PERCY SHELLEY SOLVES CLIMATE CHANGE, POE THE UNIVERSE, AND MODERNISM IS ROMANTIC

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John Ruskin, a type like Emerson, Carlyle, and Pound when the Moderns steered art from science to blah blah blah

The poet Percy Shelley was a scientist, too.  Here is Shelley solving climate change:

The north polar star, to which the axis of the earth, in its present state of obliquity, points. It is exceedingly probable from many cosiderations, that this obliuity will gradually diminish, until the equator coincides with ecliptic: the nights and days will then become equal on the earth throughout the year, and probably the seasons also.  There is no great extravagance in presuming that the progress of the perpendicularity of the poles may be as rapid as the progress of intellect; or that there should be a perfect identity between the moral and physical improvement of the human species. It is certain that wisdom is not compatible with disease, and that, in the present states of the climate of the earth, health, in the true and comprehensive  sense of the word, is out of the reach of civilised man. Astronomy teaches us that the earth is now in its progress, and that the poles are every year more and more perpendicular to the ecliptic. The strong evidence afforded by the history of mythology, and geological researches, that some event of this nature has taken place already, affords a strong presumption  that this progress is not merely an oscillation, as has been surmised by astronomers.   Bones of animals peculiar to the torrid zone have been found have been found in the north of Siberia, and on the banks of the river Ohio. Plants have been found in the fossil state in the interior of Germany, which demand the present climate of Hindustan  for their production. The researches of M. Bailly establish the existence of a people who inhabited a tract in Tartary 490 North latitude, of greater antiquity than either the Indians, the Chinese, or the Chaldeans, from whom these nations derived their sciences and theology. We find, from the testimony of ancient writers, that Britain, Germany, and France were much colder than at present, and that their great rivers were annually frozen over. Astronomy teaches us also that since this period the obliquity of the earth’s position has been considerably diminished.

Poe’s 1848 cosmogony,”Eureka,” solved the puzzle baffling scientists into the 20th century: Why is the night sky dark? Why don’t the innumerable stars eventually brighten the entire sky with their accumulated rays? “Eureka” is perhaps the most beautiful work of science ever written—and it’s all scientific, guessing at Einstein’s discoveries well before the fact.

Henry James, the failed playwright and author of teacup fiction, sneered at Poe’s scientific temperament. How silly James now looks, but how much like the modernism he helped inspire in which blah blah blah replaces thought.

He who despises painting loves neither philosophy nor nature. If you scorn painting, which is the sole imitator of all the manifest works of nature, you will certainly be scorning a subtle invention, which with philosophical and subtle speculation considers all manner of forms: sea, land, trees, animals, grasses, flowers, all of which are enveloped in light and shade. Truly this is science, the legitimate daughter of nature, because painting is born of that nature, because all visible things have been brought forth by nature and it is among these that painting is born. Therefore we may justly speak of it as the granddaughter of nature and as the kin of god.

Because writers had no access to definitions of the science of painting, they were not able to describe its rank and constituent elements. Since painting does not achieve its ends through words, it is placed below the…sciences through ignorance, but it does not on this account lose its divinity.  And in truth it is not difficult to understand why it has not been accorded nobility, because it possesses nobility in itself without the help of the tongues of others—no less than do the excellent works of nature. If the painters have not described and codified their art as science, it is not the fault of painting, and it is none the less noble for that. Few painters make a profession of writing since their life is too short for its cultivation. Would we similarly deny the existence of the particular qualities of herbs, stones or plants because men were not acquainted with them? Certainly not. We should say that these herbs retained their intrinsic nobility, without the help of human language or writings.

The mental discourse that originates in first principles is termed science. Nothing can be found in nature that is not part of science, like continuous quantity, that is to say, geometry, which, commencing with the surfaces of bodies, is found to have its origins in lines, the boundary of these surfaces. Yet we do not remain satisfied with this, in that we know that line has its conclusion in a point, and nothing can be smaller than that which is a point. Therefore the point is the first principle in geometry, and no other thing can be found either in nature or in the human mind that can give rise to a point.

***

No human investigation may claim to be a true science if it has not passed through mathematical demonstrations, and if you say that the sciences that begin and end in the mind exhibit truth, this cannot be allowed, but must be denied for many reasons, above all because such mental discourses do not involve experience, without which nothing can be acheived with certainty.

