Archive for the 'Words' Category

Frye on sound and poetry ♥

October 11, 2011

“Music, of course, is concerned not with beauty of sound but with organization of sound, and beauty has to do with the form of the organization. A musical discord is not an unpleasant sound; it is a sound which throws the ear forward to the next beat: it is a sign of musical energy, not of musical incompetence. Applying such a principle to poetry, we should say that when we find sharp barking accents, long cumulative rhythms sweeping lines into paragraphs, crabbed and obscure language, mouthfuls of consonants, the spluttering rumble of long words, and the bite and grip of heavily stressed monosyllables, we are most likely to be reading a poet who is being influenced by music.”

Ahhhh, Northrop Frye, you are a thing. In his “Introduction: Lexis and Melos” to  Sound and Poetry, English Institute Essays 1956, New York: Columbia UP, 1957: xiii.

October 7, 2011

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”


Robert Frost in a letter to Louis Untermeyer dated 1 Jan. 1916.

Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust (1948)

September 9, 2011

“I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”

Courtesy the 30 Harshest Author-on-Author Insults in History.

Bloom sticks it to th’establishment (and rightly so)

August 26, 2011

I maintain canonical standards for the study and appreciation of literature. I practice philology and knowledge of the history of language. I do not give in to political considerations, however they mask themselves. All this business about gender, social class, sexual orientation and skin pigmentation is nonsense. I’m 81. I’m not prepared to temporise any more. I’ve been prophesying like Jeremiah since 1968, warning the profession that it was destroying itself. And it has. There are fewer and fewer people teaching English, or any other kind of literature, in American universities. Students don’t wish to study garbage and that’s all they’re offered.

Forgive me for sounding so strong on this issue. In fact, I’m tired of this polemic so let us change the subject.

The inimitable Harold Bloom on literary criticism and the current state of the profession, via FiveBooks.

August 15, 2011

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”

: Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. IV. via.

August 7, 2011

“It was folded with cunning, sealed with crime, uptied by a harlot, undone by a child. It was life but was it fair?”

[Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake, London: Faber, 1980: 94.]

The Smoochy Knights Errant of Textual Scholarship

July 7, 2011

“Editors are Knights Errant whose quest is to discover damsels called True Virgin Texts as Intended by Authors. Many of these Virgins were hidden away by a passel of villains variously known as the Scribes and Printers, Lost Documents, Ghosts, and Imperfect Transmission. In such cases a Knight-Editor believes that his Lady, True Virgin Text, is to be found somewhere in the Castle of Primary Sources. She may be intact, but all too often she is decrepit or lacuna-scarred or covered with emendations and disguises. She may even be buried below the Castle in its Dungeon of Lost Sources. But he hopes to rescue her and, with the Kiss of Scholarship, to restore her virgin purity despite what the Demons of Textual Tampering may have inflicted upon her. However, his task is not easy: he may have to seek her through the Maze of Stemma and Suppressed Passages or to find his way through a Wood of Errors where he may encounter the Dragons of False Attribution and Facile Conjecture. And he must be ever on guard against the deceptions of Pretenders disguised as the True Virgin Text. Indeed, these strumpets will try to lure him into the Bowers of Felicitous Emendation.

Obviously the Knight-Editor must carry the Spear of Exact Scholarship and the Buckler of Skepticism; and he must wear the Armour of Integrity. But at the outset of his quest he faces trial by two Tempters: one of these is evil, and the other is good. But outwardly they look alike, and he therefore knows not how to choose between them. The one calls out, ‘Take with you the Swords of Criticism. Without these weapons you will never find the True Virgin Text‘; but the other Tempter warns, ‘Beware of the Swords of Criticism. Touch them not. They belong to Another Discipline, and if you bear them you may be diverted from the Paths of Objectivity into the Slough of Impressionism and the Bogs of Distortion. Yea, the Swords of Criticism will turn their edges against you and force you into the clutches of the Harlot False Text and her Paramour, Interpretative Annotation.'”

[J. Max Patrick, “Critical Problems in Editing George Herbert’s The Temple“, The Editor as Critic and The Critic as Editor: Papers Read at a Clark Library Seminar, November 13, 1971, J. Max Patrick and Alan Roper, Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1973: 3-4.]

Editorial theory is, like, so dull.

Essays in Idleness

June 14, 2011

The daughter of a certain lay priest in the province of Inaba was reputed to be very beautiful, and many suitors asked for her hand, but this girl ate nothing but chestnuts, and refused to touch rice or other grains. Her father therefore declined the men’s proposals, saying, “Such a peculiar person is not fit to be married.”

From Essays in Idleness, the Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō, trans. Donald Keene, New York: Columbia UP, 1967: 37, which was reputedly written between 1330 and 1332. Kenkō, a buddhist priest who reportedly lived between 1283 and 1350, is also known by his lay names, Urabe no Kaneyoshi or Yoshida no Kaneyoshi, and clearly needed more chestnuts in his life.

The black suns

May 17, 2011

“Absent from other people’s meaning, alien, accidental with respect to naïve happiness, I owe a supreme, metaphysical lucidity to my depression. On the frontiers of life and death, occasionally I have the arrogant feeling of being witness to the meaninglessness of Being, of revealing the absurdity of bonds and beings.”


“[M]oods are inscriptions, energy disruptions, and not simply raw energies. They lead us toward a modality of significance that, on the threshold of bioenergetic stability, insures the preconditions for (or manifests the disintegration of) the imaginary and the symbolic. On the frontier between animality and symbol formation, moods—and particularly sadness—are the ultimate reactions to our traumas, they are our basic homeostatic recourses. For if it is true that those who are slaves to their moods, beings drowned in their sorrows, reveal a number of psychic or cognitive frailties, it is equally true that a diversification of moods, variety in sadness, refinement in sorrow or mourning are the imprint of a humankind that is surely not triumphant but subtle, ready to fight, and creative…”

Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia U P, 1989: 4, 22.

Stravinsky on form:

February 1, 2011

“The more art is controlled, limited, worked over, the more it is free. As for myself, I experience a sort of terror when, at the moment of setting to work and finding myself before the infinitude of possibilities that present themselves, I have the feeling that everything is permissable to me…. Will I then have to lose myself in this abyss of freedom? To what shall I cling in order to escape the dizziness that seizes me before the virtuality of this infinitude? However, I shall not succumb. I shall overcome my terror and shall be reassured by the thought that I have the seven notes of the scale and its chromatic intervals at my disposal, that strong and weak accents are within my reach, and that in all of these I possess solid and concrete elements which offer me a field of experience just as vast as the upsetting and dizzy infinitude that had just frightened me…. My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even farther: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action an dthe more I surround myself with obstacles…. Th emore constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spririt.”

Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music: in the form of six lessons, Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1970: 66-68.


[Oh yes, that Terror, I know him.]


[I am sorry it has been so long. Things Have Been Happening, Man, and not all of them wonderful. I’ve been picking myself back up, among other things, and that is time-consuming. But I have also been to London, and visited Keats’ house (!!), and scored a four volume set of the collected works of Barrett Browning, 1866, for £39. Also, the tree outside my window was cut down and I am in mourning, and term has started again, and I have been writing, but barely enough to be validating. And I have been trying to set upon a new programme of rationality and sleep, but have been failing at both. But look at how things go on! Damnable how indifferent it all is! The sun rolling up and falling over, time-in and time-out, day afte– etc. It is something I suppose, but certainly not enough to live on.]