs_poetry_autobiography
1 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.111.
2 Leslie Munroe, “History as Story Sequence:Katherine Mansfield and Alice Munro”, The Writer as Historical Witness: Studies in Commonwealth Literature, UniPress, London, 1995, p.190.
3 ibid., p.195.
4 April 1998 to 22 January 2015
THE LETTERS OF PATRICK WHITE
Tim Winton has written a review in the London Review of Books(Vol. 17 No. 12, 22 June 1995) of Patrick White: Letters edited by David Marr(Cape, 700 pages,1995) Winton writes: "Loved and loathed, Patrick White loomed over Australian literature for decades as a distant, grimacing colossus. There was simply no way around him, no way he could not be taken into consideration. Not only did he appropriate the physical-spiritual landscape in his major novels, The Tree of Man, Voss and Riders in the Chariot: in cultural terms he became the landscape. Writers around him and after him were forever in his debt, or at least his shadow. The scope and achievement of his work simply made everything else look ordinary. Australians, normally prepared to make a virtue of their ordinariness, bridled. In retrospect, and now that ‘the monster of all time’ is safely dead, it would appear that his countrymen needn’t have taken it all so personally, since it’s difficult to find peers for White anywhere. David Marr’s excellent, sympathetic, biography confirmed White’s singularity and perhaps even his greatness. The recent Letters, though, astutely edited and accompanied by acerbic and timely interpolations, reveals the Nobel laureate as a man lagging well behind the work.
Readers who have drunk deeply from the novels may recognise in the letters the same irritable, restless intelligence and charming vulgarity, but there is scant compassion, less pity and precious little visionary wisdom. ‘I don’t know why one would ever expect more than simplicity from the great,’ he wrote to Pepe Mamblas in 1937. But despite the many voyeuristic pleasures to be had from this collection, there is rarely anything that resembles mere simplicity. White obviously wrote novels and letters from different parts of himself. He was a snob and a gossip and his letters are so laden with ambivalence, bitterness and self-loathing, so much studied nonchalance and self-absorption, that any respite fills the reader with a ghastly burst of gratitude. For more of this review by Australian novelist Tim Winton go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v17/n12/tim-winton/foreign-body
She and I are into different stuff….
A Canadian, Alice Munro now 83, won the Nobel Prize for Literature on 10 October 2013, as the autumn season was adding its richest colours to many places in Canada.(1) Like the Australian Patrick White, who has been the only Australianever to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, Munro is the only Canadian to ever have won that coveted award. Saul Bellow, the 1976 prize winner, lived in Quebec until he was nearly 10 but, then, he and his family moved to Chicago; he has always been typically seen as an American writer with much of his work set in that third most populous city in the USA. Munro's work has been described as having revolutionized the architecture of short stories, especially in its tendency to move forward and backward in time. Munro and I are mostly different but the similarites are why I include this lengthy prose-poem here.
Her stories have been said to "embed more than announce, reveal more than parade." Hermione Lee has just reviewed Munro's latest collection of short stories: Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995–2014(Knopf, 600 pages; see The New York Review of Books, 5/1/'15) at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/05/alice-munros-magic/?insrc=hpma This collection is a sequel to her Selected Stories of 1996, which drew on the previous thirty years of Munro’s writing. I graduated from university in 1966, & was busy on so many fronts that reading novels was not on my agenda. Reading novels was still not on my agenda in 1996 with my life full of a job & family duties, community responsibilities & a slow fatigue settling into my life as I looked forward to a renewal which an early retirement would give me by the turn of the century.
The Australian writer Patrick White’s novels are epic and his writing could not be more different to the writing of Munro. His novels possess a psychological narrative art which introduced the Australian continent into world literature. In the early 1990s I taught one of White's novels. I was a lecturer in English literature at the time in Perth Western Australia. Munro, though, is not a novelist. She’s into short stories, & has been since her teens back in the 1940s. These were the years just after I was born, and not far from Huron country in Ontario where Munro started her life. It also looks like she will end her life there sometime in the next few years whether she continues writing or not. She has said she's had enough.