Who wrote the above?  The renaissance painter, Leonardo—obviously grounded in science.

Ironically, the scientists who wrote poems of three-dimensional, musical import (Plato, Shelley, Poe), as the 20th century proceeded, were deemed too Romantic, while the modernist poets, casting off optimism and wonder and science, paced in swill, thinking themselves gods.

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POE AND THE WOMEN

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Rufus Griswold: an investigation of 19th century women poets must go through him—and Poe.

The female poet was a major literary force in 19th century America, and this happy circumstance lingered in the early 20th century, with poets like Edna Millay and Dorothy Parker, but that dream faded as modern tastes took hold, and men dominated the profession once more.  The names of those 19th century women poets are forgotten and no renaissance of any note has been attempted in America in the name of the female poet.  Influential male writers—Walt Whitman, Henry James, and Mark Twain, to name a few, were not impressed by female versifiers and made it known they thought women poets were silly.  The ‘Pound Era’ wiped out ‘The Poetess’ for good, as even Millay was abused by the Pound clique, and the whole lot of 19th century female poets fell into neglect—most readers today can only name Emily Dickinson.

Modernism wanted nothing to do with the Romantic or Victorian spirit in poetry—and as a direct result, woman’s poetry, one could say, became a casualty of the 20th century, too.

From the introduction to American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology, (Rutgers 1992) the editor, Cheryl Walker, writes:

Given the almost total neglect accorded nineteenth-century popular women poets, it is a pleasure to be able to show through an anthology that these writers were neither all alike nor without merit.

The ability to earn significant amounts of money by publishing poetry in the popular media certainly provided an impetus for women to write verse. Until relatively recently, however, it was assumed that women were composing  their poems in isolated cottages or garrets, cut off from the mainstream of literary life. In Literary Women, for instance, Ellen Moers asserted: “Women through most of the nineteenth century were barred from the universities, isolated in their own homes, chaperoned in travel, painfully restricted in friendship. The give-and-take of literary life was closed to them.” The Bronte sisters and Emily Dickinson were taken to be typical of woman’s lot. Today, in contrast, we know that Emily Dickinson was very much the exception among  American women poets. By and large, literary women on this side of the Atlantic were not isolated from each other, secretly composing in the upstairs bedroom, but were actively involved with a world simultaneously social and intellectual. One feature of this world was the literary salon.

As early as 1830, Lydia Sigourney was earning an income by selling her productions to over twenty periodicals.

…literary life in America was an arena distinctly more favorable to women in the late nineteenth century than it had been in its earliest decades. In an 1887 memoir of Lydia Sigourney, John Greenleaf Whittier reflected: “She sang alone, ere womanhood had known/The gift of song that fills the air today.” By the 1870s the many minor poets who found their way into the popular magazines were about equally male and female.

Today it is fashionable to decry market forces, but women poets in the 19th century benefited from the rise of industry and capitalism.  Female poetry grew with America’s growth.  Enlightenment and Romantic ideals helped women, as well.  Henry James and Walt Whitman may not have taken 19th century women poets seriously, but Edgar Allan Poe did.  Poe was also a casualty of 20th modernist criticism, his rich legacy swept aside by the impatience of gum-chewing, jazz age critics.   Little brass poems and ‘let’s wow ’em’ experimental poems rejected the old sublime, which lingered, but by the 1930s was dead, hauled off by a little red wheel barrow.  American poetry became odd, and women poets who had written in the old ways were forgotten.  Radio was the sentimental masterpiece now, not books of poems.  With radio and film, women were pretty and sang, they were dolls to movie tough-guys, not poets anymore.

What’s really odd is how much 19th century women’s poetry and Edgar Poe go hand in hand.  You can’t read an account of 19th century woman poets without running into Poe at every turn; Poe, more than any other figure in the 19th century, reviewed and supported women poets, was worshiped by them at the literary salons.  Not only that, the greatest anthologist of woman poets in the 19th century, a Poe rival for the attention of literary women, but  a man known today only because of Poe—not for his literary efforts on behalf of women—is Rufus Griswold, who almost single-handedly mauled Poe’s reputation, putting into circulation the false rumors of the lonely drug fiend and alcoholic in his obituary in Horace Greeley’s Tribune.  Elizabeth Oakes-Smith, a prominent poet in Cheryl Walker’s anthology, quoted by Herman Melville and married to a famous humorist, wrote now-suppressed magazine articles of how Poe was beaten and murdered.  Fanny Osgood, another well-known American poet of this time, her husband a reputed portrait painter, supposedly had an affair with Poe.  Helen Whitman, still another poet of note in the 19th century, was going to marry Poe until Greeley and Griswold conspired to put an end to it.

