Friday, May 15, 2015

sure to put off many



If ER Eddison ever did suffer the comprehension that I assigned to him two posts ago, that vitality is inhabiting the structure, then is he correct; a question that questions the word ‘inhabiting’: is the vitality inherent or is it interpreted? Interpreted. It’s too easy to find comments from people who either struggle with him* or else feel afraid that other readers won’t get him. “Most importantly, the reader must be prepared for the novel’s Elizabethan language,” says a Goodreads writer named Edward Butler. “Written in a style that is sure to put off many,” says Jesse at Speculition. “[I]t is written in sixteenth century English and requires effort to understand” -- from a writer at a website called Skulls in the Stars. What I learn from these reviews is that a person who has read Eddison will often worry that other people will not be able to imitate them. To read him is to have this fear: I am lonely.

He said he would rather be read over again by hundreds than once by thousands. With the words, “be prepared,” “requires effort,” the reviewer is recounting the danger of their own escape. They were nearly weeded out by the language but they made the required effort and got through. The trophy is this: they can write a review.


*“I kept having trouble getting into the rhythm of the forcibly archaic language,” from a Goodreads reviewer named Eero.


11 comments:

  1. In a few years, I hope to be finally working on a novel that features a minor character who is a minor literary critic. I will try to keep this idea of a trophy in mind when I write his scenes. Look, you: proof of my accomplishment. Yes, that's pretty good.

    I keep thinking about your previous post, about how the sudden confluence of impressions seemed to have no connection with the words before you on the page. I don't know what to say about that, but it's interesting, the pulling together of ideas and memories and maybe not knowing what the catalyst was. You can point to Murnane, I guess, but maybe a different catalyst was already working on your imagination. I don't want to push the mind-as-chemical-reaction metaphor too hard.

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    1. Geoffrey Hill's idea of literature as vortex is useful to me here, even just the word, "vortex," not using it precisely as Hill does because the effect was probably unconscious on Murnane's part. (If Tamarisk Row had been a poem I'd be more hesitant about that "probably.")

      When you say "minor critics," are you thinking of something like T.S. Eliot's ideas about minorness? (Minority?) I like his way of incorporating the minors into the scheme of things, even if the compliment must feel so backhanded. Well done, you vital compost.

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    2. I think I mean "minor" in the sense that the critic in question has a low understanding of literature (so perhaps "small minded" rather than "minor") but comes equipped with an aggressive personality and an enthusiastic publisher. He will, maybe, mistake a German philosophical pamphlet about death with an argument about the uses of poetry. Not that that's a bad or useless idea, really. Huh.

      Anyway, when I say "minor critic" in general, I guess I mean perhaps minority opinion, or a lesser known critic. I am just now discovering Eliot. I had no idea he wrote such reams of stuff besides the poems.

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    3. He's an interesting example of a precise philosophical style being transferred into a literary, critical style -- the close observation, the enumeration: "Three conclusions at least issue from the perusal of Swinburne's critical essays ..." (Swinburne as Poet), "In this sentence there are two misleading assumptions and two misleading conclusions" (Some Notes on the Blank Verse of Christopher Marlowe).

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    4. Interesting, and thanks for the pointers to specific works.

      Maybe Eliot could apply that kind of precision, but it would be too logical, organized and well-observed for my hypothetical critic, who's more the sort to misread The Critique of Pure Reason as figurative language about figurative language than as a four-pronged division of knowledge. My critic is a comic figure, satire, clown. I think his name will be Leopold.

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    5. Why Leopold? (I keep thinking Bloom.)

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    6. "Bloom" is the correct answer.

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  2. Ha ha ha! The Eddison posts have been like a shaggy dog story.

    Some of the Little, Big readers are saying problems with Crowley's rhythm, whits with a book from 1980 written in a common literary style of our time. Well, a rare style, but not archaic. I don't get it. We ain't doing Titus Groan next, that's for sure.

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    1. The rhythm: really? I was looking up online reviews for David Ireland's Unknown Industrial Prisoner a few weeks ago and came across someone who had decided that it was unreasonable to expect them to understand the novel because it was published in the 1970s and people today are all so aware that the bosses are bad that authors don't even have to write about it any more. As if Ireland's audience had been entirely unaware of it and he was clueing them in but now we're all so smart ... People come up with some strange, strange reasons for not liking books.

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    2. A long time since I read it, but wouldn't the problem that reader had with The Unknown Industrial Prisoner be that bosses aren't bad in the book, but prisoners as much as everyone else?

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    3. What you say about the bosses is true, but if the person who wrote that review was troubled by it then I don't remember them saying so. The point about the age of the book and the subject matter stuck in my mind because they stated it so baldly. One of those moments when someone utters something with total confidence and I revolve it around in my mind for weeks because they've sabotaged themselves without meaning to. They'd like me to nod my head and say, "This person's reasons for not wanting to read the Prisoner are sensible and irrefutable," but I don't.

      (What bothered me the most, I think, is that they treated contemporary literary disinterest in industrial relations as if it were a force of nature that you just had to shrug at and go along with; as if their own uneasiness was beyond their control.)

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