Munro has been frequently omitted from conventional lists of the greatest writers of her age. This is due, perhaps, to her chosen form, the short story, as well as the apparent narrowness of her literary palette. Most of her works explore the warp and weft of small-town life in western Ontario. Fans praise her ability to express, in brutally honed sentences, not just the nature of small human hardships and dilemmas, but the very feeling of living within them. The world hardly needs to be introduced to small town life, though, in Ontario or anywhere else. Perhaps, I only say this since I have lived in a small town for the last 15 years, grew-up in a small town from the age of 3 to 20, and spent lengthy periods in them during all the stages of my adult life-span. Munro's stories frequently give readers the span of a life and, in the process, demonstrate how the small intimacies of everyday existence develop an inherent drama when weathered by time and circumstance. Munro's 2012 collection of short stories ends with autobiographical pieces about which she comments: "I believe they are the first and last, and the closest, things I have to say about my own life." My writing often gives readers the span of a life, but that span is not some character in a novel, but my own life or the life of some famous person reduced to a prose-poem.
ColmToíbin(1955-), the Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet, described one of Munro’s stories as "tough, tough, but yet written using sentences of the most ordinary kind, and constructed with slow Chekhovian care". Readers unfamiliar with Chekhov, or with Alice Munro’s work, can now buy her collections of short stories which book-stores have been marketing with some zeal since she won the Nobel Prize in Literature some 15 months ago. It’s not small town life that will excite and please readers. Rather, it is the fact that Munro’s writing is a great example of the writer who illuminates universal themes by writing about the seemingly small and particular. Most people’s lives deal with the small and the particular. Increasingly, though, people are inhabiting a universal, a planetizing, a globalizing, world seen through the lens of the print and electronic media. But peoples’ lives are still lived, for the most part, in a small, small place of family and friends, job and local interests.
“Her traditional-seeming stories are anything but,” wrote one reviewer. “She’ll shift multiple points of view or time schemes, hair-raising and complicated stuff, not to show off formally but to find a means of packing her stories with maximum density. She’s the most savage writer I’ve ever read, also the most tender, the most honest, the most perceptive.” Munro did not spring from nowhere. She sprang, though 'sprang' is a verb her characters would find overly sprightly, & indeed pretentious, from Huron County, in south-western Ontario. Ontario is the large province of Canada that stretches from the Ottawa River to the western end of Lake Superior. This is a huge and varied space, but south-western Ontario is a distinct part of it. I spent 25 years of my life in that huge province. I spent most of those 25 years in another distinct part of Ontarion: Halton County.
Settlers started to arrive in Halton Country at the same time as the the central precursor of the Babi-Baha'i Faiths, Shaykh Ahmad, arrived in the now long & complex history of this newest of the world's Abrahamic religions: the 1780s. Halton County was replaced by the Regional Municipality of Halton on 1/1/'74 after I left Canada; the very day that I arrived in Tasmania as a senior tutor in human relations at what is now the University of Tasmania. Halton County has been ranked by Maclean's national crime ranking report as being "the safest place to live" in the GreaterToronto Area, and one of the top 5 in Canada. It now has a population of more than half a million.
The only short-stories I remember reading were in high school. I grew up, as I say above, in a small town in Ontario, and then spent many years in other small towns in: other parts of Ontario, in the Canadian Arctic and in several states of Australia. The Swedish Academy said it picked the then 85-year-old author, known for her easy-to-read writing style charting the struggles and moral conflicts of everyday characters in rural Ontario, because she is the "master of the contemporary short story." Fellow Canadian writer and much more well-known, Margaret Atwood, said of Munro in her introduction to a collection of Munro's stories: "The wallowing in the seamier and meaner and more vengeful undersides of human nature, the telling of erotic secrets, the nostalgia for vanished miseries, and rejoicing in the fullness and variety of life, stirred all together: this is Alice Munro."