Poe’s murder in 1849 coincided with Griswold’s anthology, Female Poets of America, (1849) and we can’t help but feel that this anthology was Griswold’s attempt to woo women away from Poe with the promise of publication and fame.  Important women poets were in a position to defend Poe, and, in the case of at least one (Oakes-Smith), to give evidence on how Poe really died.  Was Griswold’s anthology a way to keep the women silent?  Keep quiet about Poe and Uncle Rufus will make your poetry live forever.

When Poe gave Griswold power over his posthumous works, in the year of his death, 1849, Poe sealed his fate, and the circle closed in around him.

Was 19th century women’s poetry essentially killed by the same forces that killed Poe, and his reputation, and ushered in the rule of the Modernist Men’s club, Pound and Ford Madox Ford and radical, militaristic, fascist, gold-digging, Golden Dawn crazies who hated American democracy?  The virtuous woman, the respected woman of Letters, was a horror to men like Pound, Eliot, and Ford, who used women in various ways.   The proud, independent, 19th century poetess was an ideal that faded away in the gaudy light of modernism.

The trail is pretty clear: the chauvinist Emerson (who despised Poe) , the chauvinist Whitman (inspired by Emerson) Henry James (sneered both at literary women and Poe;  Emerson was a family friend of the James family) and T.S. Eliot (had issues with Poe, Romanticism, and women; Eliot’s grandfather was Unitarian preacher friend of Emerson’s).

The sordid tale is even more bizarre, if that’s possible.  Margaret Fuller, associate of both Emerson and Horace Greeley (Fuller and Greeley were roommates for years) alarmed the literary salon community by getting together a posse of belles to demand at Poe’s cottage door supposed love letters he had from a married woman, causing Poe to subsequently seek to arm himself against enraged men folk. Fuller’s gambit took place in 1847, two years before Poe’s death, and was just the sort of fearful incident that began to make Poe persona non grata in higher literary circles, and easier to push aside as potential allies were scared into silence.  Unfortunately, in any literary network, the rival phenomenon plays an ugly role, as one reputation may eclipse others—one is only a good a writer as rivals permit one to be.   This was especially true in Poe’s day, when Letters was judged by a more universal standard of ‘Western Tradition’ transparency and democratic popularity: there was one mode of excellence and a writer was original, or not, within that mode, even as comic or tragic, domestic or worldly subjects were chosen.  There was no hiding behind experimental differences—there was no way to do that and call oneself an artist in the community’s eyes.  This made literary rivalries especially cut-throat in Poe’s day, and Poe strove to make himself part of the mainstream of American Letters, which included women poets.  Poe was not one of the producers/publishers of literature; he was merely the best of the writers.  The action taken against him by Margaret Fuller must have really shaken Poe’s reputation.  Two years later, Greeley and Griswold finished the job Fuller had begun, as their Tribune obituary hit the streets hours after Poe’s mysterious murder.  1845 saw Poe gain worldwide fame with “The Raven,” and the salon circuit was good to him as late as 1847, but as Poe’s enemies poured on the drunk/sexually immoral slanders, his salon-fame flower faded by 1848.  Poe turned his attention to comosogony (“Eureka”) as his social star fell behind the hills.  Cheryl Walker again:

Women participated in literary salons from the eighteenth century onward, and in several notable cases they supervised these social occasions themselves, holding salons for the great and near great in their homes. One of the most famous was the New York salon run by Anne Lynch (later Botta) which entertained writers such as Poe, Emerson, Frances Osgood, Rufus Griswold, Margaret Fuller, the Cary sisters, and Elizabeth Oakes-Smith. Edith Thomas’s career was launched at one of Botta’s evening entertainments.  Such salons were often inbred and typically thrived on gossip, but they also played a significant role in establishing networks of literary inter-relationships.  In her autobiography, Elizabeth Oakes-Smith gives a fascinating account of one evening at Emma Embury’s during which Frances Osgood sat adoringly at the feet of Poe and guests engaged in witty repartee. She remarks: “I remember Fannie Osgood and Phoebe Cary rather excelled at this small game, but Margaret Fuller looked like an owl at the perpetration of a pun, and I honored her for it.”

