Friday, December 31, 2010

we have wanted to be too active; we have wanted

I was thinking about late Henry James after an exchange in the comments earlier this month when it occurred to me that the frame of mind I learnt to adopt while I was reading Wings of the Dove was something like Simone Weil's idea of attention --

Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object. It means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of. Our thought should be in relation to all particular and already formulated thoughts, as a man on a mountain, who, as he looks forward, sees also below him, without actually looking at them, a great many forests and plains. Above all, our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking, anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which is to penetrate it. All … faulty connection of ideas … all such things are due to the fact that thought has seized upon some idea too hastily and being thus prematurely blocked, is not open to the truth. The cause is always that we have wanted to be too active; we have wanted to carry out a search.

Waiting on God, translated by Emma Craufurd

-- that is -- regarding the book as a landscape and hovering over it rather than attacking -- attentively absorbent -- something that came naturally, after a while -- as if the book itself had caused it -- which it did, or we did, it and I, I and it, in partnership -- go too close to James, try to interpret severely, quickly, and behold, there's nothing there, the more forcefully you attack -- he writes the reverse of whatever is happening, the back of the tapestry -- so the way to explain a Dove or a Golden Bowl is to tell you what it doesn't say -- or take the first words of Roland Barthes' S/Z (translated by Richard Miller) : "There are said to be certain Buddhists whose ascetic practices enable them to see a whole landscape in a bean."

-- and then Jane Gardam, coming at it from the opposite direction -- opposite of the reader -- the direction of the writer -- her preparation -- which is to not prepare -- but to hover --

"I don't have a story in my head to begin with," Gardam explains. "I vaguely know but I can't say more than that. I brood and think, apparently doing nothing for ages and then I write in a huge frenzy."

(Interview with Lucasta Miller)

Weil's attention -- perhaps a heightened and detached brooding -- a religious chicken in spectacles …

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

blocked by a crab

Our host dropped me off in Casa Grande, at a secondhand bookshop where so many of the shelves were labelled Romance that the owners had separated the books into subcategories, so, rows of Harlequin Romance, rows of Paranormal Romance, rows -- and so on -- and then other shelves of Mystery/Thriller and SciFi/Fantasy, and then, on the nonfiction shelves, (smaller than Paranormal Romance), a strange autobiography, amateur-published, written by an American woman who grew up in the West Australian outback on a mission station, speaking the local language -- which was something beginning with W. I don't remember what.

She loved the years she spent killing animals for food with the W children, and the rest of her life up to the point of authorship was lived in North America and misery.

I didn't buy the book, otherwise I'd excerpt passages to support myself, but trust me when I say that this woman's tone was all despair. Why did her missionary parents send her away? Why did the adults in North America beat her? Why couldn't she return to the W? Why, why, was everything so awful, and why was she fated to be so helpless and unhappy? "Why," she says in a thousand different ways, "can't I go back to the place where I was satisfied?" A pair of Canadian foster brothers threatened to make their pet budgerigar flap around her head and she told them that if they did then she'd strangle the bird and eat it.

By the end of the book she is living in Arizona where the desert reminds her of the countryside she believes is her true home, the land of the W. I had the impression that misery had made her both frantic and inert. Her real autobiography was not the book she had written, which was passive, polite, surreptitious, and bewildered. It was a passage from Les Chants de Maldoror.

I am filthy. Mice gnaw me. Swine, when they look at me, vomit. The scabs and sores of leprosy have scaled my skin, which is coated with yellowish pus. I know not river water nor the clouds' dew. From my nape, as from a dungheap, sprouts an enormous toadstool with umbelliferous peduncles. Seated on a shapeless chunk of furniture, I have not moved a limb for four centuries. My feet have taken root in the soil forming a sort of perennial vegetation … filled with vile parasites. My heart, however, is still beating. But how could it beat if the decay and effluvia of my carcase (I dare not say body) did not abundantly feed it? In my left armpit a family of toads has taken up residence, and whenever one of them moves it tickles me. Take care lest one escape and come scratching with its mouth in the interior of your ear: it could next penetrate your brain. In my right armpit there is a chameleon which endlessly chases the toads so as not to die of hunger … Oh! If only I could have defended myself with my paralysed arms -- but I rather think they have turned into legs … My anus has been blocked by a crab.

