WAR AND CRITICISM

Here’s an (ugly?) truth that many of us do not want to face:

Every thought, every action, every conversation, and every human interaction in human life is a dreary, exhausting exercise in fighting, strategizing, gaining power, gaining advantage, and gaining knowledge towards gaining power, for the endlessly strategizing subject.

The world consists only of objects in relation to the strategizing subject. Life is war. When friends and family don’t call you, it’s not because they don’t love you, necessarily, it’s because human interaction, even when we don’t want it to be, is a battle.  Even when affection is involved—and perhaps even more when affection is involved—human interaction simply wears us out.

Yes, war is hell.  But war is all there is. Peace is merely a pause in the action, in order that more fighting can occur, and real, lasting peace (if that is possible!) requires war to give it a chance.

We can’t sleep well unless we’ve fought a good fight. We can’t relax unless we’ve gone to battle.

This is equally true in art as it is in life.  We must struggle to paint the peaceful picture, strain to produce the peaceful poem.

We can leave sports aside, which is quite evidently a battle within agreed-upon parameters, the “agreed-upon” part making this “battle” palatable to many of us on a certain level.

But to the non-athletes or “game nuts” among us, to those of us who refrain from, and disdain, gaming, gambling and the competition of sports, the truth is, the war of everyday life—on every level, whether you are a monk, a bishop, a gardener, or a yoga instructor—is far more fraught, simply because you are a human being, with infinitely complex, non-agreed-upon, make-or-break-whatever-rule-you-want, war maneuvers.  And this is not just an aspect of life—it is the whole of it.  One is either fighting, or resting up from fighting.

Pleasure itself is nothing more than a rejuvenation in order to fight more.

This is not some “realpolitik” rant from a four star general, or a war-gaming adolescent.  Remember, you are reading Scarriet.

It doesn’t matter how “laid-back” one’s personality is, or how “politically peaceful” one is, or whether one is a vegan, or not.  The complex psychological struggle of every human being is vast and endless.  The “game” is on, and it’s always on, whether you are trying to convince your fellow human beings to become a vegan, or whether you are tearing into a cow.

Every single thing you do is judged, whether you’ve written a poem, done (or not done) the dishes, or are just staring into space.  It doesn’t matter whether you are “on stage,” or not.  It doesn’t matter whether an audience is before you, or there is no audience present.  You will judge yourself.  Even if you hate all judgement, all quantifying, all opinion, all truth, or all half-truth, complex judging is going on within you and without you all the time.

Most would acknowledge this reality of what we are outlining here, but many would insist: they are not part of that; that is not them, or (in an unfortunate choice of words) I myself fight against that whole competitive, strategizing, cynical vibe.

Others will go on the offensive without apology: This whole thesis is just an excuse to fight, an excuse to be a jerk!

Yes, but “being a jerk” is not a good strategy.  The point here is not that we must strategize viciously or unfairly or randomly—just that we must always strategize.

So let’s go back to sports and its “agreed-upon” parameters for a moment.  How crucial is the “agreed-upon” aspect of this war—that we call life?    If the two choices are war with no rules and war with rules, obviously the “agreed-upon” aspect is very crucial.

But life is not a game, is it?  How much do “the rules” in life apply?

If strategizing involves knowing which rules to follow, which rules to bend, which rules to ignore, which rules are useful, which rules are not useful, which rules are coming, which rules are going, which rules apply to whom and when, then it is clear that strategizing itself is more important than the rules—which are nothing more, in sum, than a less complex aspect of random reality, and which still reflect the brute forces of reality which we all must continually navigate.

So are we rejecting the rule of law?  That which essentially civilizes us?  Are we naked, then, as we fight this war?

Yes.  Each of us is merely a soldier.  And alone.

But what unites us?  Surely it can’t be all of us against all of us all of the time?

It is.  Because we judge ourselves, we cannot escape judgment, and therefore no one can escape the state we have been busily describing above.

We may seek alliances, and many of us do this in order to mitigate the general lonely horror that is the fact of our war-like state, and this explains why the culture of partnerships and political parties can be acutely acrimonious and emotional.  But the truth is known only by ourselves and determined by ourselves, as much as we may be comforted by the warm, piss-temperature propaganda of the group.  As Da Vinci and Blake have told us, let your own eyes prove the case, not the wind of authority or hearsay.  The group is a lie.  We are alone to the degree that we are human.  The genius is not alone because he is alone; he is alone because he is a genius.

