Hurry up please its time
I went to class this morning to return portfolios, and two students showed up. I’m glad I didn’t write extensive comments, I just reviewed things to make sure that people were actually able to write in the form convincingly. Only a few took the opportunity to revise things, to take another look at what was really possible in their papers. It is sort of pointless to maintain my questioning presence. After all is said and done, I suppose more than anything I thought of myself as a tough audience who is not easily impressed. The effort put out by some of the people in the class did impress me; they might not be naturally “gifted” but their perseverance did pay off in the end. I feel comfortable with passing them on.
Then I went to Barnes and Noble. I wanted to see if they had the new biography of Hart Crane released last month. They didn’t. I bought another copy of The Bridge, primarily for the introductory essays. I’d been reading it again, sitting in an empty classroom, and thinking about the effort that Crane so obviously put into his work. He was a high school dropout, but his self-education was quite full. The flaws highlighted by others in his poems seem to me to be part of the overflow of Eliot’s tremendous influence, and his simplistic reading of the Romantics. I’m tremendously weak on American writers, so once again I perused the anthologies and noticed something: Hart Crane isn’t even represented in the Norton Anthology of American Literature. Eliot and Pound are there, with massive selections, and they don’t include a single work by Crane. I suppose I’d better get my Eliot rant out of the way.
Lest I be accused of being ill-informed regarding Eliot and Pound, I will admit that I haven’t been forced to read much Pound, who excites me with all the enthusiasm of a root-canal, but I have read Eliot extensively. He seems to me to be a talented, but altogether misdirected man. I am not intimidated by difficult poetry, quite the contrary, but I am totally bored with the pronouncements of “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” and though I enjoyed “The Wasteland,” I couldn’t help but feel sorry for its pessimism. I can forgive pessimism much more than the myopia of “Tradition”:
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.
. . .
I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical criticism. The necessity is that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art that preceded it. The existing monuments find an ideal order within themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them.
. . .
Can you smell the power here? He who controls the canon by which “new” art is measured, controls the world. An artist must “conform” and “cohere” to the established “order of art”? What Eliot describes here is not art, but the death of art. All language (not just art) is constructed in relation to the dead. The elitist aestheticism implied here was a sword here that cut through all the Moderns I’ve been talking about the past few days. But wait, theres more!
. . .
The point of view which I am struggling to attack is perhaps related to the metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul: for my meaning is, that the poet has, not a “personality” to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways. Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in poetry, and those which become important in the poetry may play a very negligible part in the man, the personality.
. . .
Poetry is not the turning lose of emotion; it is not the expression of a personality, but an escape from personality. But of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
The idea that “art” is somehow distant from life, higher and more elevated, is a total crock (in my humble opinion). That everyone who has feelings desires to escape them seems downright misanthropic.
The futility of this model of art is easily apparent in the words I noted from Walker Evans below. We cannot separate ourselves from the things we make. We’re in there, like it or not. Maybe if I had T.S. Eliot’s personality, I’d want to escape from it too. There are traditions that I feel a part of, but Eliot’s isn’t one of them. I use the plural intentionally; the “high church” of modernism has fallen, and rightly so. It’s been replaced by a more plural view. I was reading Alan Williamson’s swansong column in The American Poetry Review from 1995. I liked his assessment of types of difficulty in reading poetry:
Some poems are difficult because the presume, or recommend, a different level of “cultural literacy” than is now standard — Pound’s Cantos, for example. Others are difficult because they are attempting to capture a process, a series of stabs in the dark, thoughts struggling toward completion . . .
But there is a third category: poems that are difficult because they are written from a place in the mind where “real” experiences meld and overlap, where texture, heft, rhythm, slant of light are better keys to “meaning” than anything that could be expressed discursively. Such poems do not aim at putting the reader through an intellectual puzzle, but at giving the reader a richer sensuous and pre-rational experience, both of and through language.
Hart Crane, one of our greatest poets of this third kind, said that he wanted to give the reader “a single new word, never spoken and impossible to actually enunciate,” out of the interrelations of all its terms beyond sequential logic, “using our ‘real’ world somewhat as a springboard.” . . .
Crane was intensely concerned with all communication, but what he wanted to communicate was “a state of consciousness,” not stories or assertions: “This competence — to travel in a tear/ Sparkling alone, within another’s will.”
Humans do want to live forever; not as complete personalities perhaps, but in persistent states of consciousness which do rise from personality, and are communicated to other personalities. Eliot is just sadly misdirected.
Blake was onto the difference between “self” and “self-hood” which he saw as an encrustation on the immortal soul. He sought to cast off the “rotten rags of selfhood.” But he would never make the mistake Eliot did, of throwing out personal distinctiveness as an important part of communication.