After her 20 year marriage ended in 1972 when she was 40, Munro moved back to Ontario, remarried and continued to set most of her stories in the small-town environs of Huron County, which she says caused her the ''level of irritation'' she needed for writing. Huron county is in the southwest part of Ontario. The county seat is Goderich, also the county's largest settlement. I remember going to Goderich back in the 1950s to a youth camp organized by one of the denominations of Protestantism. It was during the hottest part of a Canadian summer. I had become more interested in the Baha’i Faith at the time, and this Faith still holds my allegiance. I never joined the folds of any one of the many sects and denominations of that major branch of Christianity from my mid-to-date teens & throughout my adult life. I don’t recall ever going to Huron county again after that summer. Oh, and just for the record, Munro says that her religion is “fiction.”
My life has been so very different from Munro’s. My first marriage of 8 years ended in 1973 when I was 29. That was the year Patrick White won the Nobel Prize. I was living in South Australia at the time and teaching high school. I then moved on to Tasmania, and remarried in 1975. I had moved to Australia from Canada when I was 26. Munro got divorced that same year. Munro published her first story in 1950 at the age of 19. I was only six back in 1950. She knew she wanted to be a writer just about from the word go. A writer’s life has only grown slowly on me, by sensible & insensible degrees, from my teens & 20s into to my mid-50s when I took an early retirement at the age of 55 from the teaching profession, & a 50 year student-working life: 1949 to 1999.
The process of revisiting is fundamental to Munro’s literary methods as it is to mine. She constantly revises her work; she reuses her subject matter with the utmost concentration and attention; and her characters, like her (and often they are like her), compulsively return to their pasts. "My stories are not as close as people seem to think to real life," says Munro. "A frequent theme of my work, particularly evident in my early stories, has been the dilemmas of a girl coming of age; I've written about my coming to terms with my family and the small towns I grew up in," says Munro. So, is this true of me, only it's the dilemmas of a boy coming of age, and my coming to terms with the many socializing influences of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in Canada before I left for Australia in my mid-twenties.
One of the passages in her writing marks out the territory of her artistic vision: "what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech & thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together: radiant, everlasting." My artistic vision is different to that of Munro's. I write about that vision frequently and I leave it to readers to search it out. I've been compulsively returning to my past, the first 25 years of my life, in the last 25 years, 1989 to 2015, since writing finally caught me by the jugular. Writers who get away from, or are in savage dispute with, “home,” yet spend most of their lives writing about it, are not uncommon, especially in North America. I write about "home", about my Canadian experience until I was 26 when I left Canada for Australia. But it is only one of the many cynosures or polestars, nerve centres or gathering places, of my memoirisitic writing.
I read novels at high school, and very occasionally over the decades, especially historical fiction. I taught them in the late 1980s and early 1990s in my role as a literature teacher in Australia. The rest of my 66 year reading life from 1949 to 2015, has been as a student-&-teacher, lecturer-&- tutor, adult educator & writer, author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger, journalist & scholar, among many other roles & statuses over my 71 years in the lifespan. Reading novels and short stories has always been at the periphery of my intellectual life, a life filled with the social sciences, autobiography and biography, as well as the physical, biological and applied sciences. Munro's first escape was into reading. "Books seem to me to be magic, and I wanted to be part of the magic."
She read and reread favourites, especially Wuthering Heights. "And after a while it wasn't enough, and I started making-up stories." Reading for me was not an escape. It was part of my survival: first as a student who simply wanted to get high grades, and escape a future doing the boring jobs I had in the summer months from 1950 to 1967; then as a teacher-tutor, lecturer-adult educator who had to be a step-ahead of his students. In the process, by the age of 50, I developed a passion for writing. I am now 70, and that passion looks like it will be with me until my mind is unable to function and my fingers can't hit the keys.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)several major newspapers for their reviews of Munro’s writing and her life.