Epicurus suggested the only real escape from this horror: pleasure.  The body seeks pleasure as a means to replenish itself before the next round of war; this is really the epicurean philosophy in a nutshell, the whole philosophy of pleasure, really, as now stated here; it is taking whatever is naturally restful and replenishing to the body, mind, and soul, and isolating it as an end in itself.

Poetry has been described by the Romantics (Coleridge/Poe), Pater, and Helen Vendler, as that which has pleasure as its immediate object.  Poetry is how our brains temporarily relax.

Poetry naturally has two main parts: the vessel and what is contained within it; the vessel (the action of poetry) partakes of pleasure, but the further question is: what is in the vessel, for all language by its very nature is a double entity—signifier and signified.  If seeking pleasure is both the vessel and what is contained within it, we have pleasure for pleasure’s sake, art for art’s sake, the enjoyment of rest for the Epicurean, who desires simplicity and beauty for their own sake.

Criticism belongs to war, and is the opposite of poetry as defined above.

But as we can see, the greater poet will always be a critic first, and a poet second.

We can test our thesis by looking at actual poetry, and Alexander Pope proves our case; one of the greatest poets, Pope’s Poetry and Criticism are often the same thing.  Need a greater poet?  The same is true of Shakespeare, whose plays are Platonic dialogues and whose Sonnets are really Critical essays: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” questions the worth of simile and metaphor.

The best poets put Criticism in the vessel of Poetry, this being naturally more efficient, since in this way, the poet may fight and be at peace, may have their cake and eat it—which is even more than what Epicurus, nibbling on a cake in the meadow, promises.

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46 Comments

  1. Gerald Parker said,

    November 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Oh, ick! Now literature has to be judged (or not) on the basis of accepting some anthropological pseudo-science like this? One knows that some will do just that, but as for me — the great aesthetic philosophers will hold sway. Give me, for example, Aristotle, George Santayana, and Suzanne Langer!

    • powersjq said,

      November 16, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Hear! Hear!

    • Gerald Parker said,

      November 16, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      I should have added that this theory is a prime, obvious example of reductionism. Anything reductionist in much of biology and in just about all of the behavioural sciences always should be questioned and usually rejected.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 17, 2013 at 1:39 am

      Aristotle and Santayana were both cynical, pessimistic, and reductionist, too. Are Pope and Shakespeare reductionist? The essay’s initial pessimism does climb some heights in the end.

      • Gerald Parker said,

        November 17, 2013 at 2:34 am

        Yes, I guess that Santayana was that, too, but he was, for all of that, a lot greater aesthetician than some reductionist, deterministic pseudo-anthrolology type; Santayana’s beautiful style lures one into liking him more than one otherwise might do so. I care really a lot for Suzanne Langer, however, the best of the three philosophers that I named.

        • Gerald Parker said,

          November 17, 2013 at 2:36 am

          I meant that I regard Langer as the best of the three when it comes to aesthetics. She certainly is not the supremely great multi-philosophy writer that Aristotle was.

          • powersjq said,

            November 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm

            Langer is wonderful. Don’t forget her mentor Cassirer (on symbolic forms). I’ve also recently put Dilthey on my to-read list. I’ve read that his notion of “expression” constitutes the crucial source from which Langer’s ideas flow, and I want to decide for myself.

            • Gerald Parker said,

              November 18, 2013 at 5:55 pm

              Power, How right you are! I discovered Cassirer (backwards) from Langer’s commendation of him and I have read several of his books in English, French, and Spanish texts thereof. (It is, of course, best to read a text in its original language, especially any specifically poetical work, but in Cassirer’s case I read the publications, obviously prose, that I first found during book-browsing.)

              • thomasbrady said,

                November 18, 2013 at 8:48 pm

                I had a Cassirer phase. I forget it now, though.