(Isidore Ducasse, translated by Alexis Lykiard)

Those are the biographer's sentiments, distilled. It is clear that she wrote herself into the wrong book. After volumes of sadness she terminates her life story with pages of Christian instruction -- but why, when no one who reads this book is going to want to live a Christian life? "This is a Christian?" the reader will think. "Then evidently the life of a Christian is one of passive-aggressive misery and pain, which religion does not relieve." It's as if she doesn't know what she's written. There it is on the page, yet she can't take it in. Ducasse's protagonist: "Loss of memory took residence in my imagination when, by the inflexible laws of optics, I happen to be confronted with the failure to recognise my own reflection!"

If only she could have written her autobiography like the Chants (I fantasise this) then the evidence on the page would have been so bald that she wouldn't have been able to ignore it. "To appear before your eyes as I really am," she should have written to the reader, "I shall not cast virtue's mask at your feet for I have never worn it ... and if from the very first you observe my features closely you will recognise me as your respectful disciple in perversity but not as your deadly rival." Bold and fair! Looking back over her own words, she would have risen from her desk and fled the house she shares with husband John (his one memorable act, throwing her tuna casserole at the wall), away to the outback, where she would kill animals for food forever, and live with the W.

Ducasse's protagonist is a fictional character, and she is real, but he is living her life and she is living like a ghost.

But where is he living it? This is the place she needs to go. Not the land of the W.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

in a manner inconsequent and unfounded; the visitor felt

There's no public transport out here in the Arizona countryside, but every now and then I manage to hitch a ride with someone going near a secondhand bookshop. This state has an abundance of Melville, plenty of Twain, multiple copies (at the Mesa Bookmans store) of Zora Neale Hursten's Harlem Renaissance novel, And Their Eyes Were Watching God (all similar too; a nearby school must have it on a reading list), and a good amount of Henry James. I've picked up two-dollar copies of the Sacred Fount and the Ambassadors.

By the third chapter, Ambassadors has already delivered an apogee of fastidious Jamesian sentence-making, a sentence that seems to be trying to, on one hand, look prim, armoured, and fastened in place, and, on the other hand, writhe away off the page or dissolve into mist. It says everything very properly and at the same time you get the feeling that it would prefer not to say anything at all, or somehow avoid having a meaning -- because it takes so long to reach a conclusion, and then, when it arrives, it pulls back. 'Agreeable' becomes a loaded word because it seems to be avoiding something, more vehement perhaps -- or perhaps the character doesn't know, exactly, the word that would describe his feelings just there, so he picks 'agreeable' because it seems to work well enough; he might find out more about those feelings later maybe, after he has spent some time working out whether prepared is the word he needs to use, or if already confirmed would be the right phrase -- in this way he fusses around to distract himself, as if he's trying to get out of the responsibility of finishing his thought.

The discomfort was in a manner contagious, as well as also in a manner inconsequent and unfounded; the visitor felt that unless he should get used to it -- or unless Weymarsh himself should -- it would constitute a menace to his own prepared, his own already confirmed, consciousness of the agreeable.

The nature of the menace is vague. James' menaces are typically vague and potentially endless. (Speaking of: I was lying awake at three a.m. a few nights ago when the Turn of the Screw came into my head, that face pressed against the window, "the hideous author of our woe--the white face of damnation" and that was that for at least half an hour of imagined floating Quints.) Meanwhile the Sacred Fount is the story of a man who decides that he is better than anyone else at detecting secret vampires and spends the rest of the book watching peoples' eyeballs twitch.

There's something of Jane Austen's exactness in James -- the weight he puts on agreeable is the weight that she can set on top of a little word like nice. Those words become mostly punchline or post-preface, like icebergs hiding their keels. "There is nothing that commends a story to memory more effectively than that chaste compactness which precludes psychological analysis," wrote Walter Benjamin, and James, decompacting, diffusing himself across the ether (or, as this is his universe, creating the ether across which he diffuses himself, so that the medium and the matter floating through it are one and the same, the verb and the noun simultaneous, united, indivisible), is elaborately so chaste that his virginity curdles. Psychological analysis might, at any moment during one of his books, begin, but never does. The story is always taking place away to the side somewhere.

(In the Wings of the Dove a woman's doctor tells her that she is deathly, incurably ill, but this takes place on some plane of existance outside the actual book -- we, the readers, only witness a conversation about the weather. This conversation about the weather is the same as the conversation that tells the woman she is going to die; that is, she understands, from this conversation about the weather, that she is going to die, but the information about her deathly illness was conveyed at a pitch too high for the readers' ears, as if spoken in the language of bats or angels. The woman understood it, and her weird saintliness is confirmed).