I hardly knew you, Alice.
We shared life in a small
town in Ontario, & we’ve
both written a great deal.
But that is just about where
this comparison of our two
lives ends. What can I say,
Alice? Congratulations are
certainly in order, but you’ll
never know me as much as
I know you. You are rich &
famous; I am one of many
millions of the ‘also-rans’
in that literary world which
we share in such different
ways, eh Alice..............eh?
I wish you well as you go on to
finish your life before entering
that hole from which none of us
ever returns, where one writes no
more. Finish your work! Surely
there is more to say and do?(1)
The roll will soon be called-up
yonder, for me too, Alice, for me
too, but without fame and wealth,
none of your famed short-stories.
I’m into a whole lot of other stuff
that will keep me busy until that
last syllable of my recorded days.
(1) Munro said in an interview after she received the Nobel Prize in 2013 that she may just keep on writing, but she was not sure. After 70 years of writing she had expressed the desire to stop. The best review, from my point of view, of Munro's oeuvre is in The New York Review of Books(V. 35, N. 11, 6 June 2013) by Christian Lorentzen. It's a review of Munro's book Dear Life(Chatto, 325 pages, 2012) at this link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n11/christian-lorentzen/poor-rose
13/10/’13 TO 22/1/'15.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY THROUGH FICTION
Saul Bellow(1915-2005) was a Canadian-born American writer. For his literary contributions, Bellow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts. He was the only writer to win the 'National Book Award for Fiction' three times, and he received that Foundation's lifetime 'Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters' in 1990. He was, & still is to some, a colossus; he possessed a visceral, organic power. Few writers were better at conveying the turmoil created by people's ambition & personal need. Bellow’s characters were not saints; they were real & greedy; they wanted & demanded; they lived in a real world created by his novelistic ways. Bellow's vivid, physical, and always philosophical, fictions were, as his son confirms in his Memoirs released in 2013, intensely autobiographical.
I do not write novels. I tried more than 20 years ago but, by 1991 in my late 40s, I knew novel-writing was not for me. By 1993, after spending a decade writing the first edition of my own autobiography, I also thought that writing autobiography was not for me. I then spent another decade, 1993 to 2003, studying, reading about, the genre of autobiography. In the process, I got a new lease on my autobiographical life; I have now been immersed in memoiristic, autobiographical, prose-poetic writing for the last dozen years: 2003 to 2015. I have come to take a serious interest in memoirs and autobiography. That is why I incluide this section on Bellow's autobiographical fiction, and his son's memoirs.
Saul Bellow was one of the giants of 20th-century literature. He was the 1976 Nobel laureate for literature; he is now presented to the world in this book of his son's Memoirs. Saul Bellow's son, Greg Bellows, is someone who knew the famous writer, loved him and hated him, often at the same time. Greg Bellows was Saul's first child; he was born in 1944. This was the same year I was born, but I did not have any connection with the writing of Saul Bellows until I retired from my 50 year student-working life: 1949 to 1999. Greg Bellows is a retired psychotherapist.
Saul Bellow was complex, brilliant and cruel, emotional, very funny, and detached. His most pressing concern in life, as his son makes clear in this memoir, was himself. This memoir reads with the clarity of a scientific paper, but one undercut with a subtle tenderness. Born in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, Saul Bellow never recovered from being the bullied son of a harsh father who grew up in Lithuania and set off for Canada. Saul Bellow's father became a bootlegger but, when that enterprise failed, he became embittered. Eventually the Bellow family entered the US illegally and settled in Chicago. Saul's father never showed any interest in his son’s writing; Saul drew early inspiration from the anger of his childhood poverty. My relationship with my father, as well as my son, was nothing like Saul Bellow. For a review of Greg Bellow's Memoirs go to:http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/may/25/saul-bellows-heart-greg-review
In Greg Bellow's memoirs, entitled Saul Bellow's Heart, the son has balanced his memories with his professional detachment as psychotherapist.