                Modern philosophy always seems a tweaking to me, though. I keep returning to Plato. I’ve read that Langer disagreed with Dewey, and yet they are actually very close…

                • Gerald Parker said,

                  November 18, 2013 at 11:38 pm

                  I never had a “Cassirer phase”, per se, but his writing always bears fruit. Rousseau was a thinker of some pretty terrible limitations in his thought, thought certainly not in his wonderfully elegant French style. Rousseau was a jerk as an human being, so his sheer hypocrisy can grate, especially if one is aware of his really tawdry, craven life.

                  • Gerald Parker said,

                    November 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm

                    All of that just above is to say that Cassirer might have been an even greater thinker if he had not hitched his wagon to Rousseau to the extent that he did.

  2. drew said,

    November 16, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Which links very nicely (I mean militantly) to the words of an Australian bard named Bernard O’Dowd:

    http://connecthook.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/final-flower-of-the-human-intellect/

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 17, 2013 at 1:34 am

      O’Dowd is one part Shelley, two parts Emerson, two parts Whitman, and one part Pound. He has oddball notions of the past versus the future; his “modernism” has that telltale take on the past which verges on the childish and the imbecilic: as if the past by its very being were an affront to him.

      • drew said,

        November 17, 2013 at 6:25 pm

        Did you know of him before? I stumbled upon his treatise when I did a Google search for “Militant Poetry” . Can’t say I have actually read any of his poems – I just liked his treatise for its oddball appeal.

        • thomasbrady said,

          November 17, 2013 at 9:18 pm

          No I didn’t know him, Drew; thanks for bringing him to Scarriet’s attention. I would add that he’s a bit Wildean, too. He seems very much of his time–the dawn of High Modernism: naively aesthetical/socialist/futurist. Pound, Eliot, Emerson, and Whitman are not much different; the first three managed to write in a prose style less quaint and precious. Pound was angrier, Eliot soberer, Emerson, far more persistent and ambitious. Wilde and Shelley were two who were indeed smarter than O’Dowd.

  3. powersjq said,

    November 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Tom,

    “We must always strategize.” I think this is the most valuable general point in this post. It’s just that in our tradition, war is not the primary context in which strategy is necessary. Politics is. The very idea of strategy in war is predicated upon plurality, cooperation, the possibility of alliance. First politics, then strategy, then war. That both criticism and poetry (but _especially_ criticism) have political interest is obvious–military interest, not so much.

    “Each of us is merely a soldier. And alone.” A soldiers who is truly alone is no longer a soldier. He’s just a crazy guy with a gun. A soldier someone who _fights for something_ beyond his own personal survival. It’s the fact that he fights for some cause beyond himself that makes alliances possible. I would venture that criticism becomes more valuable in proportion as it becomes less self-interested.

    “The group is a lie.” Backwards. The group provides a flawed validation of truth, to be sure, but it’s the only validation possible for a human. What? Something is true because you really, REALLY feel that it is? Critics _argue_. Argument is always an attempt to persuade others. The Romantic conception of genius is highly ideological; it pretends to be a neutral assessment of attainment, but in fact it tends to channel the interests of the status quo. Einstein’s famous dictum sums it up, “If I have seen further than most, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” As a student of history, I would say that genius is actually very common. _Recognition_ of genius is scarce, and it is meted out largely in support of the worldview propounded by the current powers that be.

    It’s true that “we are alone to the degree that we are human.” The alone-ness that you’re talking about here is trope invented by capital-M Modernity (Rilke’s _Letters to a Young Poet_) to describe the condition of alienation that’s a widespread problem in our age. It’s even more true that we are inextricably bound up in community to the degree that we are human. The facts of natural language and love are the only evidence that needs citing here.

    And the opposite of war is neither peace nor pleasure. The opposite of war is concord or agreement.

    (Honestly, much of this reads as objectivism dressed up as a social theory of art, which makes it hard to take seriously. Not only is Ayn Rand’s thinking derivative–it’s a warmed-over muddle of Hobbes, Menger, Emerson, and Nietzsche–but it’s also flat-footed, neither responding to real human conditions nor offering insight into real problems.)