We’ll just print one poem from the anthology of 19th century American women poets, a brief lyric by Anne Lynch Botta, the salon hostess mentioned above.  Do 19th century women poets who can write like this deserve to be forgotten?  This poem contains many merits: artistic unity, descriptive power, force of imagery, and a symbolism which is not static, but unfolds as we read the poem:

LINES on an incident observed from the deck of a steamboat on the Mississippi river

Where the dark primeval forests
Rise against the western sky,
And “the Father of the Waters”
In his strength goes rushing by:

There an eagle, flying earthward
From his eyrie far above,
With a serpent of the forest
In a fierce encounter strove.

Now he gains and now he loses,
Now he frees his ruffled wings;
And now on high in air he rises;
But the serpent round him clings.

In the death embrace entwining,
Now they sink and now they rise;
But the serpent wins the battle
With the monarch of the skies.

Yet his wings still struggle upward,
Though that crushing weight they bear;
But more feebly those broad pinions
Strike the waves of upper air.

Down to earth he sinks a captive
In that writhing, living chain;
Never o’er the blue horizon
Will his proud form sweep again.

Never more in lightning flashes
Will his eye of terror gleam
Round the high and rocky eyrie,
Where his lonely eaglets scream.

Oh majestic, royal eagle,
Soaring sunward from thy birth,
Thou hast lost the realm of heaven
For one moment on the earth!

Perhaps this is not a ‘great poem’ to a 21st century professor bent over it in a library, but imagine a 19th century salon, where poems live in a rich, down-to-earth, social atmosphere: one part gossip, one part entertainment, one part noble tradition.  Would this poem not be perfect?

HENRY JAMES: WORST WRITER EVER?

Poor Henry James.  He took so long to say something, and when he finally said it, there was nothing there.

With Henry James, there was always something that seemed to want to get out, but somewhow, it couldn’t.

Effort was always present in him: great, even herculean effort, but it was always merely towards a kind of grim self-existence: the loud breathing of one panting because of their own weight.

If Henry James is remembered as a poet, it is precisely because what he was trying to say could never be said.

Henry James was always writing prefaces to his novels, and his prefaces were wonderful—because they teased, even tortured, his readers into such refined impatience: oh do please get on with the novel, already, before I expire!

For instance:

“The Wings of the Dove,” published in 1902, represents to my memory a very old—if I shouldn’t perhaps rather say a very young—motive; I can scarce remember the time when the situation on which this long-drawn fiction mainly rests was not vividly present to me. The idea, reduced to its essence, is that of a young person conscious of a great capacity for life, but early stricken and doomed, condemned to die under short respite, while also enamoured of the world; aware moreover of the condemnation and passionately desiring to “put in” before extinction as many of the finer vibrations as possible, and so achieve, however briefly and brokenly, the sense of having lived. Long had I turned it over, standing off from it, yet coming back to it; convinced of what might be done with it, yet seeing the theme as formidable. The image so figured would be, at best, but half the matter; the rest would be all the picture of the struggle involved, the adventure brought about, the gain recorded or the loss incurred, the precious experience somehow compassed. These things, I had from the first felt, would require much working-out; that indeed was the case with most things worth working at all; yet there are subjects and subjects, and this one seemed particularly to bristle. It was formed, I judged, to make the wary adventurer walk round and round it—it had in fact a charm that invited and mystified alike that attention; not being somehow what one thought of as a “frank” subject, after the fashion of some, with its elements well in view and its whole character in its face. It stood there with secrets and compartments, with possible treacheries and traps; it might have a great deal to give, but would probably ask for equal services in return, and would collect this debt to the last shilling. It involved, to begin with, the placing in the strongest light a person infirm and ill—a case sure to prove difficult and to require  much handling; though giving perhaps, with other matters, one of those chances for good taste, possibly even for the play of the very best in the world, that are not only always to be invoked and cultivated, but that are absolutely to be jumped at from the moment they make a sign.

