F. SCOTT FITZGERALD AND OSCAR WILDE FACE OFF IN THE PROSE BRACKET SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS 2017

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F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Great Gatsby is a beloved American novel—a short novel—almost like a long poem.  The writing is delicate, sensitive; the narrator is reflective, sad, moral, demure—not really part of the action; an innocent, bemused witness.  The trope is similar to Watson observing Sherlock Holmes—a trope lifted from Poe’s invention of detective fiction: the teller of the tale tells the reader what is just beyond the teller’s comprehension.

The theme and lure of Gatsby is America’s freedom—freedom that’s wicked: wealth of a dubious nature—beautiful wealth growing from the soil of crime.  And love of a dubious nature—the freedom of adulterous love.

Nick Carraway is us—when we are young, and try our first novel: what’s this big, grown-up, world all about, anyway?  Ugly, seedy, wrong.  But the author will make it beautiful.  Or, sublimely ridiculous, that so amid the tragedy you can (holding the understanding author’s hand) almost—laugh.  And Gatsby is also us—that’s what finally makes Fitzgerald’s book great; we identify not just with the narrator, but with Gatsby.

Fitzgerald succeeds in making his story beautiful, as well; before he was destroyed by alcohol, F. Scott Fitzgerald had high ideals; Fitzgerald rhapsodized over the poet, Keats (who also won highest accolades from Poe as “always a poet of beauty”) and The Great Gatsby achieves a beauty, as we see in the very last line of the book:

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Oscar Wilde had a sharp wit—he was plying the same trade as Fitzgerald: making the tragedy of life palatable with a mind that greatly understands.

Wilde, like any genius, fights for happiness—genius is a defense against all the meanness of the world.

One can see him winking when he says:

Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.

Christ told us to forgive our enemies—and the pleasure-seeking brute in us protests—“forgive our enemies?  That’s no fun!

The admonition to forgive our enemies robs us of energy in a desire for justice, and cheats us out of the pleasure of defeating our enemies.

But not so fast, Wilde says.  When you forgive your enemies, “nothing annoys them so much.”

And here, in a single stroke, Wilde restores the passion and the energy of justice—while remaining true to Christ’s suggestion.

The Great Gatsby does this, and a certain kind of fiction does this—it presents “enemies”—characters, whom, if we met in real life, we would fear, or hate—and the author attempts to make it possible, even as we shudder at their wrong, to forgive them.

 

 

INDIE INDIA

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The poet and painter Sushmita Gupta.

There’s something happening in poetry at present which ought to make many very proud, and a smaller, but a still significantly large amount of people, uncomfortable.

The best poetry in English right now is being produced by non-MFA poets from India.

We can name this phenomenon anything we want—some have called it the Bolly Verse phenomenon. Its center is Kolkata, or West Bengal, where a great deal of poems today are written in English. Kolkata (Calcutta), which we hear is an enchanting, mystical, modern city, was the cultural capital of British India. Rabindranath Tagore, the Tolstoy/Hugo/Poe/Borges/Shakespeare of India, was Bengali.

Contemporary Indian poets are inspired both by modern ways and old leather books from the 19th century.

These amateur Indian poets, amateur in the best sense of that word, are dimly aware of Whitman and William Carlos Williams, but they are just as likely to be inspired by Rumi or Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

These Indian poets have an advantage over American sophisticates—who are brutally and self-consciously modern.

Rumi sells far more books in America than any modern American poet—Rumi’s popularity rolls over the chilling influence of MFA programs; Rumi has an immense following in spite of American MFA-program success—a kind of pyramid-scheme success, if one is honest, and which, to be critically valid, demands a kind of anti-populist, historically-blank, hyper-individualist poetry: the kind published by university presses; academically rewarded—but since popularity is considered by sophisticates to be a bad thing—MFA-produced poetry has an almost nonexistent readership.

These indie Indian poets are not consciously writing against the MFA.  And we do not bring these Indian poets to the world’s notice to make an anti-MFA point. Live, and let live, is a fine motto. These Indian poets have as many admiring readers on Facebook as the most successful American poets do, with the exception of poets like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver—but even these are, relatively speaking, no lions; Rumi is a thousand times more influential.

These indie Indians are probably a little better, however, just because they are not beholden to Modernist or MFA sensibilities—which is sometimes a bee hive, death star, hodgepodge of crackpot, over-educated impulses.

These indie Indians are good, in large part because they are good in the way poems have been good and will always be good, despite the Modernist, MFA detour—confusing many Western hair-shirt wearers since 1913.

Joie Bose writes like a foul-mouthed Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  The foul-mouthed part is not “modern.”  The ancient Roman poets were foul-mouthed.  Peel the Modernist onion and you find ancient, and then perhaps nothing—the good poet happily and desperately on their own.  There is no need to advertise Bose as modern—because she’s good.

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The poetry of Joie Bose, and to be less pretentious, the poems of Joie Bose, belong to the center of what poetry has always been; when you’re drunk and you get up close to someone at a party, or any situation where you find yourself in a position to really hear what a person is really thinking—not what they think about X, Y, or Z-–but what they are thinking, as a person navigating this absurd, strange, beautiful, threatening world just like you, and navigating it means feeling along with the thinking, you get the total human experience.  Too much of poetry is somebody thinking about something and then coming up with a poem (let me use this image! let me use this rhyme!)—the good poets actually do less work and skip that step of “thinking about what they are going to write” and instead plunge right into it, so we experience the thinking—the thinking does not orchestrate the correct sort of speech behind the facade of the poem.  The thinking is the poem.

And let’s quote a Joie Bose poem so you’ll see exactly what we mean:

Stop talking! Shut your trap,
You better shut the fuck up!

Revolution is revolting and
we see that it’s the same
phrases and people on both sides
not knowing much about the cause
for these causes are mere pawns
and their quest is the same.

Why do you get up in the morning
Everyday and gear up to get out of bed?

I do, to board a train called Hope
It passes by many stations
For my destination changes.

I am a vagabond. Home is where I am.

People die when I rub them off
And I don’t believe in obituaries, ecologies and funerals.

Don’t ask me to stop if you can’t be me
And when you become, you will cease to care.

This poem is very heavy on the attitude.  And to its credit.

Because that’s what poetry is.  It’s attitude.

Think about it. Poetry isn’t science. When Keats famously said beauty is truth, he was presenting an attitude.  Think of Byron.  He was all attitude.

Poe made great efforts to get across the important point that poetry is neither moral nor intellectual, but resides in an area between the two.  Once poetry attempts to be moral, it dies, because poetry is too truthfully subjective to be moral; when poetry becomes too intellectual, it perishes for the same reason, losing the subjective thrill which is the key to poetry’s expression.  This does not mean that the moral and intellectual faculties of the poet are absent; the poet is aware of these—but the reader wants cohesion, not precepts.

Joie Bose’s poem has its reasons. “Causes are mere pawns” is the same thing as saying causes are effects—which they certainly can be; there is a sound and playful philosophy going on here.  The way hope inside hope rides a train which stops, but doesn’t, carries more interest—the poet is calling the shots, and that’s refreshing; she’s not letting the world and its stock images (train stations, destinations, these normally dull objects of sorrow and limitation) spoil her fun.  But this is not to say the poet is making a train a nice thing on a whim—the whole poem follows out the entire essence of what the poet is saying at every point, and, finally, “Don’t ask me to stop if you can’t be me” which is piling on more of that “shut the fuck up” attitude—and “cease to care” opposes “hope,” and these two opposites interact precisely because the poet’s attitude is strongly expressed—we connect with the poet who apparently doesn’t give a fuck (or does she?)  There’s a person in Bose’s poem—one is bumping into an attractive stranger, not hearing a lecture.  Her poem is exciting.

The poet Sushmita Gupta also makes poetry from a plain, homely, yet gracious place—poetry coming out of a tradition which sells the human.  As with Bose, Sushmita Gupta is not interested in intellectual or aesthetic distance, something modern poets often do—and why must they do it? What if poetry is harmed by intellectual distancing, and modern poetry has made a horrible miscalculation?  For calculation is at the center of modern poetry—if nothing else, it is highly intellectual and historically and theoretically conscious, and if it does take its calculations seriously—and this means miscalculation is possible—the moderns need to at least acknowledge this.  In speaking of a “modern temper,” and speaking of it pejoratively, we are sure our modern readers, every one, will say to themselves, “Well this isn’t my attitude! I have no “modern” limitations! Scarriet is building a straw man!” This indeed may be true, but any sophisticated reader who reads the following poem by Sushmita will find themselves immediately confronting what their modern education tells them is insufficient, even as their very soul is swept away by the beauty of this poem:

Why Me

Beyond the forest
By the river swollen,
Stood a single tree.
Often times,
I ran away
From it all,
And sat underneath,
Where branches,
From the sun,
Barely covered me.

One evening,
On a day of betrayal,
I sat sobbing.
And by the time
The sun was gone,
And tiny stars
Just began showing,
My quiet sobbing
Had turned to a howl.
Past hurt,
Came crawling,
Out of deep dungeons,
They were on a prowl.
I asked,
Of the wildly hungry,
Wind,
Why me.
Why always me.
That angered
The dark
And brazen
Wind to a frenzy.
It threw me
In the river,
Of fast flowing,
Spiraling waters,
That was used to
Smoothening rocks,
In a day,
To pebbles.
I was blown away,
By just that one question.
Why me.
I groped,
I screamed,
I cried for help,
But the waters rumbled,
The winds roared,
My cries drowned,
To a tiny yelp.
I was cruised,
Over rocks,
Over branches,
Till I was thrown,
On the shores,
Of an unknown land.
My clothes in tatters,
My head and hair,
Covered in wet sand.
The sun
Was beginning to rise,
But I just wished,
For sleep,
For rest,
For some
Peaceful time.
Happy to be alive,
I once again asked,
But more in gratitude,
You saved me o divine lord,
Why me.
Why in spite of my failings,
Why me.