I've seen a few Australian authors for sale here, and the sight of those names on the spines surprises me every time, except in the case of Peter Carey and Stead's Man Who Loved Children. Both have been spruiked in the US pretty well, so no need for astonishment. Bookmans had all three of Eliot Pearlmans' books, as well as Les Murray's Subhuman Redneck Poems (and a book in the travel section called Around Australia in 22 Days or similar). In a tiny one-room bookshop at the end of a right-angled arcade in Prescott, north of Phoenix, I found anthologised Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. Carey turned up in both places, and also in a cellar of books underneath a charity shop across the street from the Coolidge post office. You know where this place is because there is an A-frame board on the pavement outside with Cellar of Books written across it next to an arrow. Everything in the town around it looks defunct, but, behold, below, there is a man with a beard and his Cellar of Books, concrete-walled and cold after the warmth outside.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

to form a sufficiently grand, detatched and self-substantial object

Matt Jakubowski in the Quarterly Conversation thinks back over Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet in consternation and rue, and Levi Stahl at his terrific blog wonders if he should take the books off his shelves and read them for the first time. I read Durrell -- I read him to be seduced -- but like anyone who's been brought up on the idea that Othering other people is Not Done, I read him wincing. He Orientalises with joy, he thinks woman are very much from Venus, and he despises grocers. He is a bully, an aesthete, he is certain, he is sure of himself; he says to the reader, "Be in my gang," and he does it rapturously, seeing the world either grand or beautifully stark -- this is the temptation he holds out to us. His tone is both lush and bracing -- lush for his sensuous interests, and bracing because he is mean.*

Durrell works with extremes, like a Romantic, like a Gothic; he deals with aristocrats and peasants, or gods and shepherds, or beauty and filth -- or kindness and cruelty; Jakubowski picks out one scene in which his narrator in the Quartet sees a pleasant Egyptian man throwing away a severed human head -- and he prefers to stay away from the middle-mundane unless he's depreciating it. He Others as a matter of course; it is part of the mode his mind works in. The Other is dramatic, the Other is mysterious, the Other provides him with material for exciting contrasts and strangenesses, sadisms, yes -- take note: the first book of the Quartet is called Justine, and the epigraph? From de Sade. So this is not going to be a kind book. We know that by the first page. Very well. Sadism reaches from the larger gestures of the plot down to fragments of background detail. On the major scale, our narrator is fooled and humiliated, and on the minor scale, an African servant at a party, who appears for perhaps a single sentence, is forced to wear small white gloves on his large black hands.** (One of the schoolgirls in Colette's Claudine books deliberately wears her gloves a size too small. They can be sexual fetish objects, gloves. They can squeeze.) The major and the minor are equally important. Together they create an atmosphere of mystic and pervasive punishment.

Durrell sat at the tail-end, I suspect, of a particular European love for the Ancient World, a Hellenism that was so ordinary in the second half of the 1800s, so little associated with it now, at least in popular memory -- the common picture is one of Victorian gentlemen upright in black, and their women repressed in skirts -- or else of industry, steam power -- but the Greeks turned up all over the place, in erotic fiction, and in the essays of the nonerotic Matthew Arnold, who, echoing the erotics, praised the long-dead ancients for their "exquisite sagacity of taste." ***

"[W]hoever wants to enjoy must take life gaily, in the sense of the ancient world," says Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's Wanda in Venus in Furs (1870: translated by Fernanda Savage):

"he dare not hesitate to enjoy at the expense of others; he must never feel pity; he must be ready to harness others to his carriage or his plough as though they were animals. … That was the world of the ancients: pleasure and cruelty, liberty and slavery went hand in hand. People who want to live like the gods of Olympus must of necessity have slaves whom they can toss into their fish-ponds, and gladiators who will do battle, the while they banquet, and they must not mind if by chance a bit of blood bespatters them."****

Wilde's Happy Prince and Dorian Gray stand at the friendly end of this exquisite spectrum; Pierre Louÿs' Aphrodite, with its moments of sexual murder and torture, stands at the cruel end. The Quartet lies between the two. When you've decided that it is your duty, as an artist, as a Decadent, to toss the slaves of moral thought into your fishpond then the ideas you come up with can be -- what's the word I want here? They can have the relief of outrageousness. I laughed at the sharks in Lautreamont.