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 17, 2013 at 1:17 am

      Powers,

      You write, “Argument is always an attempt to persuade others.” But more important is the argument we use to persuade ourselves. I do not deny social and group importance—I was merely focusing on the unit of the individual soul of which the extreme individualism is that microcosm of the universe which is the engine of all social configuration. You say the opposite of war is concord/agreement and yet earlier you said military strategy involved cooperation. We are lonely soldiers because we are fighting for or with others in a cause not our own. Again, I am not denying that social causes exist; I am only mapping the reality of the individual qua individual. We feel we are alone only because we are aware of social existence that we don’t quite understand. We cannot read minds—we only know our own. I was not attempting, either, to write a social science essay; only an aesthetic one. Da Vinci, who mocked others while trusting his eye, is crucial to the argument. Groups can be a crutch, group-think an impediment to genius. My essay ends on a positive, whimsical note. Its darkness, though, I think is real and earned. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll go crawl back into my hole.

      • powersjq said,

        November 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm

        “[M]ore important is the argument we use to persuade ourselves.” There are subtleties in your locution undreamed of by the classical rhetoricians. No matter how sophisticated our internal deliberations though, we still run up against that “immediate meaning” that we were talking about a few weeks ago. And I believe although the immediacy of the meaning makes us think of it as something personal, the meaning per se is still formulated in terms that belong to the language–to a group that we were born into.

        “[T]he individual soul [is] the engine of all social configuration.” I think it’s useful to think of certain epochs as having, for various reasons, better access to this or that facet of the human condition. Modernity is the first age to really engage with the infinite complexity of interior experience. One unfortunate effect of that incredible insight is the foolish conceit that the individual is at the atom of human experience, the seat of human value. Writing poetry is bloody hard precisely because the words of a natural language are _not personal figments._ A language may be embodied in a crude sense by its individual speakers, but somehow the language has its real life in the practice of speaking itself. We are born into a group that already has a language. The group has both temporal and ontological priority. The poet Anne Hébert (as famous for novels as for poems) once remarked that writing poetry was like being naked on the page. I believe in the personal genius of the individual writer, and I think that your general picture of the writer against the world often describes the way writing feels. From a larger perspective, that tension between group and individual appears less like a bare fact than like a means to generate the huge amounts of psychic energy necessary for creative work.

        “We are lonely soldiers because we are fighting for or with others in a cause not our own.” I’m not sure I follow, but this sounds interesting. What do you mean?

        “Groups can be a crutch, group-think an impediment to genius.” Certainly, but isn’t this fortune-cookie wisdom? Groups can also be a support. There’s never just one group thinking. One group-think may oppose many others. The whole potency of one highly individuated genius is still frail and small against the mustered power of even a small-scale group-think. The larger wave that the artist rides is his readership, his defenders, his evangelists. Da Vinci may have mocked others, but he was hardly alone. He was sponsored by some of the most powerful people in Europe (the Sforzas, the Medici, and the King of France); he had influential allies (Machiavelli and Isabella d’Este); and he was preceded by amazingly talented men (Filarete, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, and Bramante). Notwithstanding his quite astonishing attainments, the name “Leonardo da Vinci” was (and still is) in many ways useful more as synecdoche for a set of attitudes and ideas than as a reference to an actual person.

        I like the way your post ends. Made me think of Wesley Trimpi’s _Muses of One Mind_.

        • thomasbrady said,

          November 18, 2013 at 4:18 pm

          Powers,

          I understand your objection, which is based on the universality of language, a concept with which we are in agreement. Most of this may just be semantics: universals empower the individual, and thus individualism and the universal become one.

          I guess much of what I’m saying is based on, as you say, what it feels like to be a writer, or an individual soul.

          But am I making the radical assertion that there is something sacred and definable in individual effort and cognizance which defies all and any group effort? Yes, I think I am intimating this, and not as well as I could.

          In the Da Vinci example, I must find Da Vinci’s exact quote on the matter. I’m not talking about his worldly alliances, but the way he literally says that truth must come through one’s own eye, and not Aristotelian ‘truth.’ But perhaps this has more to do with Aristotle than Da Vinci.