Before reading a Henry James novel, one needs to be carefully informed of how difficult it was for Mr. James to wrestle with how he was going to “work-out” his inescapable theme.  His prefaces are sort of like having one’s brains dashed out—in order to create that proper impressionistic effect which his impeccable, fictional realism requires, as it portrays dashing men—and the thoughtful ladies who love them—sucking their thumbs.

Henry James, the pampered, life-long bachelor who fled rough-and-tumble America for Men’s Club London, was the sort of person most happy when talking about his own novels (and explaining what he was going to do in them), which is why prefaces were so important to his art.

It is no wonder Henry James failed miserably at the theater.  Audience: We’ll give you an hour, or two. Connect with us.  James couldn’t do it.  He was booed and hissed off the stage by his beloved Londoners.

His father, Henry James, Sr., now forgotten, founded Syracuse, was the richest man in America, and most importantly for his son, Henry, knew Emerson—who told young William Dean Howells to publish Henry Jr in The Atlantic Monthly, which was great, because Henry James was not doing much of anything at the time, laying about, feeling guilty for not fighting in the Civil War, and he and Howells were to discover a ‘movement,’ Tea-Cup Realism, which they were very happy with, and Henry now could tell everyone—thanks to papa’s connection to ‘uncle’ Waldo—that he was a published writer.

Henry Sr.’s eldest son, William, experimented with writing things down while on nitrous oxide, invented automatic writing, and founded the first psychology department, at Harvard, where he eventually had Gertrude Stein—who was good at automatic writing—as a student.

So the James family gave us the city of Syracuse, Tea Cup Realism, Academic Psychology, and Modernist, experimental literature.  Not bad.

But what shall we do with Henry James’ inflated reputation?  Why, lance it, of course.  If not punctured, the inevitable decay will set in—James has already lost millions of readers to Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling, and has a dwindling readership—and that decay will leave a disturbing odor.  Or, perhaps, James’ empty-at-its-core writing will not rot at all, but drift imperceptibly away?  It will be labor lost, then, to make any effort to dismantle James’ rather bulky notoriety—which yet looms over our Letters.

Having said that, we’ll end with a sampling of another of James’ prefaces—not for one of his novels—we won’t torture you further with them—but for someone he loved, a boy he adored: Rupert Brooke, who died in World War I, only a year before Henry James, himself, passed away.  Rupert Brooke is famous for his lines from “The Soldier”:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed

Both men, the old novelist and the young poet, adored England.  James met Rupert Brooke a few times in person, and evidently was quite smitten by the lad.  The old novelist wrote the Preface for Rupert Brooke’s Letters From America, in honor of the poet’s death. The small book was published by Scribner’s in 1916, the year of Henry James’ death, a short time after Rupert Brooke’s death in the Great War—and Henry James wrote it while the atrocity known as the Great War was still going on.  Has anyone ever written such ugly, tedious, meaningless bombast?  Read for yourself:

Rupert Brooke, young, happy, radiant, extraordinarily endowed and irresistibly attaching, virtually met a soldier’s death, met it in the stress of action and the all but immediate presence of the enemy; but he is before us as a new, a confounding and superseding example altogether, an unprecedented image, formed to resist erosion by time or vulgarisation by reference, of quickened possibilities, finer ones than ever before, in the stuff poets may be noted as made of.  With twenty reasons fixing the interest and the charm that will henceforth abide in his name and constitute, as we may say, his legend, he submits all helplessly to one in particular which is, for appreciation, the least personal to him or inseparable from him, and he does this because, while he is still in the highest degree of the distinguished faculty and quality, we happen to feel him even more markedly and significantly “modern.” This is why I speak of the mixture of his elements as new, feeling that it governs his example, put by it in a light which nothing else could have equally contributed—so that Byron for instance, who startled his contemporaries by taking for granted scarce one of the articles that formed their comfortable faith and by revelling in almost everything that made them idiots if he himself was to figure as a child of truth, looks to us, by any such measure, comparatively plated over with the impenetrable rococo of his own day.  I speak, I hasten to add, not of Byron’s volume, his flood and his fortune, but of his really having quarrelled with the temper and the accent of his age still more where they might have helped him to expression than where he but flew in their face.  He hugged pomp, whereas our unspeakably fortunate young poet of to-day, linked like him also, for consecration of the final romance, with the isles of Greece, took for his own the whole of the poetic consciousness he was born to, and moved about in it as a stripped young swimmer might have kept splashing through blue water and coming up at any point that friendliness and fancy, with every prejudice shed, might determine. Rupert expressed us all, at the highest tide of our actuality, and was the creature of a freedom restricted only by that condition of his blinding youth, which we accept on the whole with gratitude and relief—given that I qualify the condition as dazzling even to himself. How can it therefore not be interesting to see a little what the wondrous modern in him consisted of?

