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Index: Commentary on Art and Literature

On Longinus and bread.

Igor Webb: ‘I was twenty-five, for example, when I pulled William Hazlitt’s Political Essays (1819) off the shelf in the English library, upstairs in the elegant main building, the Wilkins Building, at University College, London, where I had the good fortune to have been sent for the year by Stanford on a Leverhulme Fellowship (the year was 1966!). But when I opened the volume, I discovered—as I would discover about many books in that library—that the pages were uncut.’

Desnos and Warsh.

David Rosenberg: ‘Lewis finds the root note in Night of Loveless Nights at the tender bottom of its surrealist chords: “lover/ whose pain never dies.” I think we first heard it in our own neighborhood from Ted Berrigan, who might translate dream for pain.’

Looking at pictures.

John Welch; ‘I’m standing at the bus stop by the roundabout on Lea Bridge Road, looking back at the roundabout itself which has been thoughtfully planted. In front of some conifers are some stone shapes and I start to think of a painting by Poussin. There are elements in his work that people have compared to Cezanne.’

Peter Taylor in double or triple vision.

John Matthias: ‘I knew him, not in the South, but in the Midwest, where he came to Ohio State during a brief period itself interrupted by a year in Paris, about which he wrote one of his best stories, “Je Suis Perdu.” Among other things, that beautiful story is about a writer who has come to Paris too late—too late in the century, and too late in his own life.’

Representation by millimetres.

Alan Wall: ‘G. K. Chesterton once remarked that the phrase ‘He has lost his reason’ is often the precise opposite of the truth. He has lost human affection, any sense of balance, any residue of charity or compassion, but his reason continues. Whirring away in a vacuum. And that is Dr Strangelove.’

Another famous Jew.

Howard Cooper: ‘There’s no shame in being a self-confessed Jewish atheist but it is a shame, while defending the integrity of Jewishness with such vigour, to present oneself, unwittingly, as an ignorant one.’

Art and Innocence.

Victor Bruno: ‘The only belief most modern artists have now is that they won’t be understood. Most of the time, they’re right. But instead of doing their homework and learning to participate in communal life sincerely, truthfully, and relevantly, they, like bickering teenagers, refuse to make amends with their culture.’

John Fowles, Gent.

By BRUCE KINZER. O MENTION IS made of Ford Madox Ford in Eileen Warburton’s substantial biography of John Fowles . His name is absent from the condensed version of Fowles’ Journals, edited in two volumes by Charles Drazin.  (I don’t know if the same is true of the original diaries — some two million words […]

To Field Flowers.

John Taylor on Philippe Jaccottet: ‘His writings show us how to invert our hesitations, our trembling, our distress into worthy, beneficial sources that can open once again like a flower after the night, after the early morning frost.’

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.’