          Tom

  4. drew said,

    November 17, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    This interesting essay has a timely relevance for me. I recently read a poem at my monthly poetry table on the volatile subject of transgender issues. It was not well received at all – in spite of the fact that I thought it worked and got my point across. At least two hearers expressed total hostility and disdain, accusing me of being intolerant, hateful, etc. etc.The rest would not even dare offer any feedback. They would definitely censor my words and and my verse if they could, with no more right to do so than their own desire to enforce the will of the mediocre majority on any dissident they find in their midst. (And this enforced orthodoxy at an amateur POETRY group for God’s sake…)
    I feel most keenly the truth that “…Every thought, every action, every conversation, and every human interaction in human life is a dreary, exhausting exercise in fighting…” – especially as a conservative Christian poet among lefty-liberals.
    It is hard to answer the hate of the majority with love. It is hard to be the lone voice of dissent in a stable full of herd animals. They are actually the intolerant ones – in spite of all their PC holier-than-thou paroxysms, they actually detest free speech and poetic liberty of expression.
    But, since they are my enemies, I must love them and I have no right to complain about their accusations.

    here is the poem: http://connecthook.wordpress.com/mine/spiritual/the-fowl-is-fair/ (any feedback appreciated)

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 18, 2013 at 2:53 am

      Drew,

      Edgar Poe, the guiding light of aesthetics, thought analogy a primitive form of art and doubted its ability to properly convey the undercurrent of meaning necessary to please and moralize at the same time. A moral may be present, but when too obvious, it mars the product. Better to defend what you oppose, for such a defense will fail, if you oppose it. Defend it with all you have, then; and everyone will be happy.

      • drew said,

        November 18, 2013 at 2:56 am

        I esteem Poe very highly…

        So you are saying my poem is too preachy?

        My friend convinced me to change the line “apt apology” to “apt analogy”

        Maybe I should have ignored him and kept as was…

        • thomasbrady said,

          November 18, 2013 at 3:04 am

          Drew,

          The poem treats a difficult subject in a playful manner. It reflects yours—and many others’—feelings on the matter. I say keep it as it is as a minor poem of a certain accomplishment, and don’t worry yourself over its harsh reception by the amateurs.

  5. oceanpassage said,

    November 18, 2013 at 12:48 am

    The only problem is that this is not a truth, but someone’s judgement disengaged from reality of the earth. Nature does not strategise, humans do.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 18, 2013 at 2:22 am

      Ocean passage,

      Nature doesn’t strategize? Doesn’t it strategize every moment to reproduce?

      Tom

  6. anonymous said,

    November 18, 2013 at 1:12 am

    Tom said:
    “Criticism belongs to war, and is the opposite of poetry as defined above.
    ‘But as we can see, the greater poet will always be a critic first, and a poet second.”
    I suppose I should thank Tom for inspiring me to create a brand new word, a neologism, as it’s called:

    ‘Cridiotic’. Of course, this may be somewhat redundant since ‘cridiot’ and critic are basically the same thing.

    Tom claims that great poets are also great critics. I wish he would actually provide us with just one example of a great poet’s criticism of another poet and how it improved their poetry in any way (not including Lord Byron’s observation about “little piss-a-bed Johnny Keats”).

    Come in. Come in. Hello? Can you hear me Major Tom?

    Ground control to Major Tom.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 18, 2013 at 2:31 am

      Anonymous,

      Cridiot. I love that. Nice.

      But I mean something different than you think. The idea is not that criticism of a poet’s work makes that poet better. It probably makes the poet self-conscious and miserable and worse. Criticism does not make better. It destroys. That’s what it does. That’s the point. The good poet has a good internal critic and the poet should be motivated to write good poetry so as not to be demolished by the critic—the critic who should not be censored for his destroying powers, but encouraged, for all would agree there are more bad poets than good, which means we need more criticism to wipe out the bad poetry.

      • vangiggles said,

        November 18, 2013 at 4:25 pm

        no, mr brady, i don’t agree with anything you say…. prove it too me. show me the actual numbers of good and bad poets.

        a review of somebody’s work, bad or good, in the literary world, is always a means of promotion rather destruction. selection is not censorship. it only means that many good things are simply not ever be recognized, read, reviewed or collected by anybody.

        • thomasbrady said,

          November 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm

          vangiggles,

          So you want me to give you a list of every good and bad poet? You’re kidding right?

          Well, the beauty of Letters is that the poems under review are not erased when a review “destroys” bad poetry. This is not “censorship.” It promotes good poetry. Surely you can see that?