Jakubowski says that he was in a heroic frame of mind while he loved Durrell uncritically. "I thought I had found another pure and wonderful reading experience." Me too -- that yearning for the heroic, which is also a love of the simple. Sometimes I feel sad, as if I've missed a time I should have been born into (and which never existed) -- the age of the grand, the tragic, the jewelled, the gorgeous. Durrell's ideal artist is an aristocrat of the sensitive, the justified snob who won't bow, the Byronic noblility, boldly laughing. E.R. Eddison, living also in this strain, sees virtue in nothing but heroism, and his fantasies are even more snobbish than Durrell's. (That man's books are granite with a core of mould.) Durrell is a snob -- this is the larger category that contains the racism and antisemitism that Jakubowski observes in him.

How does the reader tolerate it? Durrell keeps us a little stupid, a little begging. There are mysteries. What are they? Our narrator is trying to work out what's going on, but he can't help us, because he doesn't know the answers himself. We're a bit persecuted and kicked around. But always we have the promise of an answer, and we keep going, with faith (or else shut the book and leave). The frisson of privilege comes off the pages, but not perfect privilege. We know some secrets, but not all, or maybe the wrong ones. Through the page Durrell establishes a bullying relationship with his readers; the proof of his control is that they continue to read.

When have I felt the Durrell spell broken? When he explains himself and the explanations are -- wrong. He likes his aphorisms Jakubowski says -- "Durrell’s greatest powers are aphorism and worldly wisdom" -- but his wordly wisdom is, when you stop and examine it, mainly flights of fantasy. (And in the Quartet it is mainly delivered through poor ignorant Darley, wrong about virtually everything.) At one point about three-fourths of the way through the Avignon Quintet he forgets to be recalcitrant and explains his ideas about gnostic sex for pages -- and suddenly he is not Lawrence Durrell any more, assured snob -- he shrivels into an old shab with a pet theory, grabbing your arm on a street corner. It's when he behaves like one of his own women-characters -- mysterious, teasing, refusing to reveal secrets -- that he maintains his hold. He is Justine, he is Darley's Alexandria, shadowy, withdrawn, making false promises. Lawrence Durrell, I thought, embarrassed, reading the Quintet, oh Lawrence Durrell, please don't be sincere. It makes you so boring.

* No one who has ever enjoyed Roald Dahl can afford to turn up their nose at an author for being mean.

** I write 'perhaps' because I don't have the books here. I can't check. They're all in storage. So the details in this post might be wrong. I can't quote. The only Durrell I have on me is a 1962 Poetry of Lawrence Durrell, which I discovered at a Mesa secondhand bookshop on, coincidentally, the same day I read Jakubowski's essay. When I talk about his love of the Greeks I'm really thinking of the poems rather than the Quartet. It's there in the Q but more obvious in the poems. His disdain for Britain comes through in the poetry too, very clearly. Britons who have escaped Britain manage to interest him, but Britain itself is "Pudding Island" where "all as poets were pariahs" and "spring … never comes to stay." (Cities, Plains, and People) When I say that he sneers at grocers I'm remembering a passage in the Quintet.

Jakubowski, discovering the words "ordinary people" in one of Durrell's sentences, identifies this as a slight, and apologises for it, suggesting that the author was an idealist, but I would argue for snob. Why? Because I have seen him, in other parts of his work, refer to "ordinary people" with a more loaded and unnecessary term, "the common," and because his tone, when he makes his jabs at grocers, and (also in the Quintet) the Cockney accent, is lazily dismissive -- not elite rage, not idealistic sorrow, but the old sneer at those who engage in what used to be called trade.

"The common" crops up in one of the poems in his Selected Poems 1935-1963. I don't remember the title, but the poet is celebrating an aristocratic and wise Roman who sits in his country villa, contemplating life, away from "the envy ... of the common."

*** "The Greeks felt, no doubt, with their exquisite sagacity of taste, that an action of present times was too near them … to form a sufficiently grand, detatched and self-substantial object for a tragic poem." (Preface to Arnold's Poems.)

**** It was in Sacher-Masoch's surname that the Austro-German sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing found the word masochism. Hannah Arendt, describing the artists of the postwar early twentieth century in her Origins of Totalitarianism, refers to their "antihumanist, antiliberal, antiindividualist, and anticultural instincts ... their brilliant and witty praise of violence, power and cruelty," and goes on to say, "They read not Darwin but the Marquis de Sade," adding, in a footnote, "In France, since 1930, the Marquis de Sade has become one of the favoured authors of the literary avant-garde." Durrell, despising literary Britain, aligned himself with the overseas avant-garde. The first book of the Quartet was published in 1957.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

the product of this fascination

Twelve months ago I published a list of ten favourite quotes, all of them from books I'd read that year. This week I decided I'd publish a list for 2010. I've left out Proust again, deliberately, along with everything I've already excerpted onto this blog (and I think I've already used my favourite pieces of Ruskin, so no him, and no Ernestine Hill -- and no Anita Brookner either, because I've decided that her intelligence (which nobody can deny) doesn't come across well in quotes. In her books she's thoughtful but in quotes she sounds arch or non sequiturial. You can't tell the quality of an author through their quotes. Henry James quotes badly. Like trying to quote a cloud. His moments need masses behind them).

