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Index: Commentary on Art and Literature

Discovery and rediscovery.

Ian Seed: ‘It feels like cheating. I have not had to struggle with my narrative prose poems in the way that I do with other kinds of writing, and yet I believe that the best of them are the only writings of mine that are somehow genuinely themselves. They have needed just a little nurturing from me in order to make their own way in the world.’

The eyes of Coleridge.

Anthony Costello: ‘Coleridge’s eye poems sets him apart from other Romantic poets. Eyes are central to dozens of important poems and present in the form of significant phrases and lines in hundreds more. They are present as basic descriptors: ‘dark disliking eye’, ‘dim eyes’, ‘bright blue eyes’, but then the adjectives become more revealing and turn into adverbs and verbs…’

The function of criticism.

T.S. Eliot: ‘I do not deny that art may be affirmed to serve ends beyond itself; but art is not required to be aware of these ends, and indeed performs its function, whatever that may be, according to various theories of value, much better by indifference to them. Criticism, on the other hand, must always profess an end in view, which, roughly speaking, appears to be the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste.’

Roeg elements: innovation and risk.

Anthony Howell: ‘The millennium seems to be wishing upon us the restoration of mawkish and short-sighted values – perhaps not the values of patriotism, fidelity, grace and tradition that preoccupied swathes of nineteenth century verse, but in many ways the appeal is the same. It’s an appeal to the emotions.’

Shame and shamelessness.

Anthony Howell: ‘We should remind ourselves that, while artists may represent horrors – think of Hieronymus Bosch – they should not be accused of endorsing the horrors they reveal. Everything is imaginable. In the words of André Gide, one must dare to be oneself. Why should an angry sense of shame provoke us into trashing artists for revealing nightmares?’

Pierre Loti.

Henry James: ‘The closer, the more intimate is a personal relation the more we look in it for the human drama, the variations and complications, the note of responsibility, which the loves of the quadrupeds do not give us. Failing to satisfy us in this way such a relation is not interesting, as Mr. Matthew Arnold says of American civilization. M. Pierre Loti is guilty of the perpetual naïveté (and there is a real flatness of repetition in it) of assuming that when exhibited on his own part it is interesting.’

Permanently Uncanonical.

A Fortnightly Review of Heretics of Language by Barry Schwabsky Black Square Editions 2017 | 248pp | $20.00 £15.04   By NIGEL WHEALE. BARRY SCHWABSKY IS art critic for The Nation, a prestigious American weekly with a list of contributors that includes Toni Morrison, E.L. Doctorow, Noam Chomsky (and Henry James, back in the day). […]

Artaud in Ireland.

Peter O’Brien: ‘Is it possible, entre-deux-guerres, to be more insightful than to imagine and begin planning for the coming apocalypse from the western precipice of the continent? And is there a safer place in Europe during the years of World War II than a lunatic asylum? Artaud spent the entire span of that second war in various asylums. When France was occupied by the Nazis, various of Artaud’s friends ensured that he was transferred to the psychiatric hospital at Rodez, in south-central France, well inside Vichy territory.’

The new life of Whistler.

Walter Sickert: ‘If Whistler has himself left, in an interesting and passionately felt life-work, a contribution to our better understanding of the visible world, he has also done another thing. He has sent the more intelligent of the generation that succeeds him to the springs whence he drew his own art — to French soil. ‘

Why write about war?

Andy Owen: ‘Remembrance is a complex concept in the military that all veteran writers must be aware of. As a veteran you feel duty bound to carry on the memories of those you have served with. The idea engrained in modern military thinking is that no fallen soldier is ever forgotten [and] you cannot desert that duty. When writing about Iraq I did not feel this need as much as those who witnessed wars in which casualty rates were so much higher.’

Literature, operationalized.

Chloë Hawkey: ‘After I smiled and granted that I was enchanted, I was left with the what? What does this mean to my life or to Franco Moretti’s? This deepens my understanding, in a very technical sense, of the text, but does it enrich the experience I have reading in it? And does it enrich the life I lead once I’ve capped my pen and returned the book to the shelf?’

Pages from ‘Lots of Fun with Finnegans Wake’.

Peter O’Brien: ‘I have been reading Finnegans Wake on and off (mostly off) for four decades. I recently decided to annotate / illustrate / disrupt the 628 pages of text. It’s a way for me to attempt a reading of what many consider an unreadable book.’

Zorile.

Peter Riley [from ‘Dawn Songs’]: ‘There are Zorile din casă (in the house), Zorile din afară (outside), de fereastra (at the window), al luminarilor (of the candles) and several emphasising particular figures of the poems – of the fairies, of the road, of the departure, of the rose-bush… There are also, paradoxically, Zorile subtitled la amiazi at noon, and de seara in the evening.’

Sonnets for all tastes.

Anthony Howell: ‘Satire employing the heroic couplet reads simply as a throwback to the eighteenth century – even a writer as talented as Clive James cannot bring it off. The column of satirical couplets is just too much of a cliché. However, intricate formal patterns continue to intrigue poets, whether of a modernist or of a traditionalist persuasion, and the sonnet is enjoying a revival, but has it ever failed to secure its adherents?’

Roger Fry, Walter Sickert and Post-Impressionism at the Grafton Galleries.

Marnin Young: ‘Formalism’s insistence on “arrangements of form and colour” stirring the imagination simply do not require any acknowledgement or understanding of the corresponding expressive states of the artist. They work whether or not the artist intended them to. Or rather, they don’t. Not really. But if we think they do, any effects they have are rendering meaningless by their severing from an artist’s intentions. Fry’s formalism comes to life only upon the death of the artist.’