          Poe’s “Ulalume” was not only attacked but ridiculed in a text book written by a couple of New Critics, the most popular text book in HS/College for 50 years. Were the editors of this text book, “Understanding Poetry,” trying to promote Poe’s poetry?

          Don’t think so.

          People don’t always play by your rules, vangiggles. The world doesn’t always ‘play nice.’

          There’s no crying in poetry.

          Tom

          • vangiggles said,

            November 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm

            tom, it will probably take more than one textbook, written by authors nobody has ever heard of, to sink Poe’s Ulalume, which, as you know, has it’s own entry in wikipedia. critics, in an effort to promote themselves and their careers, often attack well known, well established literary figures, such as poe, who will not be losing any status in american literature any time soon, and you know all of this….

            and yes, if the world played by my rules, my daughter’s homework last night probably would not have consisted of her muddling through an excerpt from poe’s philosophy of composition, followed by a careful reading of the raven, most of which her brilliant but sophomoric mind could not understand. quote, “dense, out of my league,” she could not even get through the second line of the raven without being hung up on the tortured syntax and 1850’s vocabulary. though she was surprised to learn that writers did not compose simply from their feelings, that the process was much more mathematical, much more about cause and effect than she had imagined.

            my daughter, in middle school, loved reading and writing, was amongst the top of her class, as she still is in every subject. only now, because of the high school curriculum, she no longer enjoys reading and writing for school, because it involves much less creative writing, and much more research based/scholarly efforts, which, of course, is a curriculum that will never have much appeal to teenagers. nobody sits in their high school class dreaming of becoming a professor of whatever someday….

            • thomasbrady said,

              November 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm

              vangiggles,

              Too bad about your daughter. I have a daughter in sixth grade and I can’t interest her in Poe. She’s all about Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. I think she’s attracted to what’s on the big screen, what’s contemporary. She writes her own stuff and it has a lot of death in it. We come to grips with death as children so we can then go ahead and enjoy our adulthood? I remember when she first came upon the awful concept that we all die. We were walking along, she must have been five? and we were talking about a dog in a movie that was based on a ‘real dog’ that lived long ago…

              Tom

    • July 3, 2014 at 12:31 am

      For a course in the life and work of William B. Yeats in my M.A. English program at Florida Atlantic University in 1988, I dealt with Yeats’s only completed English-language novel, “John Sherman.” One of the characters, a Church of Ireland prelate named William Howard, leaves a note for Sherman, his romantic rival, informing Sherman that he, Howard, has run off with Margaret Leland, the woman both men had pursued. The jealous Sherman, says Yeats in his narration, sees something “mean and small-minded” in the “neatness” of Howard’s note. For my term paper in the Yeats course, I chose the novel, “John Sherman,” as my topic. I commented on Sherman’s “Dear John” letter from Howard: “Is this not really less graphology than “gripology?”
      I thought it was obvious that I was just trying to pun on the word “gripe,” meaning “complain” or “grumble.” But when I showed the paragraph to a psychologist who talked frequently about the importance of “being sensitive to the multiple meaning of words,” he said my “pun” was really more a “neologism” such as only someone with a diseaed mind could produce. Is there any agreement or disagreement on this point out there? David Bittner

      • thomasbrady said,

        July 3, 2014 at 1:45 am

        David,

        The pun works in the context of the incident, but does not stand on its own, since there’s no natural affinity between handwriting analysis and griping. Also there’s the grip vs. gripe confusion. I would only label it pathological if such punning were done frequently.

  7. anonymous said,

    November 18, 2013 at 3:41 am

    To paraphrase an old expression: Those who can do, those who can’t critique.

    The very concept of poetry criticism today is ridiculous. First, all poetry is subjective anyway. Just because you like Poe doesn’t mean you like Dickinson or Shelley. Just because you like Blake doesn’t mean you like Shakespeare or Keats. Now, let’s throw in Roethke, Yeats, Stevens, Eliot, Cummings, Thomas, Lowell. Let’s add the ‘Language’ poets, the ‘experimentalists’, the ‘conceptualists’, the ‘Surrealists’, etc., etc. Who, exactly, is qualified to judge all this? Give me a break!