The moment was gone by; there had been no ecstasy, no gladness even; hardly half an hour had passed, and few words had been spoken, yet with that quickness in weaving new futures which belongs to women whose notions have kept them in habitual fear of consequences, Mrs Transome thought she saw with all the clearness of demonstration that her son's return had not been a good for her, in the sense of making her any happier.

My griefe, quoth I, is called Ignorance,
Which makes me differ little from a brute:
For animals are led by natures lore,
Their seeming science is but customes fruit;
When they are hurt they haue a sense of paine;
But want the sense to cure themselues againe.

And euer since this griefe did me oppresse,
Instinct of nature is my chiefest guide;
I feele disease, yet know not what I ayle,
I finde a sore, but can no salue prouide;
I hungry am, yet cannot seeke for foode;
Because I know not what is bad or good.

Hence the predicament of the poor after self-preservation has been assured is that their lives are without consequence, and that they remain excluded from the light of the public realm where excellence can shine; they stand in darkness wherever they go.

It would be easy to enumerate many important and splendid gifts in which Butler as a novelist was deficient; but his deficiency serves to lay bare one gift in which he excelled, which is his point of view. To have by nature a point of view, to stick to it, to follow it where it leads, is the rarest of possessions and lends value even to trifles.

For human intercourse … is seen to be haunted by a spectre. We cannot understand each other, except in a rough and ready way; we cannot reveal ourselves, even when we want to; what we call intimacy is only a makeshift; perfect knowledge is an illusion. But in the novel we can know people perfectly, we can find here a compensation for their dimness in life. In this direction fiction is truer than history, because it goes beyond the evidence and each of us knows from his own experience that there is something beyond the evidence … [Fictional characters] are people whose secret lives are visible or might be visible: we are people whose secret lives are invisible.

Throughout the seventeenth century we find a deepening fascination with the complexity of the ego, complexities not to be disciplined or even negated in the interest of immediacies of religious encounter, but on the contrary to be mapped and cultivated for their own sake. The prose novel, whose beginnings are so characteristically those of the fantasy journey, or of the epistolary dialogue, is the product of this fascination. And many of its early triumphs … directly embody the techniques and rhetorical conventions developed in previous periods of religious ethical introspection.

The mistress of the Establishment holds no place in our memory; but, rampant on one eternal door-mat, in an eternal entry long and narrow, is a puffy pug-dog, with a personal animosity towards us, who triumphs over Time. The bark of that baleful Pug, a certain radiating way he had of snapping at our undefended legs, the ghastly grinning of his moist black muzzle and white teeth, and the insolence of his crisp tail curled like a pastoral crook, all live and flourish. From an otherwise unaccountable association of him with a fiddle, we conclude that he was of French extraction, and his name FIDELE.

From the Renaissance onward marvels were no longer those from distant lands … curiosities or the relics of saints, but the wonders of the human body and its recesses that had been secret until then.

Magic is the rudimentary form of that causal thinking that ultimately liquidates magic.

For Prospero remains the evergreen
Cell by the margins of the sea and land,
Who many cities, plains, and people saw
Yet by his open door
In sunlight fell asleep
One summer with the Apple in his hand.

George Eliot: Felix Holt, the Radical, Rachel Speight: The Dreame, Hannah Arendt: On Revolution, Virginia Woolf: In a Library, E.M. Forster: Aspects of the Novel, George Steiner: On Difficulty and Other Essays, Charles Dickens: Our School, Umberto Eco: The Infinity of Lists, Theodor Adorno translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor: Aesthetic Theory, Lawrence Durrell: Cities, Plains, and People.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

profuse, even if inaccurate

I was on the plane before I had time to read a book again, and the book I read was Henry Treece's Dylan Thomas. "This," says the flap inside the cover, "is a fully revised edition of the first full-sized critical work on Dylan Thomas to appear." The revised edition came out in 1956; the first edition came out in 1949. Thomas died in 1953, riddled with bronchitis and pneumonia. "His stanza patterns, though individual, are usually uniform, and his use of balanced alliteration and half-rhyme is unoriginal," writes Treece. "His technical innovation lies rather in his vocabulary, in his imagery, which affects the reader primarily and principally through the emotions."