This poem by Sushmita Gupta succeeds not because it’s telling a highly realistic story; it is not successful for any modern reason at all—it succeeds almost mathematically—the pure timing of “why me,” its musical repetition. If Sushmita’s poem is mathematical, it seems unobtrusively musical, instead, seeming to spring directly from the heart. It succeeds where all great art succeeds; not in some critical guide book—but with the audience.

We found this poem by Payal Sharma  printed out on Facebook recently, and include it in our random piece on a great nation’s poetry; it reminds us of Emily Dickinson or even Sylvia Plath.  We have no great motive for sharing this, except as a pleasing addition to the vague idea that Indian women writing by their wits alone are making great poetry today.  Payal lives in the north of India, works in an office, is intelligent, passionate, and counts among her influences Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, Wilfred Owen, Lord Byron, Kahil Gibran, Mirza Ghalib, Sarojini Naidu, and Rabindranath Tagore. If William Shakespeare or W.H. Auden or Oscar Wilde find you in offices in Mexico, childhoods in India, or MFA seminars in the U.S.A., they find you.  That’s all that matters.

In the following poem by Payal, we find “exhaling sad to inhale relief” exquisite, and the conclusion of the poem sounds like the pure yelp of divine Miss Emily herself: “demurely silent pearls, which nobody earned more so!”

As you may

Half drowned,
treading through the narrow waters
in numbing black void,
greased with slippery layers
of lard extracted from my old epithets.

Dear lover, come as you may-

A chrome door to murky corridor,
leading to the virgin smells
of crushed black olives
in medieval castles.

A faint hint of corrosive carbon,
peered with miraculous oxygen,
released in deep audible
breaths of night trees,
exhaling sad to inhale relief.

A knight in decent armour,
sent by gown-less fairies
from the oppressed villages of
valour and essential ignorance.