His book is candid, and based on fact and feeling. Unlike many biographers, Greg Bellow does not have to speculate or assume; he was often either present at the events he describes, or at the receiving end of his father’s actions &, more frequently, absences. This memoir is thoughtful, considered and fuelled by Greg Bellow's hurt as much as his memories. The volatile Saul Bellow, ever quick to detect a slight, was supremely selfish and, because of his festering boyhood hurts, never quite grew up. He would marry five times, the first time in the full flush of youth and beauty, the final time in old age. He acquired that last marriage because he knew he would need practical support as much as romance, so writes one reviewer. Greg Bellow makes no secret of what it was like to move in the warmth of a father’s love, and move in the labyrinth of his father's difficult personality.
In my more than 30 years, 1984 to 2015, of memoiristic writing, my own father has found a place, but it is not the central place. My memoirs have a triangle of forces, of places, of subject matter: my society, my religion, and myself. I don't deal with these forces the way Saul Bellow did: by writing novels. I write prose-poems, essays and autobiographical narrative. I do not struggle with love-hate relationships with my parents or with anyone else for that matter. I did not enter this literary field because life hurt me or I was embittered. I had my battles and my tests, my struggles and woes, but I came, sensibly and insensibly, by slow degrees over several decades--to the role of writer and poet. A literary life, a writing life, was not really in my bones and my life-style, until my late 50s, until after I had retired, by degrees in the years 1999 to 2005, from the demands of a job, of family life, of community responsibilities.
Now, in May 2015, 2 months short of 71, I hope to spend the rest of my life immersed in the new roles into which I have gradually reinvented myself since my late 50s: writer and author, poet and publisher, reader and scholar, editor and researcher, online blooger and journalist, office cleaner and publicist, and CEO. For more commentary on Greg Bellow's memoirs go to: http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/saul-bellow-s-heart-a-son-s-memoir-by-greg-bellow-1.1426248
Bellow: The ‘Defiant, Irascible Mind’ is the title of a review in The New York Review of Books by Nathaniel Rich. It is a review of two books: (i) The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915–1964 by Zachary Leader(Knopf, 800 pages); and (ii) There Is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction by Saul Bellow, edited by Benjamin Taylor(Viking, 550 pages). Go to this link for that review:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jun/04/bellow-defiant-irascible-mind/
W.H. AUDEN: HIS THOUGHTS ON WRITING
Thanks to the internet site BrainyQuote.com I have listed the following words of W.H. Auden. They apply to writers and poets and the best in literature. "A poet is a professional maker of verbal objects and he is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language. One of the aims of a writer is to produce a real book. A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us. A verbal art like poetry is reflective; it stops to think. Music is immediate, it goes on to become.
A tremendous number of people work very hard at something that bores them, that they have to do to earn money or because they are not able to fill in their time. They often like their job because they can't think of anything else to do. All works of art are commissioned in the sense that no artist can create one by a simple act of will; he or she must wait until what they believe to be a good idea for a work comes to them.
Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead. Choice of attention---to pay attention to this and ignore that---is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be. Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do. What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.
Yesterday, at the beginning of my third year of retirement from FT work, and in the first year of my retirement from PT work as well, while reading in the Launceston library, with three weeks to go before summer begins in the antipodes, I read some of a biography of Margaret Atwood. On the front page it read: "Never trust biographies. Too many events in a man's life are invisible, as unknown to others as our dreams." The autobiographer, on the other hand---and I am one---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, and now defined as an epic work, a definition that took shape as the 20th century ended and the 21st began, certainly tells of this invisible world, as best I can. It is my hope that this many-genred autobiography provides, not only a more trustworthy document for readers but one that is a pleasure to read. Of course, a writer can only guarantee this to a coterie, to a few, at best. Beyond that, the writer is faced with a mystery at least in the beginning stages. -Ron Price with thanks to Anne Michaels in Margaret Atwood: A Biography, Nathalie Cooke, Ecw Press, Toronto, 1998, p.5. For a fine review of this book go to this link:http://canlit.ca/reviews/girl_guides_honour
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
a life is or should be about.
