Tag Archives: Drama

Confessional

I don’t write to be liked, I don’t write for acceptance. Countering a steady diet of rejection, I remind myself of this:

“It is not surprising therefore that the most representative literature of our times is light, easy literature, which, without any sense of shame, sets out to be—as its primary and almost exclusive objective—entertaining. But let’s be clear: I am not in any way condemning the authors of this entertainment literature because, notwithstanding the levity of their texts, they include some really talented writers. If today it is rare to see literary adventures as daring as those of Joyce, Woolf, Rilke or Borges, it is not just down to the writers. For the culture in which we live does not favour, but rather discourages, the indefatigable efforts that produce works that require of the readers an intellectual concentration almost as great as that of their writers. Today’s readers require easy books that entertain them and this demand creates a pressure that becomes a powerful incentive to writers.”

This, from Mario Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture, a highly sobering, indispensable discourse on the current state of arts and letters.

Though why not aim high? And especially having read Joyce, Woolf, Rilke, Borges—why not aspire to join their ranks? To match what you admire?

So much talent today, effectively homogeneous: “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.”

Believe. Go alone. They’re hardly critics, if all they express is opinion. A critical response must, at the least, situate the work in question. Reviewers—but who cares, except the vastly impressionable consumer?

Last word, Truman Capote: “…I’ll give you fifty dollars if you produced a writer who can honestly say he was ever helped by the prissy carpings and condescensions of reviewers.”

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Prompt

“I have work to do, and I am afraid not to do it.”

                                         –John O’Hara

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Residual

It’s hard, when daily you’re forced to witness the works you treasure, to which you’ve devoted patience and breath, abused and devalued most by those who should be staunch advocates and defenders. I lean on Guy Davenport: “All of this points to our having a society that reads badly and communicates execrably about what we read.” We get what we deserve. We force-feed our children “pleasant, undemanding reading” and do everything to make sure that it positively stays down. Dare to object. Flannery O’Connor’s observation remains spot on: “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book.” That’s To Kill a Mockingbird, incapable of aging—of aging well. “Most recently, librarians across the country gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the twentieth century.” How is that possible?

“The case against intellect is founded upon a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or diabolical. It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to practice, and the ‘purely’ theoretical mind is so much disesteemed. It is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of distinction that defies egalitarianism.” That’s Richard Hofstadter decades before our great awakening, bolstered by the internet. “I will refuse.”

I lean on my friend and former mentor, Douglas Smith: “Writing and reading always swim together.”

Because an age may fail to recognize genius, or erringly (and stubbornly) approves some lesser talent—is hardly the determining factor: Shakespeare remains foremost…peerless, eminent, unrivaled. To those convinced all writing is equal (as all painting, music, etc.), and that judgment is arbitrary and wholly idiosyncratic (personal/subjective)—there’s really nothing much I can say.

 

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Salvo

“First of all, I don’t wish to touch hearts and I don’t even want to affect minds very much. What I want to produce, really, is that little sob in the spine of the artist-reader. I leave the field of ideas to Dr. Schweitzer and Doctor Zhivago…”

                                                                 –Vladimir Nabokov

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Employment

“Art is a concrete and personal and rather childish thing after all—no matter what people do to graft it into science and make it sociological and psychological; it is no good at all unless it is let alone to be itself—a game of make-believe, of re-production, very exciting and delightful to people who have an ear for it or an eye for it.”

                                                                      –Willa Cather

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Semplice

“In almost every relationship with his fellowmen the artist will encounter a preponderance of shallowness, conceit, envy, jealousy, profit-seeking, treachery, and dumb resistance.”

                                                        –Jacques Barzun

“Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul.”

                                                           –Emerson

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Dragline

In the face of collapse
We operate
See it in the faces
Buried in the tangle
Of bricks
Glass
And stink
We operate
Inside the foundation
Of dread and repeat
And importance
We operate
We operate

           –Dazzling Killmen

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Mirrored Halls

“Why read, if what you read will not enhance mind or spirit or personality?” I take great issue with Donald Hall’s claim of a widespread increase in competently written poems. Why sanction competence? Then again, advanced readers—superlatively engaged—are required, desperately necessary, ones who can actually discriminate beyond a mere like or dislike. “A vast concourse of inadequate works, for adults and for children, crams the dustbins of the ages. At a time when public judgment is no better and no worse than what is proclaimed by the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study, anything goes.” The term “competence” saturates commentary, and to retain any distinction must be divorced from technical aspects of craft and tradition. There exists a terrible disconnect—between the study of forms and technique, and the application of such knowledge. It’s as though nothing rubs off on today’s students. The burden of proof lies on Hall et al. to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, incontrovertibly, that so much excellent writing is in fact being written. I see no overwhelming evidence of that. “Poems that demand—and reward—rereading are rare, almost extinct.”

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Must Needs

“There is no greater fallacy going than that art is expression—an undertaking to tell all to the last scrapings of the brain pan.”

                                                               –Robert Frost

*****

“If literary canons are the product only of class, racial, gender, and national interests, presumably the same should be true of all other aesthetic traditions, including music and the visual arts. Matisse and Stravinsky can then go down with Joyce and Proust as four more dead white European males. I gaze in wonder at the crowds of New Yorkers at the Matisse exhibition: are they truly there because of societal overconditioning? When the School of Resentment becomes as dominant among art historians and critics as it is now among literary academics, will Matisse go unattended while we all flock to view the daubings of the Guerrilla Girls? The lunacy of these questions is plain enough when it comes to the eminence of Matisse, while Stravinsky is clearly in no danger of being replaced by politically correct music for the ballet companies of the world. Why then is literature so vulnerable to the onrush of our contemporary social idealists? One answer seems to be the common illusion that less knowledge and less technical skill is required for either the production or the comprehension of imaginative literature (as we used to call it) than for the other arts.”

                                                       –Harold Bloom

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Decline and Fall

          The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

             –Jeremiah 8:20

F. L. Lucas: “And one of the things that reduce me to annual rage and despair in correcting examination papers is the spectacle of two or three hundred young men and women who have soaked in poetry for two or three years, yet seem, with rare exceptions, not to have absorbed one particle of it into their systems; so that even those who have acquired some knowledge yet think, too often, like pedants, and write like grocers.”

That “high and ancient art” doesn’t rub off so easily, with mere exposure. The practice of writing verse—decent, substantial verse—remains elusive, not quite available to just anyone (contrary to popular opinion).

Jean de La Bruyère: “There are certain things in which mediocrity is intolerable: poetry, music, painting, public eloquence.”

W. H. Auden: “A poet over thirty may still be a voracious reader, but it is unlikely that much of what he reads is modern poetry.”

I am of an age where I can’t afford to waste time on petty grievances, department store annoyances and bland epiphanies presented as poetry. Despite the ubiquitous I, most contemporary poetry stops short, remaining largely impersonal—insufficiently transformed and infused by the writer.

An overriding, unhealthy irreverence for tradition and craftsmanship rules the day.

I object, opposed to all this disproportionate fussing over the death of one beloved celebrity. How unlikely…rarer still that such a commodified ego, gracing presidential inaugurations, commanding thousands of dollars per appearance—would truly be in the service of Language, indebted to Poetry.

With many indifferent to significant departure…

Gone…Gabriel García Márquez.

No more the disconcerting elegance of Russell Edson.

While there’s plenty advantage in avoiding the classics—dangerously sobering.

It’s enough to champion masterful writing.

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