A tang of air from several yards,
carrying the mental notes
from past teachers,
coiled around my neck for a while,
like demurely silent pearls,
which nobody earned more so!

~~~~

These three Indian poets, Joie, Sushmita, and Payal are different, independent—and magnificent!

We are proud to be able to present them.

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Payal Sharma

IT’S FUNNY: TRAGICALLY, THERE ISN’T MUCH TO SAY

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Stupidity is measured in only two ways:

Not doing enough.

Doing too much.

Since all literature is concerned with dramatic human activity, and all dramatic human activity (as opposed to engineering, etc) involves stupidity, what we are about to say is absolutely true for all literature.

Our radical thesis is blandly true, yet radical: Stupidity is understood in literature only in terms of the ancient tropes, comedy and tragedy, and perceptually, popularly, in no other way. 

Comedy (Stupidity’s victory) is ‘too little being enough.’

For instance: A blind fool succeeds.

Tragedy (Stupidity’s defeat) is about ‘too little not being enough.’

For instance: O! Had we only done more to save him/her/them!

‘Too much not being enough’ is the sub-tragedy within Comedy and the sub-comedy within Tragedy.

The variable term is ‘enough,’ and the overarching constant is Stupidity.

On either side of ‘enough’ is comedy and tragedy.

Comedy is so easy to explain that it’s funny. In Comedy, in all forms of humor, “enough” is reached very quickly. This is what we mean by a “quick wit.”

In Tragedy, the audience sees the “enough” beyond the reach of the tragic (overly complex) participants.

A  melancholy disposition is akin to tragedy because it has a certain duration: like tragedy, and unlike comedy, melancholy is slow; it has a lastingness. One can never be melancholy for a moment; only humor is momentary.

Tragedy develops.

Comedy does not—or only in those representations which formally mimic tragedy for a comic end (happy resolution).

The denoument of tragedy belongs to the quick, but this quickness is only a “catching-up” from the prior slow development of the tragedy itself, in which “too much” vainly seeks to be “enough.”

Tragedy, which belongs to slow reflective menace, ends suddenly with a sudden death.  Enough is “found” at last in death.

Comedy, which belongs to quick wit, never staying to reflect, ends with marriage, which takes long preparation. Enough is “lost” in open ended, happily-ever-after, revelry.

Detective fiction, the most popular type of fiction in existence, explains a tragedy with a prose patience. Detective fiction is simply where the “critic,” not the “poet,” is the hero. In detective fiction, poetry (tragedy) is explained. Instead of ending with a tragic death after the unfolding tragedy, detective fiction begins with the tragic death and works backwards to reveal the hidden aspects of the crime.

This is why criticism which praises betrays literature and is boring. It is for the simple reason that criticism is like the detective story and a detective story involves folly, stupidity or folly covered up—a crime, a wrong.

This is why cheerleading for literature never works.

Literature requires the wrong (or stupidity) of either comedy or tragedy.

Prose reveals plainly.

Poetry hides beautifully.

Prose is the detective. Poetry is the crime, the tragedy, the ‘too much’ which is not enough, the beauty which is pleasure and would continue forever, precisely because it is pleasurable and beautiful.

The criminal is simply the one who, not obeying society, inappropriately seeks an “Eden,” a paradise of ‘not-having-to-work.’  This lazy and real desire, this attempt creates tragedy, poetry, and the need for detectives and critics.

And now we return to “enough,” for work deals with enough—we have now worked enough, we have now done enough—but not working, paradise (similar, we notice, to parasites) is ideally never-ending, for pleasure is never “enough.”

There is always enough sorrow (stupidity).

There is never enough happiness or pleasure.

Comedy—which is, and which is not, happiness—quickly finds “enough” happiness (superficially) again and again.

Tragedy—which has not, but which seeks, happiness—presents profoundly the profound desire and elusiveness of never-ending happiness.

Enough—perceived superficially is comedy.

Enough—perceived elusively is tragedy.

Enough, in its more substantial form, simply because of its elusiveness, which takes time to find, belongs more to poetry/tragedy. This is the chief reason tragedy gets more respect than comedy.

Above, we wrote, “Poetry hides beautifully.” Poetry/tragedy is a beautiful hiding.

The “hiding” activity of the poet/criminal (which the prose critic/detective/reader is called on to reveal) requires a formalist, material definition, since we need precise measurement to hide X inside of Y. This is the chief reason why great literature is formalist to a remarkable degree: it has to do with the precise hiding principle.

Comedy is when something isn’t hidden, or hidden badly.

Tragedy is when something is hidden well.

Comedy is when low stupidity understands.

Tragedy is when high intelligence does not.

When it comes to popular entertainment, today’s audiences choose what they want to watch by those ancient labels: comedy and tragedy (or murder mystery, the major genre Poe added).

Contemporary literature—literary fiction and contemporary poetry—abandon, out of sophistication, these “labels” for something vaguely realistic or ethical.

We might call this a scientific, experimental maneuver based on wisdom and intelligence.

But here’s the rub.

The realistic and the ethical have no sense of “enough,” precisely because they seek (unconsciously) to be unmoored from the “labels,” comedy and tragedy.

Explanatory science (sans “labels”) has no limit—has no “enough.”  No tragedy, or comedy, or stupidity.

Poets and writers of literary fiction today are more than a little exasperated and puzzled by a public they’ve come to despise, a public which devours popular brands of shallow literature and entertainment, but turns its back on the insight, subtlety and beauty of literary fiction and contemporary poetry.

It would be one thing if the public didn’t read anything; but it is more insulting to contemporary poetry and literary fiction authors that the public spends a great deal of time reading popular, formulaic works.

Stupid people—they read too much (genre) and gain nothing (remain stupid), or don’t read at all, and remain stupid.

But what if comedy and tragedy are not mere “labels?”

What if comedy and tragedy contain a truth more fundamental to reality (the stupidity of enough) than moral or newsy or journalistic or “realistic” nuance literature?

What if the whole notion of what is “enough”—in terms of the duration of a work, what a work is going for, and audience expectation, depends on whether a work is “enough” based on “stupidity?”

Because, really, what is contemporary poetry? (No names, no fame, no cluster of readers, no true influence.)

Isn’t contemporary poetry something not defined as “comedy”or “tragedy?”

And therefore, isn’t it essentially something not really defined at all?

If stupidity is defined by “enough,” and no sense of “enough” exists where contemporary poetry is concerned—on any level whatsoever—how can it even exist in the public’s mind?

No wonder it doesn’t sell.

Comedy and tragedy (as genres) both participate not in reality perhaps—but stupidity, and by that very participation are usefully connected to the whole notion of “enough,” a definition which contemporary poetry completely lacks.

If one wishes to convey the realistic, the overtly ethical, the journalistic, there is, of course, a wide field for that.

It’s called non-fiction.

When Poe invented the new genre of detective fiction, he temporarily dipped into realism; he described an actual crime in New York. (“Marie Roget”)

Of course “real life” informs comedy and tragedy. But these literary genres are what informs, for better or for worse, literature itself, not—flying in the face of common sense—real life.

This is the shocking truth, which is obviously difficult for the sophisticated to understand, and which we now in this essay boldly and sadly declaim.

Tragedy, comedy, and detective fiction—which is really nothing more than tragedy done backwards—are immersed in “real depictions.”  Yes. But Realism versus Idealism is not the issue at all; it’s a false trail.

All fiction and poetry (dramatic human activity of the stupid) belong to the idealism of what is “enough.”

In the non-fiction field, stupidity, too, is a major consideration.

Stupidity is at the core of human society. All feel this more acutely as we mature.

All feelings, from and about stupidity, must be either comic or tragic.

Oscar Wilde was basically correct, then, when he said there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book—a book is either badly or well-written.  But what does it mean to say a book is “well-written?”

The comic and the tragic are not labels.

They have an intrinsic reality deeper than “reality” itself, in terms of all artful expression.

They are simply what literature (to any accessible, popular degree) is.

If your poetry is not aimed at the stupid, it will never have a public. And this is not because the public is stupid! (To assume this would be a grave error.) But for the reasons we have outline above.

In as much as your poetry is not defined immediately in people’s minds as either clearly comic, or clearly tragic, it will never have a public—but the reasons for this must be understood; it is not just a case of “my poetry is happy, or my poetry is sad.” The “enough” factor must be used and understood.

Sophisticates, beware!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WILDE AND BAUDELAIRE TANGLE FOR THE LAST FINAL FOUR SPOT!

 

WILDE:

All art is immoral. For emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art, and emotion for the sake of action is the aim of life, and of that practical organization of life that we call society. Society, which is the beginning and basis of morals, exists simply for the concentration of human energy, and in order to ensure its own continuance and healthy stability it demands, and no doubt rightly demands, of each of its citizens that she should contribute some form of productive labor to the common weal, and toil and travail that the day’s work must be done. Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The beautiful sterile emotions that art excites in us are hateful in its eyes, and so completely are people dominated by the tyranny of this dreadful social ideal that they are always coming shamelessly up to one at Private Views and other places that are open to the general public, and saying in a loud, stentorian voice, “What are you doing?” whereas “What are you thinking?” is the only question that any single civilized being should ever be allowed to whisper to another. They mean well, no doubt, these honest, beaming folk. Perhaps that is the reason why they are so excessively tedious. But someone should teach them that while, in the opinion of society, contemplation is the gravest sin of which any citizen can be guilty, in the opinion of the highest culture it is the proper occupation of man.

It is far more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy. To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form of energy, also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the saint and the mystic of the medieval days.

It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him who sits and ease and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams.

BAUDELAIRE:

If I speak of love in connection with dandyism, this is because love is the natural occupation of the idle. The dandy does not, however, regard love as a special target to be aimed at. If I have spoken of money, this is because money is indispensable to those who make a cult of their emotions; but the dandy does not aspire to money as to something essential; this crude passion he leaves to vulgar mortals; he would be perfectly content with a limitless credit at the bank. Dandyism does not even consist, as many thoughtless people seem to believe, in an immoderate taste for the toilet and material elegance. For the perfect dandy these things are no more than symbols of his aristocratic superiority of mind. Furthermore to his eyes, which are in love with distinction above all things, the perfection of his toilet will consist in absolute simplicity, which is the best way, in fact, of achieving the desired quality. What then is this passion, which, becoming doctrine, has produced such a school of tyrants? what this unofficial institution which has formed so haughty and exclusive a sect? It is first and foremost the burning need to create for oneself a personal originality, bounded only by the limits of the properties. It is a kind of cult of the self which can nevertheless survive the pursuit of a happiness to be found in someone else—in woman, for example; which can even survive all that goes by in the name of illusions. It is the joy of astonishing others, and the proud satisfaction of never oneself being astonished. A dandy may be blasé, he may even suffer; but in this case, he will smile like the Spartan boy under the fox’s tooth.

Dandyism is the last spark of heroism amid decadence; and the type of dandy discovered by our traveler in North America does nothing to invalidate this idea; for how can we be sure that those tribes which we call ‘savage’ may not in fact be the disjecta membra of great extinct civilizations? Dandyism is a sunset; like the declining daystar, it is glorious, without heat and full of melancholy. But alas, the rising tide of democracy, which invades and levels everything, is daily overwhelming these last representatives of human pride and pouring floods of oblivion upon the footprints of these stupendous warriors.