Can it be recorded here:
vision of reality, with answers
& values to live by. This need,
for some, is a cry of anguish.(1)
With others there seems to be
no cry, no need at all, questions
yes, of course, but commitment
to something beside family and
work, fun and games, no way at
all: to each their own, their path.
(1) This was a view of Ayn Rand(1905-1982) a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism. For more on this famous author go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand
7 November 2001 to 5 August 2012.
MORE ON MARGARET ATWOOD
In a statement about her poetry philosophy Margaret Atwood wrote: "I was born on November 18, 1939, in the Ottawa General Hospital, two and a half months after the beginning of the Second World War. Being born at the beginning of the war gave me a substratum of anxiety and dread to draw on, which is very useful to a poet." Atwood also wrote in that same statement: "About no subject are poets tempted to lie so much as about their own lives; I know one of them who has floated at least five versions of his autobiography, none of them true. I of course -- being also a novelist -- am a much more truthful person than that. But since poets lie, how can you believe me?"
I was born on 23 July 1944, in a hospital in Hamilton Ontario, ten months before the end of WW2. Being born toward the end of the war, a year before the invention and use of the atomic bomb gave me a substratum of anxiety and dread to draw on. This is very useful to a poet. Even given a certain tongue-in-cheekness in the above statement of Atwood, I am happy to admit to at least five versions of my autobiography. But, I would add with some emphasis: "they are all true." For more on Atwood's statement go to:http://www.library.utoronto.ca/canpoetry/atwood/write.htm
THE POET AND POETRY
The French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, is best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation. As such his thought is situated within the same tradition as other major hermeneutic phenomenologists, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. I leave it to readers, who have the interest, to follow-up on the meaning of these terms in philosophy. Paul Ricoeur(1913-2005) stated that ‘the philosopher relies on the capacity of poetry to enlarge, to increase, to augment the capacity of meaning of our language.’ --Paul Ricoeur, ed. Mario Valdes, A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1991, p.450.
The power of poetry to disclose truth, to lift the veil of accustomed modes of seeing, and to express new visions of possibility and reality, is aptly described by Guillaume Apollinaire(1880-1918), a French poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and art critic. Among the foremost poets of the early 20th century, he is credited with coining the word Surrealism and writing one of the earliest works described as surrealist. He gives his definition of the poet as follows: "Poets are not simply men devoted to the beautiful. They are also and especially devoted to truth, insofar as the unknown can be penetrated. So much of life involves: the unexpected, and the surprising. They are some of the principal sources of poetry. Since men must live in the end by truths in spite of the falsehoods with which they pad them, the poet alone sustains the life whereby humanity finds these truths." This quotation is taken as an excerpt from “The New Spirit and the Poets” in Poetry in Theory: An Anthology 1900-2000, ed. Jon Cook. For more on these themes go to: http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/105/209
William HazlitT(1778-1830) was an English writer, remembered for his humanistic essays and literary criticism, as the greatest art critic of his age, and as a drama critic, social commentator, and philosopher. He was also a painter. He is now considered one of the great critics and essayists of the English language, placed in the company of Samuel Johnson and George Orwell.Yet his work is currently little read and mostly out of print. During his lifetime he befriended many people who are now part of the 19th-century literary canon, including Charles and Mary Lamb, Stendhal, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, andJohn Keats. Hazlitt's essays were not quite like anything ever done before. They attracted some admiration during Hazlitt's lifetime, but it was only long after his death that their reputation achieved full stature. They became increasingly considered among the best essays ever written in English. Nearly two centuries after they were written, for example, biographer Stanley Jones deemed Hazlitt's Table-Talk and The Plain Speaker together to constitute "the major work of his life", and critic David Bromwich called many of these essays "more observing, original, and keen-witted than any others in the language". for more on Hazlitt go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hazlitt#The_philosopher.2C_again
DIFFERENT VIEWS OF ANY ONE WRITER
The world of literature is a vast world more like a universe or even a series of parallel universes. One person's view of an author and his or her works is often juxtaposed by another person's view. Sometimes the spark of truth comes from the clash of differing opinions and sometimes no spark of truth emerges. I post below one man's view of a 20th century writer named H. P. Lovecraft. Howard Phillips Lovecraft(1890-1937) was an American author who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror fiction. Virtually unknown and only published inpulp magazines before he died in poverty, he is now regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre.
