21 jul. 2004

Scattered notes:

Armstrong imposes his will again, demolishing Basso
and gaining another minute on Ullrich. Since in this
time trial the riders leave in reverse order of their
standings in the general classification, Armstrong
left last and passed Basso, number 2, on the road.
How devastating is that!

***

The etymology of "rhyme" is the French word 'rime."
So where'd it get the aitch and the why? Through a
confusion with the word "rhythm," of Greek origin.

***

One hears two complaints about avant-garde work
such as that of Coolidge: it's incomprehensible, it's
too far out there. And: it's old hat, it's been done before
by Gertrude Stein. Well, if it's old hat, it might not be that
far out there. Or if it is far out there, it might not be so
derivative of earlier modernist poetry.

***

The "educated reader" no longer exists. Ask your undergraduate
students, if you have them, to name a living American poet. An
English major might be able to name one, but a Spanish
major cannot. That is, unless you've studied this stuff
in school, you won't ever see it at all.

***

The value of negative criticism: A friend of mine in Graduate School, Bob Basil, was in a
class taught by Al Gelpi. Other people later to be prominent academics were there, myself,
Maria Damon, Joseph Conte, Bret Millier. Bob gave his oral report on a
book by Denise Levertov that Al had chosen. It was a weak book by Levertov,
and Bob spent an hour explaining why in agonizing detail. Gelpi was a sincere
guy but, from our point of view, an underwhelming intellect. There was really
no answer to Bob's criticism: it was irrefutable. The only response was that
doing purely negative criticism was pointless.

But negative criticism does have a value: it wakes others up. We all *know* that
certain famous poets are mediocre, or that even good poets stop being good,
for often inexplicable reasons. If no one ever points these things out, we tend to
drift along amiably. The prohibition on negative criticism is a social/political
thing. For example, Bob was breaking a Graduate Student rule: don't undermine
the professor.

I realize that in an environment in which poetry is hardly read, negative criticism tends
to make things worse. The message you get reading William Logan is that you
shouldn't pick up a book of poetry at all, since most of it is going to be crap. My
own rule of thumb is to attack only well-known poets or poetic "ideologues." I
wouldn't single out some unknown young person. Win a Pulitzer, write an ignorant
article, then you are fair game.

***

Human nature changed in 1910? This is figurative language, folks. It's not meant as a literal
statement. It is a witty hyperbole. To take it literally in order to refute it
is to suppose that Virginia Woolf was a moron.

In the second place, the very idea of "human nature" is an ideological construct,
invented in the 18th century. (Try to find a reference to this concept before 1700?)
If human nature can be invented, then it can be changed as well. It is an enlightenment
concept that now lends itself mostly to reactionary politics. I know this is a nominalist
position, but so be it. We can't assume the eternity of certain concepts that have
a historical origin.