Wilde and Baudelaire!  Connoisseurs of the decadent! Pronounce the sweet success of the manque!  Hold in your hands the flower of bad poetry!

The Modern flips the Classical: all that is holy, energetic and good for the latter is sterile and stiff and empty for the former.

The flip is all that matters.  The elements themselves do not matter. The new mood is all.

I once loved all that you were. Time passed. I became bored. Now I hate all that you were. Ah, the history of art!

The Modern bracket had to come to this. Wilde. Baudelaire. My twin!  My double! — Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

You are me.  And I hate you.  For the dandy must resent not only “the rising tide of democracy” but the rival dandy, as well.  Easy to identify, as Baudelaire does, a tribesman across the sea as a dandy: no chance they will rival you.

Wilde and Baudelaire both define the dandy beautifully—and of course the dandy is timeless, not merely modern—but we finally trust Wilde a little more.  Baudelaire slips, we believe, with his dying-ember praise of “warriors.”  Wilde wins by simply refusing to stir.

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

 

WILDE AND FREUD MIX IT UP IN MODERN BRACKET

Can Oscar Wilde move on to the Elite Eight?

Oscar Wilde’s “Critic As Artist” (1891) predates Sigmund Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” (1899, English translations soon followed) and comparing two key passages from these works suggests a similar world-spirit.

Wilde:

The difference between objective and subjective work is one of external form merely. It is accidental, not essential. All artistic creation is absolutely subjective. The very landscape that Corot looked at was, as he said himself, but a mood of his own mind; and those great figures of Greek or English drama that appear to us to possess an actual existence of their own, apart from the poets who shaped and fashioned them, are, in their ultimate analysis, simply the poets themselves, not as they thought they were, but as they thought they were not; and by such thinking came in strange manner, though but for a moment, really so to be. For out of ourselves we can never pass, nor can there be in creation what in the creator was not. In fact, I would say that the more objective a creation appears to be, the more subjective it really is. Shakespeare might have met Rosencrantz and Guilderstern in the white streets of London, or seen the serving men of rival houses bite their thumbs at each other in the open square; but Hamlet came out of his soul, and Romeo out of his passion. They were elements of his nature to which he gave visible form, impulses that stirred so strongly within him that he had, as it were, perforce, to suffer them to realize their energy, not on the lower plane of actual life, where they would have been trammelled and constrained and so made imperfect, but on that imaginative plane of art where love can indeed find in death its rich fulfillment, where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras, and wrestle in a new made grave, and make a guilty king drink his own hurt, and see one’s father’s spirit, beneath the glimpses of the moon, stalking in complete steel from misty wall to wall. Action, being limited, would have left Shakespeare unsatisfied and unexpressed; and, just as it is because he did nothing that he has been able to achieve everything, so it is because he never speaks to us of himself in his plays that his plays reveal him to us absolutely, and show us his true nature and temperament far more completely than do those strange and exquisite sonnets, even, in which he bares to crystal eyes the secret closet of his heart. Yes, the objective form is the most subjective in matter. Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

Hello. Is this not a precise metaphor for psychoanalysis?  “Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”  Free association “covers” conscious, rational speech, allowing the speaker to speak from somewhere else in their soul. Wilde’s belief in subjectivity brings him right to the doorstep of Freudian psychology—before Freud. But more than that, Wilde reaches a passionate level of truth which turns his Criticism into poetry. The Creative Faculty of Shakespeare is not merely described by Wilde; he briefly inhabits it: “where one can stab the eavesdropper behind the arras…” We feel that Wilde is confessing what few dare: the poet who writes profoundly of murder does indeed entertain murderous thoughts as much, or more, than any actual murderer. The unconscious is real, but more so in the poet; poetry, or rather Criticism, invented psychology; it is no accident that Freud appears in the wake of the Romantics—who rediscovered Plato and Shakespeare—and in the Zeitgeist throes of Poe and Wilde.

Here’s the Freud passage:

Another of the great creations of tragic , Shakespeare’s Hamlet, has its roots in the same soil as Oedipus Rex. But the changed treatment of the same material reveals the whole difference in the mental life of these two widely separated epochs of civilization: the secular advance of repression in the emotional life of mankind. In the Oedipus the child’s wishful phantasy that underlies it is brought into the open and realized as it would be in a dream. In Hamlet it remains repressed; and—just as in the case of a neurosis—we only learn of its existence from its inhibiting consequences. Strangely enough, the overwhelming effect produced by the more modern tragedy has turned out to be compatible with the fact that people have remained completely in the dark as to the hero’s character. The play is built up on Hamlet’s hesitations over fulfilling the task of revenge that is assigned to him; but its text offers no reasons or motives for these hesitations and an immense variety of attempts at interpreting them have failed to produce a result. According to the view which was originated by Goethe and is still the prevailing one today, Hamlet represents the type of man whose power of direct action is paralyzed by an excessive development of his intellect. The plot of the drama shows us, however, that Hamlet is far from being represented as a person incapable of taking any action. We see him doing so on two occasions: first in a sudden outburst of temper, when he runs his sword through the eavesdropper behind the arras, and secondly in a premeditated and even crafty fashion, when, with all the callousness of a Renaissance prince, he sends the two courtiers to the death that had been planned for himself. What is it, then, that inhibits him in fulfilling the task set him by his father’s ghost? The answer , once again, is that it is the peculiar nature of the task. Hamlet is able to do anything—except take vengeance on the man who did away with his father and took that father’s place with his mother, the man who shows him the repressed wishes of his own childhood realized.

The real person—which is the highest and most important reality—is the chief topic for Wilde and Freud. By failing to act as a murderer, Shakespeare, nonetheless feeling within himself the reason and passion of murder, creates an “objective” document—the play, Hamlet, and the actions and speech of the character, Hamlet—which is, according to Wilde, a wholly subjective creation of the real person, Shakespeare. Reality, according to Wilde’s Romantic, artist-centered view, is a projection of a person’s soul, of Shakespeare’s soul: the passiveness of Hamlet is not the important thing, for Shakespeare has Hamlet wrestle in a new made grave and stab a royal official to death as he confronts his mother; and Freud agrees. Both Freud and Wilde reject the conventional wisdom that Hamlet doesn’t act—Hamlet very much does act, in a play that is an expression, not of history or convention or tradition or theme or playwright-method or language, but Shakespeare’s unique soul.

Freud, however, raises the stakes to a scientific level, whereas Wilde is content to let the unique art product be a sufficient reason for itself; the art creates criticism because criticism created the art in the first place; criticism for Wilde is not adversarial or analytic but creative; the objective is really subjective.

Freud, the doctor, is, as the critic, much different; Freud asserts that Hamlet refuses to kill his usurping uncle, the new king, because Shakespeare, like all men, has a repressed desire to murder his father and marry his mother.

Freud’s assertion is two-fold: the universal desire of patricide/mother-love with the repression of this desire: the repression creates a crucial objective/subjective split: but since the objective truth lurks within the repressed person, Freud’s “scientific” truth runs smack into Wilde’s literary one: the “objective truth” of Hamlet comes straight out of Shakespeare’s “subjective” soul. And this “subjective” soul, which meditates on murder so intensely that a famous play is the result, is by its very reason of meditating powerfully on murder, “repressed” in its nature and manner.

Wilde, then, can be said to prefigure Freud, for Wilde’s assertion, that objectivity is really subjectivity, intimates “repression” as that which necessitates Wilde’s assertion in the first place.

Freud posits “repression” or objectivity lurking in subjectivity as his thesis—it is the same as Wilde’s, generally. Freud, however, makes a wider assertion that objective reality itself is hiding another reality, beyond the subjective behavior of men, and therefore a certain kind of subjective behavior is determined by an objective truth in a universal (scientific) manner.

Two things must be said at this point, in favor of Wilde.  Freud’s Oedipal idea is subjectively Freud’s, firstly, and secondly, Freud’s Oedipal “truth,” which maintains that the objective is really subjective which is really objective is nothing but an endless binary sequence that demolishes, as it seeks to establish, the ‘subjective hiding the objective’ duality: Hamlet is Shakespeare’s subjective creation. This is a circular truism which spins due to the subjective/objective aspect of reality in the first place: the critic/doctor/psychoanalyst/scientist/lover/audience seeks “the truth” (objectivity) in a state of curious ignorance (subjectivity). Shakespeare plays his audience; Freud, in turn, plays Shakespeare, but Freud, like everyone else, is stuck in Shakespeare’s audience. The truth of the character Hamlet—why did he behave the way he did?—can never be known. The truth of Oedipus can likewise never be known, since the “repressed” loop of its subjectivity-becoming-objective is a “play” which blocks any attempt by an audience member to objectify it in a scientific manner.

According to Freud, Hamlet could not kill his uncle because he “knew” that he, Hamlet, was guilty in the same manner his uncle was, due to Hamlet’s own repressed desire to murder his father and sleep with his mother. And this, according to Freud’s startling critical analysis, is why Shakespeare, the author, portrayed Hamlet as he did. Freud ‘s “objective truth” necessarily travels through Shakespeare’s “subjective truth.” Hamlet cannot kill himself, or his subjectivity cannot kill his objectivity. So Freud repeats Wilde’s idea that the objective is really subjective, but Freud is attempting to “direct” the Subjective Shakespeare, which the very dynamic of ‘subjective versus objective’ as it has been examined here forbids him to do.

Where is the evidence that Shakespeare/Hamlet wants to kill his father and sleep with his mother? There is none. Hamlet expresses admiration for his father and disdain for his uncle before his mother; Hamlet champions his father, which is the very opposite of the Oedipal impulse. Freud’s analysis is subjective, then, and so for Wilde, becomes a kind of objective truth, if we follow his own reasoning. So we can almost say that Freud’s thesis is bunk, but it thrives in the atmosphere of Wilde’s half-agreement.

As an example, let us say the door to the men’s room in a restaurant somehow becomes shut, although the room is unoccupied, during restaurant hours. For a certain time, the assumption will be that the rest room is occupied. The objective truth is that the restroom is unoccupied. The (group) subjective perception is that the restroom is occupied. As long as men slip into the women’s restroom and a line does not form in front of the men’s room, the discovery of the locked men’s room door hides the truth; the closed door, whose message is “occupied” is hiding the truth: unoccupied. Hamlet does not attempt to enter the men’s room because he thinks it is occupied. The reason is very simple. It is because the door is shut. Hamlet does not attempt to kill his uncle. The door is shut on his attempt. The reason for Hamlet’s inaction and the fact of his inaction become one: the hidden or repressed fact of a closed door. Freud has found a trope as simple and profound as a closed door. But like the simple error which spread among the male patrons of the restaurant and became an “objective truth”, Freud’s theory caught on with its simple explanation, which turns out to be an error just as simple, and thus prone to be believed.

The restroom is not occupied. Hamlet’s hesitation in murdering his uncle is not due to Freud’s Oedipal theory.

The restroom is not occupied. Wilde opens the door and finds the objective truth. Now it is occupied. And you may not enter.

WINNER: WILDE

MODERN BRACKET HURTLES TOWARDS SWEET 16

Baudelaire versus Saussure

