Sunday, April 19, 2009

Miscast—again

I should be nonplussed, I suppose, to have been cast as Garth Knight in Elberry’s remake of Robin of Sherwood. But it is refreshing to learn that Garth Knight is also a bondage artist and the father of Bristol Palin’s baby. These are cultural roles that suit my unique abilities to a farthing!

Rather than the picture that Elberry posted, I prefer this self-portrait from my pre-Raphaelite or hippie days. (I can’t decide which.) Coated with cobwebs and dust, indeed!

By the way, I shall be online only sporadically over the next three or four days, since I am on deadline with an article for a magazine. Periphrastic insults, not banal, should be forwarded to Nigel Beale, Frank Wilson, Patrick Kurp, or any other Old Boy with a blog. Although, let’s face it, none of them can touch me when it comes to being “knowing to the point of arrogance.”

Update: In the comments section, Lee Lowe accuses me of a “certain dogmatism.” I reply to the accusation there.

But her accusation got me to thinking. What are the dogmas that I have enunciated so far on this Commonplace Blog? Here are ten.

( 1) Literature is good writing, where “good” by definition yields no fixed definition.

( 2) Literature is a title of prestige bestowed by critics (who mean to distinguish good writing from, say, John Banfield’s Banville’s).

( 3) Literary persuasion is of a different order from political persuasion, because it is mediated by style—that is, the concern to write well.

( 4) English literature is a discipline of knowledge rather than a fine sensibility.

( 5) There are some works of literature that every civilized American should be familiar with, although there will be much disagreement over what they are.

( 6) The sciences are not the court of last rational resort, because the claim that they are is not itself a scientific claim, leaving other courts to conduct at least some rational business.

( 7) Fiction’s truth may only be secured extrinsically—that is, it must also be contained in the community where the fiction was originally written. More than the fictional world alone must exist for fiction to enter the service of truth.

( 8) Academic boycotts of Israel are terrorism by other means.

( 9) Meaning is produced not by the material aspects of writing, but by its intellectual conditions.

(10) Literature does not come from groups, marginalized or otherwise, but from individual men and women; and it is a product, not of the immutable racial and sexual identities they receive at birth, but of innumerable choices. Literature is a realm of freedom, including the freedom to dissociate yourself from antipathetic ideas, even those espoused by a group with which you otherwise identify.

14 comments:

Lee said...

I named no names most deliberately so as not to be churlish, but I do wish you'd have responded to my comments about Francine Prose's Goldengrove, particularly when I expressed doubts over your view that the novel isn't about grieving. Perhaps you weren't interested; perhaps you were occupied with other matters; but perhaps you simply disdained my criticism.

But yes, now that you address me, I will admit openly that, though I enjoy reading your blog regularly and will continue to do so - you are well read (far more so than I), incisive, and fruitfully provocative - I have difficulties with your tone and with what I perceive as a certain dogmatism. Of course it's your blog and you can write it as you see fit, but disdain encourages neither mutual respect nor learning.

I'm not interested in exchanging insults, only in exploring ways to read and write better.

D. G. Myers said...

Lee,

I don’t recall your comments on Goldengrove. Most likely I had simply moved on by then—was obsessed with something else entirely. Forgive me for seeming to disdain you. Believe me, when I disdain someone or something, you will know it.

As for a certain dogmatism. Yvor Winters was once asked if he were an absolutist. “Relatively speaking,” he replied. Am I a dogmatist? Non-observantly so.

Seriously, if you mean by “dogmatism” that I affect a tone of certainty, I can only plead guilty. It is a stylistic affectation in the interests of plainness and definitiveness, which I prefer to hand-wringing indecisiveness. The certainty is put on for the sake of discourse. It represents my prose, but not necessarily my thought, whose processes I conceal from view.

D. G. Myers said...

P.S. I am working on a longer life-and-works piece on Francine Prose for a national magazine, Lee, and shall do my best to incorporate your doubts into it.

Kauders said...

I'm an admirer of your blog, but your comment about academic boycott of Israel being a form of terror flummoxed me. How so? A boycott, whatever its rights or wrongs, is exactly not terrorist. The US is no doubt wrong to boycott Cuba, and it may even have been wrong to boycott the apartheid regime in South Africa, but these are/were certainly not acts of terror. And even if today it may be right not to boycott Israel (and that's the side I take) it is still important to think carefully about whether it is ever right academically to boycott any country whatsoever and if the answer to that is yes, why exactly Israel should be exonerated since it is, as neutral observors repeatedly confirm, committing serious crimes against humanity after all and basically is doing so as funded by us. I dont happen to think a boycott is in the end in the interest of justice either to Palestinians or to Israelis who oppose the Zionist zealots but I understand exactly why those who take other other side on this are doing so.

