Skip to content

Index: Commentary on Art and Literature

Kallic distance.

Michial Farmer: ‘The descriptions in “Prufrock” are to a large extent imaginary, perhaps inspired by other cities of his acquaintance. The supposed nastiness of the physical descriptions are likely the product of Eliot’s depression, or at least Prufrock’s.’

The reascent of the Decline.

James Gallant: ‘A number of the signs of societal collapse Spengler described are common experience for us: evisceration of rural areas and concentrations of atomized populations in great cities, gross economic disparities among classes, Caesar-like politicians with mass followings, propaganda disguised as political discourse, political parties serving as stooges for money interests, international military and political blundering, declining birth rates (associated by Spengler with feminism), effete intellectualism, bogus revivals of primitive religiosity, and decadent entertainment.’

On ‘Freeing Up’.

Anthony Howell: ‘It is often the case that there is something improvisatory about freeing up, and that is just what jazz seemed to offer poets such as Logue and Shiraishi, just as rap is potent for wordsmiths today. But what I do take issue with is this tendency to separate, or seek to separate, the milieu of poetry into some eternal opposition, pitching tightness of form against freedom of expression.’

A blurring of genres.

Simon Collings: ‘statements by various critics and authors are marshalled in support of the idea that prose poems are characterised by indeterminacy and an avoidance of closure. But the same can be said of much contemporary lyric poetry. In what way is a Rae Armantrout poem more ‘closed’ than a typical prose poem? How are Charles Simic’s prose poems more ‘open’ than his lineated poems?’

Blossoming under a black sun.

Alan Wall: ‘This paralysis of spirit leads to remarkable feats of intellectual observation. It can also lead to hideous stasis. Benjamin reckoned one great solace the melancholic had was allegory. Allegory transposes the vital organic figures into a tableau, in which meaning dictates characteristics and movement. Once more we are seeing dialectics at a standstill.’

Relating the finite to the infinite.

Bruce Kinzer: ‘By 1894, when Leslie Stephen came to write his brother’s biography, the swelling tide of specialization had eroded the integrated public culture of mid-Victorian England. A cluster of forces propelled this tide. The growing prestige of natural science enabled its practitioners to enhance their professional status and enshrine the scientific method as basic to the pursuit of knowledge.’

Pierre Chappuis. 6 January 1930 – 22 December 2020.

John Taylor: ‘Beginning two years after my first meeting with Pierre in Vevey, and after I had spent a few hours with him twice in Paris, my wife Françoise and I would sometimes detour up to Neuchâtel on our long drive back to Angers, after visiting her mother in Aix-les-Bains. We would stay for a night at the Hôtel des Arts, around the corner from Pierre and Geneviève’s ground-floor apartment on the rue des Beaux-Arts.’

Freedom and justice at the Warburg.

Peter McCarey; ‘Souls do go astray in the process; the protagonist of The Sheltering Sky will never find home. But that is because nothing in this world or what she knows of the next merits the name. The whole story illustrates what Simone Weil, around the same time, was trying to combat in writing L’Enracinement.’

The poem’s not in the word.

C.F. Keary: ‘…such rules as have been here touched on are useful to the critic of verse, but they can be of no use to the writer of verse. If his imagination working in this medium is not strong enough to fill his mind with more than he can possibly find room to say, to make all his ideas and emotions, adumbrate themselves in sounding phrases, to fashion the bones of his verse in such wise that there is no repetition in them and no monotony, then he will never accomplish those things by taking thought.’

The Curious Materialist.

Caroline Warman: ‘In sum, the “Éléments de physiologie” is overtly atheist and materialist. Materialism refers to the view that the universe and everything in it is made entirely from matter in different shapes and forms; in this eighteenth-century context, it is also automatically understood to be an atheist position, and therefore dangerous, both for the person who holds it and might be imprisoned because of it…’

‘No Worst There Is None’: Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Alan Wall: ‘Hopkins is exercising extreme intelligence inside this text; he is helping the words to locate themselves with maximum vigour and force. This is the ultimate vindication of the task of the philologist-poet. To find eloquence not in smoothness, but in the jagged soundings of potent speech.’

The Good Writer Hašek.

Stephen Wade: ‘Hašek shows a world of rigid maintenance of all the power structures which make and sustain the social world of the Empire, but he shows it from the bottom. If we look at such a rigid world of apparent moral enforcement and social hierarchy from a standpoint of a non-person, then the absurdity will show.’

Immanuel Kant and the origin of the dialectic.

Tronn Overend: ‘The phenomena of the natural world are objects of experience. Things for us, can be known by us because they conform to our concepts. This is a point made much later by philosophers of science, such as Karl Popper. In his language, theoretical interpretations are logically prior to observations. Kant’s way of expressing this point can be seen as a paraphrase of Popper. ‘In natural science…there is endless conjecture, and certainty is not to be counted upon.’’

On Elegance.

Michail Farmer: ‘Because literary elegance is so connected with the experience of the reader, it is also finely tuned to the demands of the moment, and in this sense it is closely associated with manners, which, as Emily Post puts it, “are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” Elegance assumes the intelligence and good will of the reader and strives to meet them with the same qualities.’

Brodsky’s Travels: Leningrad to Venice.

Jeffrey Meyers:’Two early Russian poems, included in the 1973 Penguin edition of Selected Poems introduced by W.H. Auden, provide a poignant contrast to his later Venetian poems. In 1962, Brodsky visited the former Königsberg in East Prussia, which had become the Russian Kaliningrad after the war, and was shocked to see Kant’s city still devastated and ruined.’