Baudelaire learned from Poe that melancholy is the most beautiful in art, but for everyone but the genius melancholy begins to hurt too much, and turns to pain, and the beautiful is lost and replaced with envy and despair. Poe was sober, chaste and truly loved the beautiful.  Not Baudelaire.  Baudelaire is the vermin song in the spot where Poe the angel was. In Baudelaire’s shadow we sink further from the master. In Baudelaire’s famous poem, “Au Lecteur,” Ennui, or Boredom, presides over the other devils. If Baudelaire had been honest, he would have written somewhere in Fleur du Mal of his own envy which gnawed at him (the real king of his demons) and ushered in Modernism—which envies the Classical.

Ferdinand Saussure was born in 1857, the year Fleur du Mal first appeared in Paris bookshops. Just as Romanticism was born in the 18th century—not the 19th, as traditionally taught, Modernism was born in the 19th century—but what we find interesting is that language-obsessed post-Modernism which owes so much to Saussure arrived later in the 20th century only because Saussure’s ideas were transmitted tardily.

Materially, the various eras follow each other in perfect order: cotton gin, camera, automobile, etc.

But in terms of art and ideas, eras exist in no order at all-–scholars simply assume that people ‘thought this way’ or ‘thought about these kinds of things’ during this or that era; the divisions are made based on convenience, or ideology; all is slippery and evasive—and because ideas are more important than things or technology, the truth, we can be sure, is lost.

Saussure made the incredible claim that all knowledge, all thought, all ideas, don’t exist until they are put into language.

He then posited that language is arbitrary and has no positive definition; it is a field of negatives: this is not this, etc.

Here is the dangerous Post-Modernism idea generated by Saussure: there is nothing real behind language.  Further, whatever we do, or speak, exists from a blind allegiance to social convention: we are hopelessly trapped in group-think from one end of our minds to the other. We may smile, we may shout, we can attempt to authenticate expression in any number of performances imbued with the highest feeling: no matter.  We are only robots exhibiting group behavior.

However: Can I not walk down the street and see someone walking towards me, observing how they grow increasingly larger as they approach?   I do not need language to note this principle.

Saussure is wrong. There is a world of thought which does not need a language to exist.  Saussure does not deny pre-linguistic thought; he only says it is a confused jumble.  But what is confused about perspective?

It is certainly more difficult to think without language; but is it thinking we are doing with language?—perhaps all the thought worthy of the name is precisely that which comes into existence before we try it out in mere words.

What does it mean for us if the Saussurean principle is rife with error?

WINNER: BAUDELAIRE

Benjamin versus Freud

Freud was an old man when the Nazis came to power, escaping to London at the end of a distinguished life; Benjamin was middle-aged and a failed professor when the Nazis took over, killed trying to escape. Freud read Shakespeare in English. Benjamin translated Baudelaire into German.  Freud, intellectually free, grounded by studies of insanity and the science of human pathology, influenced by great masters, such as Schiller, willing to seek all paths and byways, changed sex into religion. Freud’s involvement with hypnosis, free association, transference, will make him forever significant from a literary standpoint. It could almost be said that Freud took literature and turned it into science.  Not literature-as-scientific-study. Science formed by literature.  Freud changed the world. Benjamin was crushed by it.

WINNER: FREUD

Pater versus Wilde

Pater narrowed Letters in a vague manner. Wilde expanded Letters in gem-like, aphoristic glee.

WINNER: WILDE

Ransom versus Eliot

This is an interesting match, since Ransom represents the American, and  Eliot, the European strain of conservative High Modernism.  Both men were born in 1888, Ransom in the spring, Eliot in the fall.

T.S. Eliot, which Scarriet never tires of pointing out, since it is highly significant and no one else ever points it out, traces his literary heritage back to Emerson through his distinguished grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, and grand uncle, Christopher P. Cranch, Dial poet, both friendly with Emerson—who made important pilgrimages to England: setting the groundwork for Eliot’s Anglo-American snobbery and Eliot’s hatred of the patriotic Irish-American, and enemy of Emerson, Edgar Poe. (Ransom’s New Critics, though Southern, disliked Poe, too.)

Modernism was the sickly, over-intellectual, internationalist reaction to American idealism—embodied by a writer like a Poe, who worshiped all sorts of ideals: Beauty, Country, Woman, Romance, Love, Verse etc, simple ideals easily mocked, distorted, and mangled by the morbid, cutting, intellectualizing of characters such as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. 

Modernism wasn’t progress; it was rudeness elevated to art: a vast generalization, perhaps, but with a grain of truth, which we assert for that important grain. Rudeness is as old as the hills—there’s nothing ‘modern’ about it; but since Eliot and Pound are ‘of’ our time, we assume they are more ‘modern’ than Poe, or that Poe’s idealism must belong to the past.

John Crowe Ransom, Southern Agrarian and New Critic, was clever, wrong-headed, Modernist, and superficially conservative like Eliot, and worked with Paul Engle, Robert Lowell, and Robie Macauley (Iowa Writers Workshop, CIA, Playboy fiction editor) to get the Program Era rolling. Eliot went to Europe and moped over England’s loss of influence, etc. During the 30s, Eliot made his speech against the Jews, Ransom published the reactionary “I’ll Take My Stand.” But for the most part, these were highly intelligent men. Ransom enjoyed himself more, was more well-rounded, and actually got more done. Both Eliot and Ransom slammed the Romantics; Eliot, a kind of craven prude, attacked Shelley personally; Ransom dismissed Byron as old-fashioned. They were of their time and rode the time as Modernist scolds with a mandarin, reactionary fervor.  Loony Post-Modernism makes Eliot and Ransom seem sensible by comparison; however as brilliant as they were, they were not.

WINNER: RANSOM

WILDE VERSUS WOOLF

Virginia Woolf: a beauty with an audacious mind. A supreme opponent in Oscar.

WILDE:

 

I should have said that great artists worked unconsciously, that they were “wiser than they knew,” as, I think, Emerson remarks somewhere, but it is really not so.

All fine imaginative work is self-conscious and deliberate. No poet sings because he must sing. At least, no great poet does.  A great poet sings because he chooses to sing. It is so now, and it has always been so. We are sometimes apt to think that the voices that sounded at the dawn of poetry were simpler, fresher, and more natural than ours, and that the world which the early poets looked at, and through which they walked, had a kind of poetical quality of its own, and almost without changing could pass into song. The snow lies thick now upon Olympus, and its steep, scraped sides are bleak and barren, but once, we fancy, the white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning, and at evening came Apollo to sing to the shepherds in the vale. But in this we are merely lending to other ages what we desire, or think we desire, for our own. Our historical sense is at fault. Every century that produces poetry is, so far, an artificial century, and the work that seems to us to be the most natural and simple product of its time is always the result of the most self-conscious effort. There is no fine art without self-consciousness, and self-consciousness and the critical spirit are one.

The longer one studies life and literature, the more strongly one feels that behind everything that is wonderful stands the individual, and that it is not the moment that makes the man, but the man who creates the age. Indeed, I am inclined to think that each myth and legend that seems to us to spring out of the wonder, or terror, or fancy of tribe and nation, was in its origin the invention of one single mind.

 

WOOLF:

 

It is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.

It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly, as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

If one is a man, still the woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.

No age can ever have been as stridently sex-conscious as our own. The Suffrage campaign was no doubt to blame. It must have roused in men an extraordinary desire for self-assertion; it must have made them lay an emphasis upon their own sex and its characteristics which they would not have troubled to think about had they not been challenged.

The blame for all this rests no more upon one sex than upon the other. All seducers and reformers are responsible. All who have brought about a state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me, when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy age, when the writer used both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare, then, for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so was Keats and Coleridge. Shelley was perhaps sexless. Milton and Ben Johnson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and Tolstoy.

The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float calmly down the river. And I saw again the current which took the boat and the undergraduate and the dead leaves; and the taxi took the man and the woman who came together across the street, and the current swept them away, as I heard far off the roar of London’s traffic, into that tremendous stream.

 

Modern literature and the sexes; modern life and the sexes; life and the sexes; the sexes.  Rather inescapable, isn’t it?

The unhappy marriage is at the heart of all literature.

Literature is perhaps the invention of the unhappy marriage.

Wilde, in the Madness passage quoted, sounds like he would have admired Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition,” and it’s perfect, for at the top he rebukes Emerson, the anti-Poe.

Woolf strives towards some aesthetic reconciliation between man and woman: is it doomed to failure?  Is it a mere abstraction, this sexual intercourse of the spirit? We think we know what she means, this hankering after the “androgynous” mind of the genius; it’s an attempt to reconcile all unhappy marriages, and what’s so bad about that?

Woolf wants two sexes for the mind. Wilde wants one mind: the self-conscious, critical artist.  One versus two.

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

THE VERSE DRAMA: BEN MAZER

At the Grolier (L-R) Amanda Maciel Antunes; Michael Healy; Robert Chalfen; Julia Kleyman; Zachary Bos; Ben Mazer; Allison Vanouse; Jenna Dee; Philip Nikolayev

The verse drama ought to wear the crown, but as it happens so often in life with worthy things, is neglected; the verse drama’s combination of entertainment (drama) and fine art (poetry) should carry the day for all conceivable reasons except for the inconceivable reason that it does not.

To give an audience to a poet and poetry to audiences!  And for this noble purpose, to spring poetry from books so it might escape into, and live in, sound! To give entertainment the soul of art and art, the charm of entertainment! To put intricate music into story! To insert character and plot into intricate music!

These are worthy goals, and they must have excited Shakespeare, the playwright and poet, to give us the best literature in the world, etc.

The audience may boo, as it booed Henry James, so the poetry better entertain and the drama better fit the shades and hues of the words. Plays are not for the faint of heart.

T.S. Eliot, the modern who bemoaned verse drama’s fall as a popular art form,  says on the practical matters of verse drama:

Possibly the majority of attempts to confect a poetic drama have begun at the wrong end; they have aimed at the small public which wants “poetry.” (“Novices,” says Aristotle, “in the art attain to finish of diction and precision of portraiture before they can construct the plot.”) The Elizabethan drama was aimed at a public which wanted entertainment of a crude sort, but would stand a good deal of poetry; our problem should be to take a form of entertainment, and subject it to the process which would leave it a form of art. Perhaps the music-hall comedian is the best material. I am aware that this is a dangerous suggestion to make. For every person who is likely to consider it seriously there are a dozen toymakers who would leap to tickle æsthetic society into one more quiver and giggle of art debauch. Very few treat art seriously. There are those who treat it solemnly, and will continue to write poetic pastiches of Euripides and Shakespeare; and there are others who treat it as a joke.  —The Possibility of Poetic Drama, T.S. Eliot

We are happy to report that Ben Mazer, the poet, treats the task of creating verse drama, in his “A City of Angels,” neither too solemnly, nor as a joke; perhaps superficially, the scene at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop recently resembled a “small public” assembled for “poetry,” and perhaps due to the “temper of the age,” this is the only social milieu possible for verse drama, but Mazer, we feel, succeeds wildly with his 3 act play.

Mazer fulfills what Eliot, in “Rhetoric and Poetic Drama,” wanted:

A speech in a play should never appear to be intended to move us as it might conceivably move other characters in the play, for it is essential that we should preserve our position of spectators, and observe always from the outside though with complete understanding.

There is nothing worse than art that has a “palpable design” on us, and Mazer, by avoiding this common error, has a chance to give us true art.  And he does.

In more general terms, Oscar Wilde is a spokesman witty and elegant enough to convince us of the importance of poetry performed.

Wilde’s The Critic As Artist is illustrative of that great debate—is poetic language sign (writing) or sound (music)?

The 19th century was still imbued with the spirit of the Greeks and sound was the high-brow choice; but in the 20th century, Imagism, Constructionism, Deconstructionism, Fluxus, Visual Poetry and Language Poetry have made poetry on the page more important to scholars and academic poets.

There is no question where Wilde stands in his marvelous document, The Critic As Artist:

Since the introduction of printing, and the fatal development of the habit of reading amongst the middle and lower classes of this country, there has been a tendency in literature to appeal more and more to the eye, and less and less to the ear, which is really the sense which, from the standpoint of pure art, it should seek to please, and by whose canons of pleasure it should abide always. Even the work of Mr. Pater, who is, on the whole, the most perfect master of English prose now creating amongst us, is often far more like a piece of mosaic than a passage in music, and seems, here and there, to lack the true rhythmical life of words  and the fine freedom and richness of effect that such rhythmical life produces. We, in fact, have made writing a definite mode of composition, and have treated it as a form of elaborate design. The Greeks, upon the other hand, regarded writing simply as a method of chronicling. Their test was always the spoken word in its musical and metrical relations. The voice was the medium, and the ear the critic.  I have sometimes thought that the story of Homer’s blindness might be really an artistic myth, created in critical days, and serving to remind us, not merely that the great poet is always a seer, seeing less with the eyes of the body than he does with the eyes of the soul, but that he is a true singer also, building his song out of music, repeating each line over and over again to himself till he has caught the secret of its melody, chanting in darkness the words that are winged with light.  Certainly, whether this be so or not, it was to his blindness, as an occasion if not as a cause, that England’s great  poet owed much of the majestic movement and sonorous splendor of his later verse.  When Milton could no longer write, he began to sing.  …Yes: writing has done much harm to writers. We must return to the voice. That must be our test, and perhaps then we shall be able to appreciate some of the subtleties of Greek art criticism.

Wilde is writing in the late 19th century, before Modernism killed the Greek spirit which Wilde breathed as the very air.  Perhaps the death of Oscar Wilde (1900) should mark the beginning of Modernism/Post-Modernism—with its emphasis on poetry as writing, and even design, as opposed to poetry of speaking, singing, and winged thought.

The Verse Play, A City of Angels, by Ben Mazer, twice performed recently in Harvard Square, leaps over the heavy mosaic of writing into a heaven of sound.   Why ideality is better ushered into our minds by the ear is a mystery all unsolvable; the inspired poet himself is but a vessel and cannot explain it.

We might, at this point, make some self-evident observations.

The poetry of sound works in a medium more suited to poetry itself.

Enlightenment and pleasure, however misty, enter us by definite steps; this is how the material world experiences itself. Spoken language requires steps to imaginative reality, and those steps are at once accessible and elevating in the hands of the gifted poet; most poets strive for elevation but their steps are hidden, or their steps are accessible but they do not lead anywhere.

Ben Mazer’s poem is accessible and mystical at once.  We could use the word genius to describe how simply Mazer swims in the deep.

Music, or self-consciously musical language, allows us to travel to a place; both the traveling to the place and the place itself are provided by the music.

With all due respect to visual artists, we can see at once how musical poetry is superior to what the design or picture does, for the visual artist merely give us the place but not the traveling to the place—only the movement of temporal art can do that.

The poem that imitates painting and provides imagery is doing only a small part of what it can do, and even when providing imagery, the poet must ‘stretch it’ in the temporal rendering. Every tool has a self-imposed limit as well as a certain thing it can do.  Mazer understands this on many levels, and especially in this: his imagery always serves his music.

The painter will use distance for an effect, the poet, time, but the poet’s time is so much more immense and important.  So many things will mark the poet’s temporal journey: exactly what he is saying, exactly what he is painting, the rhythm of what is said, the suggestive vistas large or small, bright, dappled, or dark; the journey can be accumulative or sudden, the steps, a whole paragraph of thought, or a single arch rhyme. The skillful poet builds thought itself with mood on mood, and the Verse Drama is a form which lends itself to this and which seems to find Mazer in his element.

When it comes to temporality, Mazer does not languish in A City, but stresses movement for the sake of movement:

where much is predicated to unfold
when in the morning I unleash the thoughts
that brought me to return as if to break
the patterns of the time that came before
and sever all connections to the past
when time moves forward into a new day,
and motion stirs in the awaking town
to find that all is new, is a blank slate
where history shall properly begin
groping to find its new identity
innocently as it looks around
to find that all is moving forward now

We quote but a part of this tour-de-force, John Crick’s monologue which opens the play; is it over the top?  A lesser poet would trim the speech, fearing excess, but temporal excess is precisely how Mazer’s genius asserts itself in the medium he has chosen.

If Crick merely asserted in a briefer format, “here I am, waiting for a new day,” the whole thing would be a failure; Mazer instinctively makes onward movement the rhetorical form of Crick’s speech on mutability and novelty.

Crick’s passion for the new is soon put to the test by the friendly, small-town, skeptical Mary; she is the human lens of the play, modifying Crick’s light; she is “we the audience” who puzzle over Crick’s mystical, forward-looking, optimism.

Mary: “I might ask you again what are these plans you spoke of so mysteriously.”

Meanwhile, John questions her; John and Mary’s dialogue (Act I, Scene 2) skillfully enhances the content of Crick’s monologue in the play’s first scene.

Crick: But why were you not sleeping at this hour?

Mary: I might ask you again what are these plans you spoke of so mysteriously.

Crick: I promise that I’ll tell, but answer me.

Mary: Why am I up? I was asleep awhile
but then I had a dream I can’t recall
which stirred and shook me and I was awake.

Mary, unlike the town that is sleeping, is awake, and discovers Crick outside her window in the street (he has come to work for her father, the president of the college.)  Mary is made unique and has her dramatic presence heightened by this simple device, and the dream which she relates hints at Crick’s mysterious visit.  So as Mary questions Crick, he then questions her—and she reveals him more than he does himself.

But she continues to press him:

Mary: But more concretely, what have you in mind?
With what do you propose to fill each day?

Crick: With wonderment and with discovery.
Briefly that is the outline of my plan.
To find virginity in each new day,
a spirit of adventure not restrained.
An openness to what’s not been before.

Mary: Concretely speaking, John, what would that be?

The audience notices the self-aware nature of the play; the playwright knows Crick is not being “concrete” (even though he has put Crick in a dramatically real situation: visiting a snowy city at night for a job, etc).  But the critique of Crick’s vagueness is not a simple one; he parries Mary in such an idiot savant sort of way that one cannot help but emotionally identify with the profound visitor:

Crick: Nothing concrete at all, but something that
remains to be discovered.

Mary:  Well, we’ll see.

Crick’s logic is masterful.  The “something that remains to be discovered” is just that exciting secret which cannot be revealed, for then it would lose its allure.  This is nothing less than a dramatic evocation of the Socratic desire for not only truth—but desire itself.

And with Socrates, we return to the Greek spirit which Wilde, the wit, saw as so important (Eliot, too, lauds Plato in “The Possibility of Poetic Drama”).  And as Wilde made clear in The Critic As Artist, the Greek spirit is the critical spirit:

Without the critical faculty, there is no artistic creation…

Each new school…cries out against criticism, but it is to the critical faculty in man that it owes its origin. The mere creative instinct does not innovate, but reproduces.

There has never been a creative age that has not been critical also.  For it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms. The tendency of creation is to repeat itself. It is to the critical instinct that we owe each new school that springs up, each new mould that art finds ready to its hand.

Wilde was a wit, so why wouldn’t he take the side of criticism:  wit is closer to criticism than to creativity.  Some reject Plato, Socrates, the Critical impulse, in favor of a not-so-carefully-considered-creativity.

Mazer’s self-critical mastery of the medium of verse drama is nicely expressed in the Act 3, Scene 1 meeting between the thuggish Tom and Sam Cross—who belong to the the rival clan of the Cricks.  When they caustically speak of “this play,” it probably refers to a play in the play, but there’s just enough of an absurdist hint that the “play” referred to is, in fact, Mazer’s play.

They’ve got one newspaper, one magazine of any value, a literary magazine, and this is where this play will receive a favorable review, and it will be trusted and admired by intellectuals, and we’ve got one shit Crick up our ass.  (Tom Cross)

The rhetorical style of the Cross brothers scene stretches meaning even as it condenses it; the rather brief scene is entirely effective, with just the right black comic menace.  The scene is a perfect vehicle for character actors to have a delightful time, removed, and yet threatening, the romantic world of John Crick and Mary.  Mazer knows how to build, define and separate a play’s elements—we don’t need a lot of interaction to see what is essential move forward.

What “moves forward” in Mazer’s play is fairly simple—but lest we think this a fault, we should remember what T.S. Eliot says (very wisely) in his essay “The Possibility of Poetic Drama:”

The essential is to get upon the stage this precise statement of life which is at the same time a point of view, a world—a world which the author’s mind has subjected to a complete process of simplification.

And again, keeping with the whole critical tenor of creation, Mazer in “A City of Angels” is cognizant of Eliot’s profound statement (in the same essay) on the economy of great literature, which, according to Eliot, puts “into the statement enough to make reflection unnecessary.”

“To make reflection unnecessary” returns us to that accessibility we need in temporal art—as we pitch forward with that “precise statement of life” “essential to get upon the stage.”

Another issue dogging the verse drama is the “conversational” v. “oratorical” debate; doesn’t poetry automatically sound too artificial for the “direct speech” we expect from actors on the stage?  Mazer succeeds here, too.  His blank verse play, which occasionally rhymes, mostly sounds like speech.  Either the obstacle is not as great as supposed, or Mazer has found a secret key.

Verse drama has not been popular for a long time.  When is the last time someone quoted Eliot’s “The Cocktail Party?”

Ben Mazer’s A City of Angels, which we feel is better than Yeats or Eliot’s efforts in the genre, gives us hope for the form, and for poetry.

Mazer, with the help of some talented friends, has done at the Grolier what Oscar Wilde asked: returned fine literature to the voice.

HAPPINESS IS THE STANDARD

Poets know intelligent and reasonably educated people who never read literature and are content in family, career, and home; confronted with the fact of this happiness gives poets, gives those absorbed in Letters, pause: is literature necessary?  Is literature only for the unhappy?  Once happiness is reached, what else is there to say of those things which only aim at happiness, unless poetry, too, be nothing more than a pure record of happiness?  But how can poetry ever be a pure record of happiness unless it be some rapidly understood tom-foolery in rhyme, like a limerick, which insults the taste of every true person of Letters?

It is not a question of making an effort towards happiness, either: the beautiful family is happy in the whole arc of their actions, from the click of the camera to the putting up in the home the beautiful picture of their beautiful family; there is no lesson or trial to go through to acheive happiness; for the beautiful family in question, happiness is here, and all their days and nights are a delight.  Let us swallow our poet’s pride for a minute and ask: Why should they ‘figure out’ the ‘difficult’ poem?  Why should they be educated by poetry?  Why should they read x number of texts, in order that they can understand poetry?