What it first and foremost really comes to, I think, is the fact that at an hour when the civilised peoples are on exhibition, quite finally and sharply on show, to each other and to the world, as they absolutely never in all their long history have been before, the English tradition (both of amenity and of energy, I naturally mean), should have flowered at once into a specimen so beautifully producible.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

DAMN RED SOX

The greatest home run in history for reasons we all understand.

Boy, is Boston a sports town.

“The Curse” of Babe Ruth which kept the Boston Red Sox baseball team from a title for 86 years will be part of sports lore forever, and all those heartbreaking years no doubt added character to a town and a region.  The 2004 World Series victory for the Red Sox, 4 games to none, over the St. Louis Cardinals, felt anti-climactic after Boston came from behind, down three games to none against their hated rivals, the New York Yankees—by far the richest and most successful franchise in baseball history—to win the pennant.  Watching those seven games was thrilling and exhausting.  Aristotle would probably say losing is more interesting than winning, and he would probably be right.  When the Red Sox finally won, beating St. Louis, it was eerily banal and quiet up there in baseball heaven, which is paved with pennants, not world series rings—except perhaps for the ring belonging to Bill Mazeroski.

But yes, Boston has been a sports town since Harvard rowers took to the Charles to take on Yale.  But boy, is Boston a sports town now.

Tory Boston, puritan Boston, revolutionary Boston, Democrat Boston, historical Boston, College town Boston, Biotech Boston, Smarty-pants Boston is now completely overwhelmed by Sports Boston.

It’s now common to see three sturdy adult males walking along with crisp, matching green and white jerseys that say “Rondo.” It’s cute when children deck themselves out in decorative and team-boosting sportswear, but now millions of New England men and women proclaim loyalties in a way once confined to children.

Self-esteem issues are now instantly cured by donning Boston sports regalia, with the same three or four surnames corresponding to a billionaire’s roster purchases.  Nor is history forgotten: occasionally one will see “Orr” or “Bird.”  But history pales in the blinding light of the flashing jerseys which brag of current success, saying: I don’t just belong; I belong to winners.

Boston, long calling itself “the Hub,” has always thought itself a little bit smarter than the rest of the country.  Mention Sarah Palin or George W. Bush in Boston, and before you can say Whitey Bulger, the snarling knives of ridicule come out.  Compared to Boston, the rest of the nation is a swampy backwater of neanderthal rednecks.  Boston’s famous Back Bay was built on harbor landfill; why doesn’t the rest of the country do the same?  Cover up your swamps and build successful sports franchises like Bostonians!  Losers!

Before Ralph Waldo Emerson preached, and Henry David Thoreau kept a journal, and professor Longfellow taught Languages at Harvard, and Henry Adams traveled to Tahiti, Boston has lectured and sermonized, scolded and harangued the less fortunate on how to live.

Think of the obese novelist, Henry James, who traveled with the idle rich, dismissing the workaholic journalist Edgar Allan Poe as “immature.”  That’s Boston.

In case you didn’t know it, Boston is, and always will be, smarter than you.

But things have gotten worse.

With the recent fortunes of their sports teams, Boston’s superior attitude, once muted behind an austere, blue-blood facade, is now in-your-face.

The Boston Globe, the New York Times-owned daily paper for the educated set in Boston, with about 5 pages of real news, has 15 pages of sports news, with big headlines and big pictures.  The Boston sportswriter, as you might expect, is a whole breed apart from other sportswriters.  They are literary. They pun incessantly.  When the Boston Bruins lose a playoff game, it is “Unbearable!”  Boston sportswriters—the best in the world, of course—believe in their hearts that life imitates sports, and sports imitates their writing (which is so inventive and hard-hitting and punning and full of cultural references.)

In perfect keeping with Boston tradition, Boston players are always lovable, heroic, and gallant (except those Boston players who don’t behave according to the strict standards of the locker-room jury of the Boston sportswriters).  Players on other teams, however, always have a flaw, when they are not downright boorish, violent, dishonest, or greedy.

