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Index: Commentary on Art and Literature

A Drohobych diptych.

H.A. Willis: ‘That Stepan Andriyovych Bandera, the most potent embodiment of western Ukrainian self-determination, was the son of a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, only anointed his sense of destiny—but he was assassinated by the KGB in 1959. Bruno Schulz, the great writer, critic and artist, was the son of a Jewish merchant. He was killed, almost casually, by a Nazi in 1942.’

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Stepan Bandera: The alt.messiah.

 By H.A. WILLIS. Part two of the Drohobych Diptych. BORN ON NEW YEAR’S Day 1909, about eighty kilometres south-east of Drohobycz, Bandera grew up under Polish rule as a member of an aggrieved people who, in the wake of the First World War, fought for and came close to achieving self-determination. Even without the impetus […]

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Bruno Schulz’s misplaced Messiah.

By H. A. WILLIS. Part one of the Drohobych Diptych. A GENERATION AGO, it was a book with which nobody could be bothered. The sales reps thought it was not worth adding an unknown, foreign writer to their already heavy sample cases. It became an orphan, placed on a special shelf in our warehouse in […]

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Ernest Renan.

George Saintsbury: ‘[Renan’s]] gospel may certainly be said to be a vague gospel, and the enemy may contend that Morgane la Fée is architect and clerk of the works at the buildings which he so industriously edifies with graceful words and, at the same time, with a vast quantity of solid learning. But of his literary skill there can be no question, and scarcely less of the admirable character of his intentions.’

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Shelley, the ‘Divine Poet’.

Gilbert Thomas: ‘The poet of “The Skylark” was also a prophet; it is because it is of him in that aspect that we most naturally think at this time. In the sight of his own contemporaries he was mad, and even thirty-four years ago Matthew Arnold proclaimed that he was not quite sane. ‘

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Irony and ironists.

Alan Wall: ‘What the ironist says is a matter of logic: if this, then that. But since that is not inevitably that, then this is not inevitably this either.’

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The longer line.

Anthony Howell: ‘The influence of the poème en prose can be felt, as if the block of its sentences were being chopped up simply for the intake of air, which is fair enough. And there is also an urge to bring poetry nearer to prose, especially the prose of exotic travel and lurid fiction. Jules Verne was very popular among the surrealists and a desire to emulate some of his effects was prevalent at the time of modernism’s debut.’

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Brunetière: Critic first.

Yetta Blaze de Bury: ‘I have been particular in exposing those features in Brunetière’s work which underline his own individuality: his worship of human dignity, his contempt of money, his disdain of flattery—all idiosyncrasies which strongly influence the critic’s severity toward the demoralising literature of the “naturalists”; a literature that is generally little else but excitement of the least noble instincts of humanity. In a word, he is chiefly concerned in literature with its ethical purport.’

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Brunetière and the ‘monster banquet’.

Elton Hocking: ‘Most of all, this banquet was held as a demonstration of protest against Brunetière. Three months before, he had dared to publish in his “Revue des deux mondes” an article which denounced the positivistic and materialistic spirit of modern science, and proclaimed that morality and happiness were to be found not in science, but in the spirit of the Church.’

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Of wisdom and folly in art.

John Ruskin: ‘Over [the] three kingdoms of ima­gination, art, and science, there reigns a virtue or faculty, which from all time, and by all great people, has been recognised as the appointed ruler and guide of every method of labour, or pas­sion of soul; and the most glorious recompense of the toil, and crown of the ambition of man. “She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Lay fast hold upon her; let her not go; keep her, for she is thy life.”‘

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Hell.

Alan Wall: ‘What terrifies about Satan and the demons is intelligent cunning and damnable determination, not the multi-coloured yawns of the possessed. It is that which makes them uncanny and terrifying, and it is that quality of hellishness which connects them with the goings-on in From Hell. This quality of transcendent and merciless intelligence is what intrigues us about infernal agents. ‘

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Richard Barnfield.

Ed Simon: ‘The emancipatory potential of Barnfield’s verse is that the possibility of consummated same-sex love is implied, the poignancy is that it requires the almost supernatural to be made possible. Without further historical evidence it’s impossible to know if like Edward with his Gaveston, Barnfield himself had romantic companionship, or if these thoughts were all theoretical. But if we’re to celebrate Shakespeare for turning the conventions of Petrarchism on its head when he celebrated the Dark Lady as opposed to the standard fair woman of lyrical convention, than Barnfield equally deserves to be celebrated for the still-more radical attempt to write love poetry to a man, as a man.

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The prose poem.

Anthony Howell: ‘I am taken by the notion that the prose poem “forsakes the tool of the line break, just as blank verse forsakes rhyme, or free verse forsakes a standardised metre. Art seems to evolve, to grow, when some time honoured tenet is “let go of” – though this tendency to grow by relinquishment often offends pundits and traditionalists – who may accuse blank verse of “not rhyming”, for instance; ignoring the absurdity of their judgement.’

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Balthasar Gracian.

E. Grant Duff: ‘Those who look into his book for themselves will find here and there a maxim which will remind them of the age in which he live as the subject of Philip II, Philip III, and Philip IV, but such exceptional cases are rare, and most people will rise from the perusal of the work understanding much better how Spain became great, than how she fell. It ought to be remembered, too, that, as I have already said, the maxims were not collected into one whole by Gracian himself, but by his friend, Lastanosa, to whom also is to be attributed the proud, though perhaps not too proud, title.’

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The interview as text and performance.

Richard Berengarten: ‘If conversation is like a river (line, thread), flowing sequentially in one unstoppable direction, a text (or a recording, in the sense in which I’ve been using the word) is more like a lake, a reservoir. That is to say, it can be imaged, pictured, approached and re-approached, as a space in, though, around and over which—even while you’re actively doing things in it and to it, and shaping and bounding it—you have the freedom both of overview of the whole and of insights into its parts. ‘

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