Let us recall Oscar Wilde’s philosophy all we want: to write is more important than to do; the critical spirit,—handed down to us by the Greeks, kept alive by the Romans and later the Germans, the English, the Spanish, and the French–is the basis of all improvement and beauty in human life—let us recall this all we want, and if it’s true, it belongs to the past. And if the acheivements and insights of the past still live—and no doubt they do—it is the very nature of inherited happiness that it needn’t be re-visited and re-worked if it is truly an inherited happiness. Wilde himself would assert the logic: the gift of the Greeks would not be a gift, if the gift had to be created, again, and all those receiving the gift made unhappy by the labor of making the gift, again.  Knowing and doing pale before the god, happiness.

What does a person with a happy and beautiful life, a kind person with beautiful photos of a beautiful family on a beautiful home’s walls, what does such a person require of literature—which revolves around misfortune, and uses words to express the unreal?

Literature that expresses misfortune is obviously more advanced than the person who is merely happy, for we should assume the work of literature—whether its author happens to be happy, or not—expresses the truth that somewhere else others are unhappy—even due to injustice—which may even politically accuse those who are happy.  But as truthful and concerned with justice as certain literature may be, the question remains: why should the happy read it?  And if only the unhappy read it, what is to be gained from the misery expressed within that literature even to them—the unhappy?

The miserable may be comforted in knowing there are those even more miserable than they are.  Therefore the miserable will be drawn to misery in a medium that puts that misery on someone else—thus making them happy; so happiness can spring from misery.  But we are speaking of the happy, who have no need of this misery at all; they will never be attracted to literature that inevitably expresses misery.

This leads to a wider question about literature in general: what good is fictional misery, anyway?

Is the logic of literature this: the misery is acceptable so long as it is, in fact, fictional?  But if the misery is more acceptable if it is fictional, that is, unreal, it follows it would be better still if the misery were erased altogether, and the literature of misery dispensed with entirely.

And here we arrive at the spirit of Plato—whom Oscar Wilde admired most as a critic of art in Wilde’s overall admiration of the Greeks.  Plato was quick to dismiss the unreal as unreal and blithely asserted most famously that happiness and “the good” should always be our goal, never the miserable or the unreal.

Aristotle’s most famous rebuke of Plato is found in Aristotle’s far-reaching Catharsis Theory: misery in literature can purge misery from the mind of the audience; misery can chase out misery—but this sounds suspiciously close to finding happiness in another’s misery, which is not purgative at all. 

A second part to Aristotle’s rather dubious Catharsis Theory is that Tragedy, expressed nobly, can elevate the merely miserable.  But if one is really miserable, why elevate that misery?  Only happiness ought to be elevated.  The only way this Aristotle idea of tragic nobility can work is if it is merely a trick to lure the ‘misery loves company’ audience into refinement and thus, perhaps, towards happiness, and this seems to be what Shakespeare was doing, as he was so careful to mix poetry, comedy and tragedy, or, we might say, misery and happiness, together, so that happiness might have a little to do with that modern audience inevitably drawn, by that period in history, to literary entertainment.

The illogical poison introduced by Aristotle to Plato’s wisdom has done such damage that subsequent genius (Shakespeare, for instance) has been chiefly involved in mitigating the accepted Aristotelian flaw.

But the greatest argument for misery in literature is the one used by U.S. educators: teach war, racism, slavery, holocaust, etc. not only in history, but in literature, so it never happens again.  

The key word here is “happen.”  Since it happened, the subject should be taught–as history.  If our humanities classification is worth anything, literature is not history, and literature differs from history precisely in that it is not tied to what has happened.  History gains strength from its knowledge of what happened, and literature is precisely itself in not having that burden.  We are not sure why else it would be called fiction.

Fiction and poetry ought to be free.  Not free from their authors’ knowledge of history, necessarily—but free from history nonetheless; for literature should be interested in the springs of knowledge which started before nasty circumstance hardened into historical fact.  Happiness and poetry escape the nets of nature, fate, and history: This is how Aristotle came to the conclusion that poetry was more metaphysical, more philosophical, and more scientific than history.  The Catharthis Theory triumphed as psychology, which is why its influence is so universal.

The historian, however, has not ceded science to the poet quite yet—which is a good thing, because there is such a thing, despite Emerson’s plea, as poetry being asked to own too much real estate.  Here we could use a little of Edgar Poe’s narrowing, and since Poe himself concretely demonstrated how fiction could be both modern and sublime—unlike Emerson, who merely prattled in essays—even as Poe ‘dumbed down’ the poem into merely material considerations (beware that ‘merely,’ though) we might listen a little to Poe, who strenuously urged us to consider literature as something distinct from history, to consider poetry as something distinct from truth.

The truth of happiness is the greatest truth; no other truth should interfere.

Taking steps to make sure terrible events are not repeated belongs to science, and crude science at that—(for it is like scar tissue protecting a wound)—it belongs not to poetry or that advanced science which truly presents a cure for any of mankind’s sins to the mind which is always morally at odds with itself—unless it be happy, and thus to a certain extent, blissfully ignorant.

If there is happiness in poetry, it is because that poetry rises above the misery of history, and anyone who escapes the misery of history should enjoy themselves in being a poet—or not.  Anyone lucky enough to escape history might as well enjoy that good fortune, a good fortune that can do no harm, in itself.

There remains the question of the material nature of the happy poem.

A poem cannot possibly be happy, but a poem, to be happy, certainly can be beautiful.

Poe insisted Beauty was the province of the poem (not that other elements could not enter as points of contrast) and Poe was only copying Wilde’s beloved Greeks.  As G. E. Lessing says of Greek art:

Be it truth or fable that Love made the first attempt in the imitative arts, this much is certain: that she never tired of guiding the hand of the great masters of antiquity. For although painting, as the art which reproduces objects upon flat surfaces, is now practiced in the broadest sense of that definition, yet the wise Greek set much narrower bounds to it. He confined it strictly to the imitation of beauty. The Greek artist represented nothing that was not beautiful. Even the vulgarly beautiful, the beauty of inferior types, he copied only incidenally for practice or recreation. The perfection of the subject must charm in his work.

This “perfection,” which aims for the beautiful (from Lessing’s Laocoon), can be found in Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition” where, in a much neglected passage, Poe refers to “supremeness:” “Now, never losing sight of the object supremeness, or perfection, at all points, I asked myself—‘Of all melancholy topics, what according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?”

Now looms up before us universal beauty as found in art—it is made manifest through the very concept of supremeness itself, without envy or distraction, keeping always in view what really produces happiness, even more than beauty, which is merely the path, and that is: perfection. 

And of course the only perfection is: happiness.

What makes our beautiful family happy today is the same happiness found somewhere else, or yesterday, or tomorrow.

The rest is vanity, and simply because the vanity belongs to the poet is of no help.

WILLIAM LOGAN: “MICHAEL DICKMAN IS JUST SOME GUY WITH CREEPY FANTASIES”

The obnoxious brat, Michael Dickman, a “demon kid whose poems are scrawled in fingerpaints or fiddled on an Etch-A-Sketch.”

The critic William Logan exists to give spankings to poets like Michael Dickman—who contemplates Emily Dickinson, for instance, like so:  “Standing in her house today all I could think of was whether she took a shit every morning/or ever fucked anybody/or ever fucked/herself.”

Logan’s spanking is administered with a yawn:

This seems a touch more impolite than Swift’s Strephon, emerging from a lady’s dressing room (“Disgusted Strephon stole away/ Repeating in his amorous Fits,/ Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!”). Swift took romantic longing down a peg. Dickman is just some guy with creepy fantasies.

Nice. 

But there’s no “creepy fantasies” in Dickman’s “Emily Dickinson to the Rescue,” just your typical haunted scenario featuring Victorian/goth/white dress/child Emily flying above her bed, and then Dickman actually introduces a comforting image, “Her ankles and wrists held tightly between the fingers of some brightly lit parent home from a party” before ending the poem ambitiously, hopefully:

Heaven is everywhere
but there’s still
the world

The world is made out of cancer, house fires, and Brain Death, here in America

But I love the world

Emily Dickinson
to the rescue

I used to think we were made of bread
gentle work and
water

We’re not
but we’re still beautiful
killing each other as much as we can
beneath the pines

The pines that are somebody’s
masterpiece

It’s not a bad poem.  Dickman’s a sentimentalist.  He’s a secret Victorian, spitting out modernism on his way back to the fuzzy mid-19th century.  “The pines that are somebody’s masterpiece…” that’s God.

This is not Fred Seidel creepy at all.  It’s not even Sharon Olds creepy.  This is much closer to the  Barbie Doll school of poetry; it could have been written by Lucie Brock-Broido, Jorie Graham, or Marie Howe.  “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes” by Billy Collins might be considered far creepier.   Creepy poems about Emily Dickinson could probably fill a book by now, and Dickman’s would be one of the milder ones, even though its opening lines would probably get all the attention.

So can we blame Professor Logan for focusing on them, even though Mr. Dickman was probably just setting a frank tone for the more sentimental parts? That’s the ‘art’ now of poets like Dickman: balancing attitudes, moods, and tones which avoid insincerity because-what-they’ve-got-to-say-may-seem-overly-heavy-or-silly-but-they-finally-need-it-to-succeed-poetically.  “The pines that are somebody’s /masterpiece” is a brilliant ending stroke because it just comes out of nowhere, but it works.

Logan obviously has no patience for all this.

I confess I cannot see the “incipient violence” or “manic overflow of powerful feeling” (how far Wordsworth has fallen) previous readers have noticed in such poems. What has been called a calculated clumsiness seems just, well, clumsy. Dickman’s childishness provides, not access to the world of innocence by a man of experience, just a reason to prolong post-adolescence a few more years.

William Logan is a product of his age—he is a modernist, not a Victorian.  When William Logan knocks poets over, he does so on the run, and not with a great deal of patience.  Logan wears no God-like frown, no vest coat, no whiskers, and sports no cane, but administers justice in a T-shirt, and with a grin.  Logan’s always in a hurry, and this is partly modern poetry’s fault: so many awful poets to ridicule, so little time.

Logan is guilty of not ‘getting’ Michael Dickman because Logan fails to heed the words of Matthew Arnold to “see the object as in itself it really is” and forgets Oscar Wilde’s advice to take both virtue and vice with a grain of salt when judging art, and does not recall Pater’s suggestion to realize the data of art distinctly and subjectively.

Logan expresses disgust with the opening lines of “Emily Dickinson to the Rescue,” but he fails to look at the whole poem.

Criticism was boiling over in the late 19th century, and only one critic really took the late 19th century to heart—T.S. Eliot, who turned out to be the most successful 20th century critic.  Logan can quote others—the Swift quotation was brilliant—but will Logan himself ever be quoted?  Not, we feel, until he mends his manner a little.

And yet—and yet…Logan begins his review of Dickman with a little essay on American surrealism which rescues the slipshod reading of Dickman’s actual poetry—quoting entire poems isn’t in the critic’s bag of tricks these days, anyway.  We don’t read poems with critics, at least not since Edgar Poe wrote criticism; critics instead pick a topic very much at random—surrealism, let’s say—and whether the poet under review is really a “surrealist” is anybody’s guess.