Barry Bonds, drug-user and baseball’s all-time home run champ, is persona non grata in the good ol’ town of Boston, but when performance-enhancing drugs are found to be used by the Patriots or the Red Sox?  It was to “heal an injury.”  When a Boston coach or player is caught doing something dishonest, and they are called on it by another city’s press, the Bostonian shakes with indignation.  When a Boston player plays dirty, or a coach cheats, it is no longer a wrong, because everybody does it.

Boston fans never forgive a great player who leaves Boston to play for another team.

Today, however, when the Red Sox spend money at near-New York Yankee levels, Bostonians chuck their high principles, and instantly adore great players who arrive from other cities to don a Red Sox uniform.

We rooted for the Red Sox when they were underdogs, but now that they have a couple of recent championship rings and they spend like the Yankees, we just cannot do it.  Call us disloyal, but our loyalty lies with this principle: fair contest—which is what sports, or sporting, is all about.

Baseball, the game intellectuals tend to adore, has become a game of haves and have-nots.  The last straw was the Red Sox off-season stealing of Carl Crawford from their low-budget rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Sox now act like the Yanks—if a team beats you on the field, just go out and take their best players from them, by offering them more money than anybody else.  This is “sports” today.

The Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner bought himself a couple of championships in the 1970s when he raided the World Champion Oakland A’s of their best players: star pitcher Catfish Hunter and star hitter Reggie Jackson.

Easy.  And just because some teams spend a lot of money and fail does not make this practice fair.

As a Red Sox fan, it was once so easy to hate the Yankees.

But that has all changed.

Now they should have a few T-shirts that say:

Red Sox Suck.

WHO ARE YOU?

who are you

Modernism has been of paramount interest to Scarriet.

Not only the theory, but the social milieu.

The latter tends to get ignored—by the same social science avant-garde that embraced, and continues to embrace, Modernism’s “progressive” aspect in the first place.

The avant-garde and all its “post” manifestations are concerned with “what:” What did Ezra Pound and WC Williams write like? What are the experimental textualities of the new writers?  Etc.  Biographical anecdotes are dutifully subordinate to the impact of the “what?” on literary history, while history proper, the actual social relations, are background only: mere anecdote.

Alan Cordle’s Foetry.com (2004-2007) was more avant-garde than the avant-garde, because it “named names,” because it focused on “who” rather than “what.”  This alone made it different and brought it into contact with social history too mundane or bourgeois for the radical, theoretical, text-obsessed avant-garde.

The avant-garde asks “what is this sausage?”  But they never ask “who made this sausage?”  “What an interesting sausage,” asks the avant-garde, but never, “This sausage benefits whom?”  The artist—who is the god of the avant-garde, escapes unhip society into hip art and the hip circles who appreciate and “understand” the hip art: there is a closed-off aspect inherent in the enterprise itself.  Once you ‘go with Allen Ginsberg,’ you don’t come back.  You end up a Ginsberg advocate to the end, or a bitter drunk like Jack Kerouac who falls off the radar screen.  And when Scarriet asks, “who,” we don’t just mean who was Allen Ginsberg?  But, who was Mark Van Doren?  Who made the sausage?  “Who” is not just about the “stars,” but the entire gamut of social relations which produced those who produced the texts.

Investigating literary persons demands more than biographical anecdotes which support the various texts. The avant-garde always excludes eveything else by looking at the text, or the idea of the text, the “what” of the text: Derrida’s “no life outside the text,” the New Critics’ “close reading,” or studies that treat Pound’s politics as unimportant compared to his “work,” are examples that come immediately to mind.

There are reasons, of course, why “what” is preferred to “who.”

Academics will dismiss investigations of “who” as “gossip.”

In a crime investigation, what has been done is often less important than who did it, and for what reason?  To focus on “who” creates social unease as if we were looking for someone to blame, or reducing art to crass motivation.

But there is no reason why “who” cannot be explored as objectively as “what.”  Ironically, anxiety of social relations is behind the rejection of investigations of social relations.

It is difficult to be factual and objective about social relations, but should the difficulty be a bar to our study?  Scholarly objectivity demands we don’t use decorum in studying a text; why then should we use decorum in studying (or not studying) Pound’s or Poe’s or Ted Genoways’ associates?