"I was taken aback," begins this writer, "at the vehemence of Charles Baxter’s screed on the American supernaturalist H.P. Lovecraft in Baxter's article in The New York Reivew of Books." The screed to which this writer refers was entitled: “The Hideous Unknown of H.P. Lovecraft,” in NYR, 18/12/'14. Nominally, the article in question was a review of Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. "It seems," continues the critic, "as if Baxter has some kind of personal animus against Lovecraft." The critic continues:
"I do not have the space to correct Baxter’s numerous errors, distortions, and misconceptions about Lovecraft’s life. He notes that Lovecraft was a “stranger to joy” and that he had “the timid shut-in’s phobia of difference, variety, and diversity.” In fact, Lovecraft found a great many things to enjoy in life of which the following items are but a few: aesthetic expression, astronomy, chemistry, anthropology, travel, cats, colonial architecture; his wide correspondence, four million words of which survive, put him in touch with an extraordinarily diverse band of friends & colleagues ranging from the rugged frontiersman Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian) to the highbrow poet Hart Crane. His travels during the last decade of his life took him far from his native Providence, Rhode Island to such places as: Quebec, Richmond, Charleston, Key West, New Orleans, and Natchez. A remarkably active “shut-in”! Baxter thinks Lovecraft’s literary skills were “minimal,” but this is now a minority view among critics and scholars. Certainly, the Library of America did not think so when it issued a volume of Lovecraft’sTales in 2005—a volume that sold 25,000 copies in three months. Baxter has a low opinion of Lovecraft’s prose style, but any number of critics have thought otherwise."
Steven J. Mariconda has written: The bulk of his stories are atmospherically effective.… He wrote as he did for carefully considered reasons, leveraging a naturally erudite style into an effective instrument to create weird atmosphere. Joyce Carol Oates, in her introduction to Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (1997)—originally published as a review of my H.P. Lovecraft: A Life in these pages (October 31, 1996)—has written: "There is a melancholy, operatic grandeur in Lovecraft’s most passionate work…; a curious elegiac poetry of unspeakable loss, of adolescent despair, and an existential loneliness so pervasive that it lingers in the reader’s memory, like a dream, long after the rudiments of Lovecraftian plot have faded. Lovecraft is now a world-renowned figure, and Baxter’s superficial and error-riddled article will have little influence on his ascending celebrity. --S.T. Joshi, Seattle, Washington......For more and different views go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/feb/19/judgment-lovecraft/?insrc=toc
Edward Morgan Forster(1879-1970) was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. Forster's humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: "Only connect." I read his 1927 Aspects of the Novel. This was a piece of literary criticism which I read in the early years of my teaching in post-secondary schools. Most of my teaching at the tertiary level was in the social sciences, but it was essential for me to have some familiarity with the humanities and from the early 70s to the late 90s when I retired from FT teaching, I read a good deal of literary criticism. In the more than a dozen years of my retirement I still dip into literary criticism from time to time. Today, on the first day of spring in 2012 in the Antipodes, where I have now lived for more than 40 years of my earthly life, I came across in The New York Times this 2010 review of the latest biography of Forster which you can read at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/25/books/review/Toibin-t.html?pagewanted=all: & if you want some general background on someone who provided me with some helpful literary criticism goto: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._M._Forster#Collections_of_essays_and_broadcasts