    The only trustworthy and verifiable critic is the reader!

    • powersjq said,

      November 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      “The only trustworthy and verifiable critic is the reader!”

      Yes!

      It’s just that readers don’t read in vacuums. Books have titles and covers art and blurbs. Famous writers have reputations. All of that’s the backdrop against which the reader formulates his judgement. And capital-C Criticism attempts to modulate that backdrop.

      Your point that no one is qualified to judge that whole backdrop is well taken. I would also agree that no one is ever influential or far-seeing enough to change the whole backdrop. Surely such limitations don’t relieve us a duty to be self-conscious about how we interact with the backdrop?

    • Gerald Parker said,

      November 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Good principle, and one which counters the overarching presumption of acadème that it determines what is worthy literature and what is not. Large readership over many years is an important criterion according poetry and prose claim to classic status, at least in part. Some bad or meretricious poetry will survive for a long time, it is true, but poetry which dies upon its initial appearance is at least suspect, despite the “forgotten masterpiece” possibility.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    November 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    anonymous,

    “The only trustworthy and verifiable critic is the reader!”

    Really? And what if the readers are children in a classroom?

    You would let them set the agenda?

    Do you think learning should just stop?

    Here’s an example of good Criticism, also known as a Review or a Notice:

    http://www.eapoe.org/works/criticsm/slm36d01.htm

    Read it and learn.

  9. vangiggles said,

    November 18, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    the problem with presenting poe as the perfect literary figure, as you continually do, is that we already know how badly he ends. hence, in my sane mind, i could not rightly use him as a guide to my life or career, nor would i ever recommend him to my children. i would rather they read lou reed than edgar allan poe.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      vangiggles,

      Not the “perfect” figure, but a worthy one.

      what do you mean “how badly he ends?” The flesh and blood ended badly, but the work lives in glory.

      Lou Reed devoted an album to Edgar Allan Poe. Send your children elsewhere, then.

      Tom

      • vangiggles said,

        November 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm

        i see little point in glory beyond the grave….

  10. Gerald Parker said,

    November 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Van, Well the matter of “glory beyond the grave” that I meant is as one (but not the single) criterion of excellence. Of course, to the poet or other writer himself, any such glory is speculative and one hardly can blame him for wanting recognition and desiring to give pleasure of some king during his own times.

    • Gerald Parker said,

      November 18, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      Anyway, “gory beyond the grave” as a criterion only would apply to poetry or other literature of the past, not current production.

      • David Bittner said,

        December 4, 2013 at 1:27 am

        I like a comment by Margaret Schlegel in Forster’s novel, “Howard’s End.” She says something like, “Even if there is nothing beyond the grave, we shall all differ in our nothingness.” Or, as the same general sentiment is put in Proverbs, I think, “The crown of a good name ecells all riches.” Or, as it is put in the Union Prayer Book (1940), “The departed whom we now remember still live on earth in the acts of goodness they performed and in the hearts of those who cherish their memory. May the beauty of their lives abide among us as a loving benediction.” Even Scrooge, for all that he acts rattled by the trappings of hell (Marley’s chains, etc.), really seems more afraid of how he is going to be remembered on earth after he is gone. The point of all this being: it does make a difference how you live your life, afterlife or no afterlife. (And how many rank and file souls have come back to tell us about “the glory beyond the grave?”) David Bittner

  11. anonymous said,

    November 19, 2013 at 1:19 am

    April Fools Day

    Is it just simple coincidence
    or maliciously designed irony
    that National Poetry Month should
    begin on April Fools Day?
    For, as everyone knows,
    though dread to acknowledge,
    poetry is but a fool’s game.

    Of what use being quickly forgotten
    to those who obtain glory today?
    And of what use laurels and honor
    to those who lie in the grave?

    Copyright 2010 – Mortal Remains: New Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

    • December 6, 2013 at 11:01 pm

      Some people may enjoy this bit of trivia…. In the former U.S.S.R., April 1, April Fools’ Day, is celebrated as a holiday for atheists, because two, or three times, I think, it is stated in Proverbs, “The fool hath said in his heart that there is no God.” (Though the practice of religion is freer now in the C.I.S., I believe the state’s official stance on religion is still atheism.) David Bittner


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