Sunday, October 4, 2009

Alive and Fulminating

Where will I start?

Three days ago I had a chance to do a quick secondhand bookshop run, and I so took it, and so I ran, first up and down B. Street, and then along other streets to the east and west where there were two more shops I wanted to visit. As usual everybody has copies of Ezra Pound's biography and books assessing his work, but nothing by the man himself. I've been searching for a secondhand Cantos ever since I read a thin white and green 1967 Faber Selected Cantos and enjoyed the - what did I enjoy? The compendium quality of it, the anecdotes, the jerky thrown-out feel of the thing, as if there was a bucket somewhere back there, behind the page, and Pound was planting his trowel in the bucket and doling out stories. Clive James called it a "panscopic grab bag".

Fifty years ago, when the mad old amateur fascist was still alive and fulminating, I fell for the idea of his panscopic grab bag the way that I was then apt to fall for the idea of love. […] I think I can nowadays go right through the long text of that doomed project and show that although it has some arresting passages, they are not quite as arresting as their author meant them to be, and indeed claimed them to be by the way he chose their diction and set them into position.

A novel is a long piece of writing that has something wrong with it, wrote Randall Jarrell in his introduction to Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, explaining that Man was marvellous in spite of its faults, which are, I think, also virtues - but a poem is not supposed to be a novel, a long thing with things wrong with it; it is not supposed to be floppy and windy. James decided, after his first long rush of love, that the Cantos were windy, more light than heat.

Even the statements most obviously aimed at creating an impression of limpidity […] raise the question of whether very much is going on at all.

I'm never going to know if this is meant to be my opinion as well unless I can find the thing. Never mind, I discovered something even better, a copy of Proust's By Way of Saint-Beuve, "the fascinating mixture of autobiographical fiction and literary criticism that he wrote shortly before he started on his masterpiece," translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It was her only published translation.

I am still in the autobiographical parts and Marcel is masturbating on a lilac.

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