D. G. Myers said...

[Y]our comment about academic boycott of Israel being a form of terror flummoxed me. How so?

See my earlier post entitled Terrorism by Other Means under “Topics” in the sidebar menu.

Jim H. said...

"( 2) Literature is a title of prestige bestowed by critics (who mean to distinguish good writing from, say, John Banfield’s)."

I think you probably meant John Banville here, no? I mean, if you're just going to randomly insult somebody you might as well get his name right so your readers will know who you're talking about. Makes it sting more, don'tcha know.

Now, here's a question/paradox for you: As Banville is (or has been) the chief literary critic for the Irish Times, can he not and does he not qua critic (being, as you would have it, "a shameless self-promoter") ipso facto bestow the prestigious title of 'Literature' upon his own writings? What if he's using a nom de plume?

Same goes for James Wood's foray into fiction.

Have you ever tried your magisterial hand at fiction? (What about your dogmatic one?) How authoritative would or could your word on such an effort be?

Best,
Jim H.

D. G. Myers said...

I think you probably meant John Banville here, no? I mean, if you're just going to randomly insult somebody you might as well get his name right so your readers will know who you're talking about.

Good point. Shows how much I think of him.

Not a random insult, though. I suffered through two whole weeks of teaching The Sea. Small wonder I wanted to escape the village into the field.

To answer your questions. Nope, nope, and not very.

Magisterial dogmatists are well-advised to avoid fiction.

Rebecca V. O'Neal said...

What good is a critic if he OR SHE doesn't have a solid (dogmatic?) axis?

On certain issues one must be unflappable - on those surrounding, there's plenty of room to pivot.

Lee said...

Thanks for the clarification, D.G. One of the reasons I allowed myself to discuss your tone - your 'stylistic affectation', as you call it - is that I'm aware of similar leanings in myself. However, I'm not saying anything original or extraordinary when I point out the interdependence of style and content, am I?

As to Goldengrove, my main feeling is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the novel's obvious concerns. Of course the novel is not only about grieving, and your take on the created nature of childhood in retrospect is particularly interesting. May I quote Eudora Welty?

'Of course the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory - the individual human memory. My own is the treasure most dearly regarded by me, in my life and in my work as a writer. Here time, also, is subject to confluence. The memory is a living thing - it too is in transit. But during its moment, all that is remembered joins, and lives - the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.'

Memory has always been central to fiction, and a good part of what Francine Prose does in Goldengroveis to examine the relationship between grieving and memory.

elberry said...

i think there's nothing wrong with making firm assertions when you have the knowledge & skill to back them up. It doesn't mean you're right, but if you've spent 30+ years reading and thinking you've earned the right to cut all the 'maybes' and 'supposes' and 'we might perhaps conjecture's out and just say 'this is so'. i think it's only an annoying trait when used by ignorant people trying to claim authority without the knowledge to back it up.

D. G. Myers said...

[I]f you've spent 30+ years. . . .

Make that 40, plus or minus.

R. T. said...

As a late-comer to the party (i.e., academia) because of a prior career in government (i.e., military) service, I have now been in university classrooms for ten years. Originally exposed to New Criticism as an undergraduate in the 1960s, and then belatedly immersed in all sorts of contemporary theory and criticism, a remain a bit of a heretic within my department because of my conservative position with respect to literature. In that regard, I applaud your list of ten precepts. Virtually all of them would run afoul of my colleagues' notions, and virtually all of them earn my most hearty endorsement. Now, if I were unprincipalled, though I am not, I would steal them, claim them as my own, and share them with others. Since I cannot do that, I will nevertheless make a copy of them and perhaps use them as a basis for more writing about where I think the study of literature has gone awry in the last quarter century.

D. G. Myers said...

Many thanks, R.T.—although the most important to them, for any academic, is #8.

Seth said...

Can you discuss item 3 in more detail?

( 3) Literary persuasion is of a different order from political persuasion, because it is mediated by style—that is, the concern to write well.

I see this item as saying that the two persuasions do not overlap. I would be curious to know why the two persuasions are being contrasted at all.