22 oct. 2009

I was reading The Anxeity of Influence while my students took an exam and got to thinking. It's such a useful concept--apart from the fact I can't stand Bloom's writing and many other things about the book. In other words, I have an anxiety of influence about the anxiety of influence. Margarita, a student from Spain who's come to work with me for a few months on her dissertation, has found it useful, though in her case it is a question of a weak poet with weak misreadings of much stronger poets. My Apocryphal Lorca is a Bloomian book, en el fondo y hasta cierto punto.

I know Rothenberg wrote about Bloom as the angel of death, deciding who gets in the canon and who doesn't. But when I turn to Rothenberg's reading of Lorca, isn't it just a weak misreading of a strong poet? It's hard to avoid that conclusion: it just stares you in the face.

Here's the thing: it is hard for me to avoid the idea that certain poets matter more than others. You feel that with Bloom, that he gets that. Of course, this all depends on a prior sense that poetry itself matters. You feel that in the writing of Bloom, Vendler, and Perloff, despite their differences. There's an intensity there. I also feel that it's worthwhile to be a strong critic. I am self-aware enough to know it's also a little ridiculous; as Sibelius said, nobody ever erected a statue of a critic. That keeps it in perspective a little.

One thing I've always thought is that criticism should be at the level of the poetry it's about. Bloom knew that, even if we judge his own criticism not at that level. In other words, you have to bring all the erudition, critical intelligence, and poetic culture at the most profound level that you can muster.

9 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

In one of Gadamer's essays on Celan, Gadamer says of another critic that he wishes he were as well read as that critic. Then he goes on to say that the critic wishes he were as well read as Celan.

And then the punch line: Gadamer says that Celan just wanted to write a good poem.

(I wish I had the passage handy to quote it for you, because I make it sound silly, but Gadamer makes it extremely funny.)

Jonathan dijo...

Yeah, with emphasis on the "just." Like, "I am the least difficult of men, all I want is endless love."

Vance Maverick dijo...

Agreed all round. And despite Sibelius, I'm sure readers here can all think of critics who deserve statues (or an equivalent honor -- statuary doesn't mean what it once did). I might nominate Empson....

I've been reading some of Rothenberg's Lorca, and it's indeed (as you say here and in the book) weak -- he seems to have wanted to rewrite the Suites, but not to have had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with them.

Thomas dijo...

I have found Bloom useful in analyzing the anxiety of scholarly influence as well. So I'm sure it can be applied to critics as well as poets. Academic writing very often consists of misreadings, weak or strong, of prior work and work in other disciplines. Sometimes, of course, it just consists of weak readings. Perhaps there is such a thing as a "strong reading" in scholarly writing.

Jonathan dijo...

I've been the victim of weak scholarly reading many times--where someone will summarize your highly argument as though it were pointing out some more obvious thing, or derive an entire argument from you and footnote you with some triviality rather than with the central idea.

Jordan dijo...

But that mattering... I'd be much more concerned with it if I knew why nobody other than present company understands what constitutes it.

Jonathan dijo...

It's a matter of personal investment. The problem you point to is that the nature of that investment is incommunicable. Someone else's use of Bloom's terminology would be grotesque--to a greater degree than his own categories are already grotesque. Is that degree of idiosyncrasy every justified in criticism?

Jordan dijo...

Good question. Was Samuel Johnson, or were his idiosyncracies, grotesque?

If so, have we ever not lived in Topsy Turvy?

Jonathan dijo...

Neoclassicism implies a set of shared, communicable values. Idiosyncrasy would be the exception rather than the norm in such a system. In other words, if SJ is idiosyncratic, then that would be because neoclassicism itself is an aberration--a whole system not an individual within the system. That would be a bizzaro world, but perhaps no more so than the one we inhabit. What's the corrective?