Why should we be scared of investigating the author and his social environment? Some readings, sure, claim social environment as key, but they remain essentially text-bound, since they focus on the social environment of the text, not the social environment of the author and his (often non-literary) connections.  Because we study literature, we are blind to those non-literary connections, dismissing them as irrelevant.  The text is always relevant—or so we say.  But this is to be bent-over and naive.

Texts are residues of the human; humans are not residues of texts, despite the arguments of constructionist bookworms who would have text-centered complexity replace Pope’s “Study of Man.”

This is not to say texts are not central in the quest to understand society. Derrida understood that he needed a further argument to support his radical thesis than merely the self-evident fact that scholars seeking the fresh air of real life in their dead subjects gain almost all their information from texts, and we do not deny this.  I know what I know of Pound and T.S. Eliot and Ford Madox Ford from books.  But imagination and reason ought not to be cooped up in books.  Modern French theory’s “signified” has a real existence and it ought to be revealed, not hidden, by our study.

The Modernist revolution hid more than it revealed.  It is not just a matter of finding the actor hiding behind the complexity of a text, but the actors. “Who,” in such study, invariably is a crowd, or the machinations and motivations of a self-aware clique—aware enough to give off false scents to throw any investigator off the trail.

Writing, as Socrates understood, and as Shakespeare later agreed, is a record of speech, not the living speech itself. Socrates was a prime target of Derrida and his friends—who argued that writing was more than important than speech—all of Derrida’s rhetorical strategies were aimed at securing written signs (and their manipulation) an equal standing with life—the mere “signified” of the “signifier,” as if reality were essentially a word.  But there is life outside ‘the communication,’ and ‘reading between the lines’ is done outside, not inside, the text. Text matters—but it is not all, or even central all the time.

In an ideal world, texts would be all that mattered—but science asks that the object be described with precision; if to know history is to understand human behavior, from body language to murder, with literary texts essentially an extension of that behavior, it is a more scientific approach to study “who” than “what,” despite the erudite airs of New Critics and all their academic progeny.

Shakespeare has survived precisely because he is performed. To merely scrutinize the text of Shakespeare would be to kill him, as Eliot tried to do in his ridiculous critique of Hamlet. Bow-tied, near-sighted “close readings” of Shakespeare would have buried the Bard for being too purple, hyperbolic, and melodramatic, just as the 20th century did with Milton, Byron, Burns, Poe, and Shelley (all targets of Eliot, the godfather of both Modernism and the New Critics), all abused for being jingly—the Emerson method, which is to regally and beneficently over-state and expand the definition of poetry in the abstract, while damning with faint praise the actual music of one’s flesh-and-blood rivals, as Emerson does in “The Poet.”

Yes, he’s a master of tunes and songs, but I find his jingling a bit annoying.  Indeed, he’s a popular author, but he appeals to the young.  This abuse was directed at Poe by an historical, 3-part chorus: Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot—whose grandfather was a Unitarian, transcendentalist colleague of Emerson’s.

A single step brings us to Henry’s brother, William, the nitrous oxide philosopher who invented automatic writing and taught it to Gertrude Stein at Harvard—from which Modernism poured.  Ford Madox Ford, the tweedy Brit with Pre-Raphaelite roots, another central but shadowy figure in Modernism, befriended Henry James and Ezra Pound, and ended up in America with Tate and Lowell teaching creative writing. Lowell’s family psychiatrist—who ordered young Lowell to travel south to study with Ransom in the company of Ford Madox Ford—was a member of Ransom’s Fugitive circle.

Damning with faint praise is the best way to rub out competitors; a frontal assault will just as often backfire, as happened with Poe; the more he was damned with the libel of drunk and drug fiend, the more popular he became.  Social criticsm is tricky, no?

Shakespeare would have been damned for being too purple and jingly by the Modernists, too, had he not been triumphing all over town in live performances.  Shakespeare had escaped the box of the text.  When the Modernists with their stakes opened up the grave, he was gone.

The question remains: what should we be looking for when we observe “who” rather than “what?”  That is entirely up to the investigator.  The best use both “what” and “who” to find out the eternal questions: “how” and “why?”

Scarriet, of course, will be pursuing these questions, like the bloodhound that we are.

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