Saturday, May 02, 2009

Clearance items

Passion leaves you no will to act, because it leaves you no strength to resist.

Elaboration murders wit (it explains the joke).

Television schools your hearing: you hear crashes as stage effects, laughter as on a track.

Satire. Being hard on people in fiction.

Form is how a writer gives permanence to his work. “To His Coy Mistress,” for example, is a seduction argument because the form of classical syllogism keeps it from changing into something else—a serenade, a testimonial of the poet’s love, a praisesong to his mistress’s beauty.

If critics find a new system to stamp on a poem—something they can call a “method,” like Marxism, but divorced from belief and conviction—they feel they have something new to say.

Nemerov defines good writing as getting something right in language, adding that the appropriate response to rightness is silence. Capote says something similar in his Paris Review interview. “The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story,” he said, “is just this: After reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final?” Which suggests that the first test of a great work is whether it leaves you with anything to say. The immediate experience of a great work of literature is akin to clarity of vision or understanding; there is nothing more to add. The comic role of the English professor is to find something to add anyhow.

Ideology, according to Orwell. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Oceania is the perfection of the ideological state, because it has managed to destroy any basis, to remove any corroboration, for a challenge to its set of beliefs. In Oceania there is no means for establishing any “truth” which is independent of the state’s continual account of itself. There the truth is ideological.

The critic forfeits his office if and when he becomes an accommodationist.

Criticism is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten.

“Theoretical criticism” is a contradiction in terms; “practical criticism,” a redundancy.

Hawthorne’s remark in his journal regarding Concord is an apt description of the American university as it appears now: “Never was a poor little country village infested with such a variety of queer, strangely dressed, oddly behaved mortals, most of whom took upon themselves to be important agents of the world’s destiny, yet were simply bores of the first water.”

2 comments:

R. T. said...

Thank you for posting your "Clearance Items." I particularly like your comment on Marvell's poem: "Form is how a writer gives permanence to his work. “To His Coy Mistress,” for example, is a seduction argument because the form of classical syllogism keeps it from changing into something else—a serenade, a testimonial of the poet’s love, a praisesong to his mistress’s beauty." When I teach this poem in my Intro to Lit classes, I spend extra time going over the ways in which form rather than other elements of poetry makes this such a successful rather than ordinary poem. The three stages of the argument, when students understand and embrace those formal elements, help students understand that poetry is much more than diction, rhythm, imagery, figurative language, etc. For some reason, when Marvell's poem appears in the syllabus, it is one of those moments when I can kick back and realize something important about teaching, "Yeah, they get it! They now begin to see the way poetry works." But, of course, I am a bit of a die-hard formalist, so Marvell fits nicely into my approach to poetry. Again, thanks for sharing.

R. T. said...

Let me comment on Capote's statement, which you included among your "Clearance Items." Capote said: "The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story,” he said, “is just this: After reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final?” Which suggests that the first test of a great work is whether it leaves you with anything to say. The immediate experience of a great work of literature is akin to clarity of vision or understanding; there is nothing more to add. The comic role of the English professor is to find something to add anyhow."

The notion that great literature is complete and, therefore, immune to addition is probably a fair statement. The notion that the English professor becomes a comic figure when he or she attempts to add to the literature is probably another fair statement, but it is incomplete; perhaps Capote should have also been more charitable toward English professors by allowing that they serve an important role as mentors who help students discern and appreciate greatness in literature. We do this through explication, analysis, criticism, etc. What the students gain is critical judgment, which is a cognitive skill that a student can apply to challenges in life that go beyond literature. Moreover, there is more to life than mundane challenges, and a bit of exposure to what Keats would call beauty and truth is a useful expenditure of a student's time; English professors are simply guides to students' appreciation of those Keatsian notions. So, Mr. Capote, we are, I think, more than simply comic actors seeking to add to great literature.