Treece pitches up and down between praise and condescension. He writes like a man who wonders if his opinion might be unpopular. He thinks it might be -- he isn't sure. He hedges. He says: "Such exciting rhetoric and imagery grow out of a rich and profuse, even if inaccurate, word-sense." The book is filled with bits of business like that "even if inaccurate" -- the good opinion being modified and qualified before it can take its final shape -- the whole thing muffled, or puzzled, maybe, or baffled, as the writer keeps coming up against the idea that Thomas, a simple poet to like, is a difficult poet to write about. Treece's evaluations can be heroic, "He rolled [words] on his tongue as a lesser spirit might roll a wad of chewing gum," but afterwards he pulls back. A paragraph later he's calling Thomas' vocabulary "limited."

And these qualifications do seem to me to be pullings back, not simply continuations of the critic's opinion, because one tone follows the other, regularly, all the way through the book. There's a pattern to Treece's criticism and it goes like this --

1. Dylan Thomas was a natural, musical poet, unique, a genre of one,


2. Dylan Thomas was underdeveloped. Dylan Thomas was unadventurous. Dylan Thomas kept using the same repertoire of tricks

-- stated over and over again in different ways, this one see-saw rocking away under everything else -- such as -- the comparisons between Thomas and the Surrealists, the examination of Thomas' debt to Gerard Manly Hopkins, and the consideration of Thomas as a prose writer. I came away from Dylan Thomas believing that Treece's one great discovery was this: he could not deal with Dylan Thomas. He couldn't dissect him, he couldn't praise him, he couldn't dismiss him, and so his decision to write about Thomas trapped him in a cycle of movement that pushed him forward and back, first, the poet is good, then, and yet the poet is not good.

Treece (I thought, reading) is smart enough to see the bind he's in, he wrestles with it, he keeps trying to banish it, he comes at it from new directions, he sees other people wrestling with it,* and he's still caught in it. He doesn't have Thomas, but Thomas has him.

The next book I started was Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, with its theories about thought, about the human habit of sorting information into categories so that it seems united and can be judged. "But we can reduce all acts of the understanding to judgments, so that understanding may be represented as the faculty of judging." And looking back through the lens of Kant, it occurs to me that Treece's problems might be described mathematically. The critic has approached his book with a critical sense that divides writers into x and y. A poet who writes in a certain way is sufficient and admirable and should be discussed in certain critical terms, and this is x. A poet who writes in certain other ways is insufficient and must be discussed in certain other terms, and this is y. A critique shouldn't =0 but x+y=0.

Treece can come up with endless ways to turn Thomas into a y -- "His stanza patterns, though individual, are usually uniform, and his use of balanced alliteration and half-rhyme is unoriginal", his vocabulary is "limited," he is unadventurous, he is passive, he refuses to be influenced by Hart Crane** -- and yet he is also an x. The two categories shouldn't coexist but in Thomas they do. He is neither sufficient nor insufficient. Then how can Treece discuss him? The answer is this see-saw.

But as I read the Antimony of Pure Reason section of Kant's book I concluded that a better response would have been this: stop trying to find ways to answer the question, Is Dylan Thomas x or y, and ask yourself instead, Is this an answerable question?

On the evidence of Dylan Thomas you'd have to conclude, No. Treece could have escaped his trap if he had begun the process of evaluation by questioning his own understanding of criticism. What is criticism? How does a critic sound? What do they think? And should he try to mimic them or not? (His book is a failure of mimicry.) Would it help him to reach his goal? What is his goal? I, Henry Treece: what is my purpose here, as I think about writing Dylan Thomas? I am not a critic, I am a man with an aim; I am Henry Treece. (Drums and trumpets.) Now what? (Matthew Arnold: "to have the sense of creative activity is the greatest happiness and the greatest proof of being alive, and it is not denied to criticism to have it; but then criticism must be sincere, simple, flexible, ardent, ever widening its knowledge.")

My Everyman copy of Pure Reason is a revision by Vasilis Politis of the 1887 translation by J. M. D. Meiklejohn.

* "He had the critics confused too, for, whether or not they approved of his work, its force demanded their consideration."

** a weird moment. In summary:

Treece: Dylan Thomas has been influenced by Hart Crane

Dylan Thomas: No I haven't.

Treece: Ssh.