Logan’s point that the early Surrealists were anti-Christian is probably true, and this may be an idea worth chewing on, but I’m not sure what it has to do with Michael Dickman.

We should think of it as a Christmas gift from Logan to Dickman—whose search for fame gets a boost, as Michael Dickman is now…a fourth-generation American Surrealist!

Whooo!  Congratulations, Michael Dickman!

God bless us, every one!

WHERE IS DRACULA’S CASTLE?

Yeats

William Butler Yeats: a distinguished member of the Ascendancy

Oscar Wilde, who did two years’ hard labor for sodomy—in a land where it was common—married a beautiful woman whom he loved, and had two beautiful children.  Before marrying Constance, Wilde courted Florence, (unsuccessfully) an even more beautiful woman—who had one child with her husband, Bram Stoker, an Irish theater manager for the prominent Shakespearean actor, Henry IrvingStoker was mild in his politics, a ‘home rule’ Irishman, a loyal servant to his ‘master,’ Irving, and, of course, most famously, the author of Dracula. Irving, the eccentric, melodramatic, charismatic actor, brought new respectability to the profession when he was knighted by the Queen of the Empire, Victoria, in 1895, the same day, as it happened, that Oscar Wilde with two successful plays running in London, was sentenced for the crime of buggery, to never see his children, forever persona non grata to the Empire, fleeing to France to become a beggar, following his prison term in sack-cloth breaking rocks, dying in 1900 at the age of 46.  Oscar Wilde’s mother was a poet and a proud, outspoken Irish Nationalist—Lady Jane Wilde was a leader of the Irish Literary Revival well before Yeats/Gregory created the British stereotypical myth of the Irish as an unchanging, eternal peasantry of savages and fairies, but Wildes‘ mother, Lady Jane was destroyed and thrown into poverty by scandal, like her son, and her work buried and forgotten.

The producer of Dracula as a play on Broadway was also the publisher of soon-to-be-Empire-citizen T.S. Eliot’s morbid The Waste Land in 1922, the year the German film Nosferatu was made, and subsequently sued successfully (and all copies ordered destroyed) by Florence, Bram Stoker’s widow.

A little over 100 years ago, when the anti-Semite writers T.S. Eliot and John Gould Fletcher were undergraduates at Harvard, (Fletcher’s future: Imagist in Pound’s circle, then Southern Agrarian in Ransom’s, Eliot’s: British citizenship, Modernist Godfather) the anti-semite Ezra Pound, a few years older than Eliot, and too naughty and ambitious for serious academic study, but somehow able to appear more well-read than anybody, went looking for Dracula’s castle.

Pound went to Europe to find eternal fame—the respectable route of moral literature (either Poe’s brand: scientific—a spoofer of magic, or Whitman’s: sentimental comradeship) didn’t interest Pound, who wanted real witchcraft, real magic. The fix Pound wanted was in Britian, the heart of the world’s greatest Empire, moral in deeply contradictory ways, murderer of Oscar Wilde, royally smug, ruler of Ireland and India, hater of cousin Hun, wary of America, proud, smart, prejudiced, and strong, this Island empire, and since they ruled ancient and exotic lands, why study these places? Pound went to the England that owned these places; those-in-the-know knew what England was: royal above, monstrous below.

Pound was bit by the occultist William Butler YeatsPound was Yeats’ secretary and married one of Yeats’ ex-lovers. Pound was introduced to John Quinn, the modern art collector and lawyer, who would become Pound and Eliot’s attorney, and help negotiate the special publishing deal for the The Waste Land. Quinn, an Irishman, was also, like Yeats, a double agent for the Empire, working against Irish independence; Yeats‘  target was Irish nationalist Maud Gonne. Quinn’s associate in British intelligence was Alesiter Crowley. Pound met all of Yeats’ associates in the Order of the Golden Dawn. Pound quickly became a chief vampire himself, bankrolled, as Eliot would be, by titled ladies, and so they all flocked to Pound: Joyce, (a Parnel-ite, like Yeats), the Futurists, the Cubists, the drug-addicted poets whom Pound (always the helpful Pound) helped with drugs, the underground avant-garde, the royal, the decadent, the idle, bored, landed rich, the sort that exported wheat during the Irish Famine.

Ford Madox Ford, seven years younger than Yeats and 12 years older than Pound, Imagist poet and War Propaganda Minister for the sacrificial slaughter of young men which would begin in 1914, met young Pound off the boat and showed him the way to Dracula’s castle.

Where, today, could a highly ambitious poet find Dracula’s castle? Where, today, can one sell one’s soul so convincingly? Where are figures like Yeats and Symons and Kipling, all born in 1865 and admired so much by T.SEliot, a proud member of the Kipling Society?  Pound was Yeats’ servant, and Eliot called Yeats “the greatest poet of the 20th century.” Yeats?  Who wrote lines such as:

We who are old, old and gay,
O so old!
Thousands of years, thousands of years,
If all were told:

After all the talk of “new” has died down, one should simply sit down and read the poetry of (in order of birth) Santayana, Yeats, Symons, Kipling, Dowson, Masters, Robinson, Binyon, Davies, Belloc, Douglas, Mew, Crane, Hodgson, Ford, De La Mare, Chesterton, Lowell, Frost, Masefield, Thomas, Sandburg, Monro, Stevens, Joyce, Wickham, Hulme, Lawrence, Pound, Sassoon, Doolittle, Jeffers, Wylie, E. Sitwell, Moore, Brooke, Seeger, Ransom, Eliot, Aiken, MacLeish, Millay, Owen, Huxley, Van Doren, Cummings, Graves, Blunden, Davison, Benet, Crane, Tate, S. Sitwell, Campbell, Lewis, Auden, MacNeice, Spender, Thomas, and Schwartz, and see how silly the whole Modernist claim to the “new” really is. Wallace Stevens sounds like the Sitwells. T.S. Eliot sounds like a petulant and subdued Byron. Pound sounds like an unmarried Victorian.

No, it wasn’t the “new” that Pound was looking for when he stopped off the boat in England.

He was looking for the very, very, very old. 

“Thousands of years, if all were told.”

1910: WHEN POETRY STOPPED BEING LITERATURE

wilde et al.

Oscar: Did not escape the 1890s.  A pity he missed the 20th century.

The riduculous fraud known as Modernism ended poetry as a literary art by severing the flower from its roots.

The Modernists pretended that the Victorian era was a flowery era of artificial and bombastic literature which needed to be dumped. Oh, and the Romantics? Dump them, too. They could actually write good poetry!  How old-fashioned! Pope? A ridiculous, out-dated ape! And wasn’t he deformed, or something? And he had the audacity to call other poets dunces! How can poets be dunces?  The poets are a superior race, and Ezra Pound will prove it!  The rest of  humanity—picture Victorian ladies attending the theater, picture Germans playing classical music, picture arms manufacturers and dukes and earls— are responsible for ‘the Waste Land’ of civilization, those dolts who want good poetry to read—we’ll show them!  It’s 1910 and everything is different now!  Leave things to the Modern artists and we’ll make the Waste Land a Paradise again!  Just watch us…with our wretched poems…we’ll fix things!

The suicidal V. Woolf claimed life “changed around 1910” but Ms. Woolf fit the bill of the stereotypical Victorian more than a Victorian—Woolf was leisurely and aristocratic, her spirit was crushed by males, she abused her servants, and when German bombs fell on England—England? The Huns were supposed to kill Slavs! That was the plan!—she did herself in.

The England which produced Modernism was a morally bankrupt, Empire-building, war-mongering nation and Modernism reflected this, it was not some noble, aesthetic response to it. Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, Scofield Thayer, T.S. Eliot, Yeats, and Gertrude Stein were right-wing decadents, bankrolled by European aristocracy and corporate American money.

The 20th century advances of industry and science, which allowed more people than ever to live decent lives—this positive, that allowed masses of people to live longer and healthier and more enlightened lives, free of prejudice and superstition—was the one thing the Modernists deplored.  The rule of law inspired by the American Revolution in the 18th century—inspired by the Renaissance, in turn inspired by Plato’s forward-thinking Republic, the world gradually freeing itself from Aristotle’s grip, science emerging with vigor from its long Aristotelian sleep, those practical improvements in industry and science and government, marched on as the Modernists whined about their “waste lands.”

The Modernists’ Waste Land was them.

The Modernists made poetry a fetish, a calling-card of fraudulent genius.

Before Modernism, literary figures excelled in numerous fields.  Oscar Wilde, poet and wit, had two hit plays running in London when he was dragged off to prison. Poe, belittled by scores of Modernists, was a giant in many genres,  including cosmogony.   It used to be natural that poets also produced great prose.  Goethe is another example of the 19th poet who was much more than a poet.

The Romantics were more modern than the Modernists—who were really morbid Victorians inspired by haiku.  One dinner party by a few Romantic poets produced the two most popular literary tropes of the last 100 years: Frankenstein’s monster and the Vampire.  Where are the modern poets’ iconic works?

Two modern writers, both Americans who returned to Europe, tried to branch out, but Henry James, the novelist, failed miserably at the theater, and T.S. Eliot, beside his few poems, succeeded only very modestly at the theater and his essays, as they are studied more closely turn out to be very dubious indeed.  But give Eliot credit—he tried to branch out—and, there’s “Cats.”

Americans make the excuse that by “being American” they can follow the worst example of the Modernist model: Scribble only little poems.

The Republic turned to Waste Land.

DECADENCE AND MONISM

Manet’s 1863 painting was highly controversial—and state-sponsored.

Seeing the many, there is always implicitly the monism of the vision; the most chaotic movie, for instance, of the most unifinished and disorderly nature, is still that movie, that one.

Thus the most avant-garde artist, wishing to escape monism and all the traditional trappings that goes with it, finds his most radical experiments neatly confined to a box with a pretty ribbon, and will forever be backed into a corner by absolute monism. 

To every gay and wayward lifestyle, rebelling against tradition at every turn, there must be an end, and in that end, a lesson intoned over the silence of the dandy’s grave by the unitarian priest, proudly puritan and pure.

The most radical thing the poet can do is deny poetry, produce a “poem” that is not a poem, yet call it a poem.  This “wrong”  attempts to escape monism with an avant-garde defiance of avant-garde difference.  But immediately the mind populates the avant-garde non-poem with primal poetic qualities that happen to be at hand; the “absence” is “filled,” and monism triumphs again.

The most radical avant-garde attempts fail: avant products are always absorbed by the enemy.  The avant-garde product always perishes in abstraction, for the abstract is a monistic concept.  The One is an idea that always wins in the end.

To assert yourself as outside the One is to become absorbed into it by that very assertion.

The avant-garde artist must try a different strategy, then, to be truly avant-garde.  How to triumph over monism?

The best way to triumph over monism is to invade it, to move roughly through it.  To mock it by imitation fails, for all imitation is finally flattery.

The monists themselves must be forced to define monism; the burden of proof must be thrown back upon the satisfied and content, and this done not by mere mockery, but by actual invasion.  Moral war is necessary if the avant-garde is to have any success.  The avant-garde cannot be nice.

The avant-garde did not begin until the state permitted it to exist. 

An ugly, fearsome tyrant lives in a handsome statue, a secret priesthood builds a temple, a poem mocks a king: these are examples of avant-garde beginnings, but they are not avant-garde, since in none of these examples is the state encouraging rebellion against itself.

Here is the great secret of the avant-garde: it is state-ordained.

Decadence is poverty and humiliation voluntarily promoted by the ruling class.  Decadence and the avant-garde emerge at the same time, for both are wanton by the emperor’s decree: naughtiness officialized.

Monism is finally befuddled and defeated by this: a paradox that is actual and worldly, not merely abstract.

Where in history does the avant-garde first emerge? 

In 19th century France.  Le Salon des Refuses was not a rogue gallery.  It was the act of an emperor, Napolean III.

Invasion: a naked lady on a picnic blanket with clothed men, all as merry as you please.

Invasion: A urinal in a museum.

Invasion: Soup cans in a museum.

You see the pattern? 

Not, X. 

X in a museum.

There is nothing theoretical about the avant-garde.  As soon as it becomes theoretical, it is no longer avant-garde. 

The victory of the avant-garde is a worldly, moral conquest from inside, a conquest that is state-approved.

The avant-garde art product never comes first.  The museum curator willing to receive it comes first.

The flag of Decadence supposedly flies over the wit of Oscar Wilde; but Wilde’s wit was sharpened by English Victorian reaction to the French avant-garde.  Wilde’s belief:—no morality is necessary because beauty is all—is conservative—and highly monistic.

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