6 abr. 2006

I think what bugged me about Orr's argument about Bishop was the idea that we live in a world she created. I know that great artists do create our world in just the way Orr describes. Also that Bishop is highly accomplished. But I can't see her as the kind of artist who changes our vision of reality, our cultural episteme. She's just not that kind of writer, and I've never seen (before Orr at least) that argument made on her behalf. I think she herself might reject it. No matter how much we esteem her, that is just not what she's about. It does violence to her own deliberate modesty. Here's one of my favorites of hers:


The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions.
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
in the same tone of voice.
No one could tell the difference.

Uninnocent, these conversations start,
and then engage the senses,
only half-meaning to.
And then there is no choice,
and then there is no sense;

until a name
and all its connotation are the same.

You might even prefer poetry like this that does not even try to change the look and feel of things. That's your perfect right. But please don't confuse this with poetry that does in fact effect a change in vision, like Ashbery's Three poems.

14 comentarios:

Henry Gould dijo...

I wrote a little take on this Bishop poem, & the review, over at my blog today.

Jordan dijo...

I'm feeling very variable today but that poem looks awfully artlessly great from here. Ashbery has that lightning rod quality too - why not take both?

But there's no contesting your main point - this kind of comparison and superlative is silly if it's meant as anything more than permanent enthusiasm. Orr overestimates Donald Justice, maybe, but Bishop... no one can say she doesn't get to the point.

Jonathan dijo...

I do take both, in fact. I like the phrase permanent enthusiasm too.

Henry Gould dijo...

Restraint & precision. Modest exterior (a few words on paper), intense interior.

One can argue that these are inherent, peculiar qualities of poetry per se.

Bishop embodies them, foregrounds them.

It's this diagonal Bishop move which Orr is saying has had a kind of camouflaged effect on our cultural world.

A self-effacing intensity; a restrained clarity. Hard to see, like some kind of animals & effects of nature. Camouflage.

A very curious & interesting rhetorical strategy on Orr's part, I'd say.

nolapoet dijo...

Here's the thing, though. Whose world got changed? Who is this "we" of which you speak?

My point is there is not a "we." There are many assumptions behind who "we" might be. For example, I think there's a large gender-based component to such evaluations of whether Bishop or Ashbery is "better" or has "had greater impact." The world in which I live has little to do with Ashbery's poetry and everything to do with Bishop's.

Would I go as far as Orr to say that "we" (white male New York-centric intellectuals?) live in a world Bishop created? I think that's a completely silly assertion unless one is speaking of the world of the text itself during the act of reading it.

Jonathan dijo...

I know plenty of women who write basically in the Ashberyian mode. Susan Schultz, Anne Lauterbach, Lyn Hejinian the The Moralist. Marjorie Perloff and Helen Vendler have canonized JA. And plenty of men love Bishop too: Ashbery himself, Robert Lowell, David Orr, tons of academic poets. Henry Gould. She became famous in a world completely dominated by men.

I'm just not seeing Bishop as a world-changing artist. Isn't it possible that some great artists leave the world as it is? For example, Allen Ginsberg changed the world. Maybe some poet *better* than Ginsberg, like Robert Herrick, did not. Byron changed the world: European culture would have been different without Byron, without Picasso. Tell me WHAT difference Bishop made in the world? I've yet to see that argument. Do we really live in a world dominated by fine subtllty and craft? Isn't our world really more about Ashberyian dissociation and incoherence? Plathian pathos?

nolapoet dijo...

Why do I think you REALLY want me to argue for Orr's untenable position? That is a somewhat different question than whether Bishop's work changed the world.

I think it's obvious that her work DID change the world, as does ANY artist's, so that's not the issue.

Your question seems to go to the DEGREE to which Bishop's work changed the world. On which scale shall we measure her greatness?

Henry Gould dijo...

Jonathan, maybe it's not about domination. That's what I'm trying to suggest.

Do we need to define "world" in terms of who's on top? Isn't that just falling into the trap?

Jonathan dijo...

I apologize if I was trying to maneouvre you into taking Orr's position, Nolapoet (sorry I do not know your name.) I completely agree with your weaker version of his argument: any significant artist might be said to change the world.

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, Henry, that's not always the most relevant concern. I do think, though, that some artists do dominate their epochs, for better or worse.

nolapoet dijo...

Name's Robin--hi. That's not the argument at hand, really. I want to know the scale by which you wish to measure Bishop's world-changing-ness.

Have you read Mario Vargas LLosa's essay "The Death of the Great Writer," which comments upon Henri Raczymow's book of the same name? It might prove instructive. Excerpts:

"Raczymow maintains there are no longer any 'great writers' because democracy and the marketplace are incompatible with the model of the intellectual mentor, as represented by figures like Voltaire, Zola, Gide, or Sartre, and will ultimately provce the death of literature (50)."

He (R.) makes two main points: 1) books have become mere commodities, not tickets to immortality; and 2) one reason for this is the oversimplification of the ideal of social/class equality into individualism and narcissism.

The point Vargas Llosa makes is "the new role our modern, open society has imposed on the writer." The writer's opinions become, to put it succinctly, no better than anyone else's--the oversimplified notion that an ill-informed opinion should or even does count as much as the well-informed one.

[Vargas Llosa's advice is for us to be grateful that those of us in free societies can read and write as we please, with a special caveat that writers are no longer "little god(s)" to the masses: "The curtain has undoubtedly fallen on those pontificating and narcissistic writers; but the show can go on if their successors contrive to be less pretentious and very amusing"(54).]

All this is to say that crude scales such as market share are ultimately what we would be forced to use as a measure of a writer's "world-changing-ness." Yet, somehow, I don't think you meant to compare sales figures for Ashbery vs. Bishop.

What specifically can we use as a reasonably objective basis for comparison? Stylistic differences seem the most obvious choice.

nolapoet dijo...

Bishop influenced Stevens.

Stevens influenced Ashbery.

Ashbery's work would not exit without Bishop.

Q.E.D. ;)

Jonathan dijo...

Bishop published her first book in 1946. Stevens died in 1955. Are you saying his poetry underwent a significant change in the last nine years of his life, that it would have been significantly different without Bishop? In what does this change consist?

No, Bishop influenced Ashbery directly, without the intervention of Stevens. Stevens influenced Ashbery too, of course. New York poets like O'Hara and Ashbery did read people like Auden and Bishop.

Henry Gould dijo...

I don't think Orr's position is so easy to dismiss. His review carefully conflates Bishop's stylistic method & means - her literary stance - with the place or role of poetry in the culture at large. That is, Bishop's famous "modesty" parallels the cultural presence of poetry in general.

In this way, Orr is able to hypothesize that - through Bishop - POETRY ITSELF is insinuating itself into contemporary life, and initiating subtle shifts in its style & character.

If you go back to the opening sentences of his review, it's clear that Orr's intended audience is not poetry enthusiasts, but a general audience, the ordinary reader. This audience is where Orr's conflation (of Bishop's unique personal manner & presence with poetry in general) is meant to work its rhetorical effect : ie., he's suggesting that EVERY READER who reads that somewhat oracular opening sentence - "You are living in a world created by Elizabeth Bishop" - every reader who is persuaded thereby to delve further into the Bishop oeuvre - will be convinced, in the end, of its rightness.

I think lawyer Orr is displaying a version of future-oriented epideictic rhetoric.