Elder Dr. Faustus

On the trail of Mormon qabbalism (this, not this), or perhaps on the edge of it’s abyss. Either way, it is an occulted thing (MORMON QABBALISM = 299 = ABYSMAL DARKNESS) that rarely emerges from the brume. But sometimes it does:

I am profoundly grateful for the law of tithing. … It is so simple and straightforward. It consists of 35 words set forth in section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants. What a contrast with the cumbersome, complex, and difficult tax codes with which we live as citizens.
—Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of Missions, Temples, and Stewardship,” General Conference, October 1995, Priesthood Session. (my emphasis)

In case you, gentle reader, think I’m making more of this than there is, consider two injunctions from Doctor Faustus, to whom Mormon qabbalism is joined (MORMON QABBALISM = 299 = DOCTOR FAUSTUS): “These are but shadows, not substantial” & “Be silent then, for danger is in words.”

Christensen on Hollander’s qabbalistic poetics

Many of [John] Hollander’s unique lyric structures are based on prime numbers and their factorials. Among others, Hollander’s partiality for prime numbers is evident in spy-master Cupcake’s “eleven-phase transposition grid,” in Reflections on Espionage, and in the thirteen-syllable line throughout Powers of Thirteen. Moreover, two of the major sequences, Spectral Emanations and Powers of Thirteen are built on factorials of prime numbers (7 and 13 respectively). … At three moments in this half-century of publication, Hollander has marked out the scope of his achievement with Selected Poems (1972, 1978, and 1993), with only thirteen poems common to all three editions.*
*Thirteen is a number significant to Hollander, who discovered, in the course of writing Powers of Thirteen, that the initial letters of his name, first and last, add up to thirteen. The thirteen poems are “For Both of You”; “The Great Bear”; “Movie-Going”; “Digging It Out”; “Off Marblehead”; “The Ninth of July”; “Sunday Evenings”: “From the Ramble”; “The Night Mirror”; “Under Cancer”; “Granny Smith”; “Adam’s Task”; and “The Head of the Bed.”
—Philip H. Christensen, “John Hollander’s Selected Poems (1972, 1978, and 1993) and the Necessity of ‘Preparing a Perpetual Calendar,’” in Hélène Aji & Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec (eds.), Selected Poems: From Modernism to Now (2012; my emphasis).

Davenport on Davidson

I picked up a copy of Avram Davidson‘s Rork! a few days ago, on the strength of Peregrine PrimusThe Phoenix and the Mirror, & that one Wolfe blurb. Pick up any and every copy of Davidson that crosses your path. (EDIT: Found & purchased a copy of Mutiny in Space a week later—I practice what I preach.) They seem to be on the wane these days, and far fewer of them cross my path here in TX than in other places I’ve lived. (How does that accord with your experience of Davidson on the shelves, gentle readers?)

Guy Davenport is another champion of Davidson, and I found the following comments in his letters to James Laughlin. If you’re not a reader of Davidson—and so not interested in Davenport’s glasperlenspiel, playing him alongside Tolstoy, Perelman, Twain, Burton, Pliny the Elder, Montaigne, & Hakluyt—the anecdote in the first letter about nonrecognition & dead mafioso is well worth your time.

Lovely as your letter is today, and the jacket design, I was most pleased to have a letter from Avram Davidson, dictated to a hospital orderly, and brief but pithy. Avram on his 70th birthday a month ago collapsed with a diabetic attack and lay on his floor for two days before he was found. I’d tracked him (I believe I said in my last letter) to a Bremerton WA hospital. He sounds brave and chipper. I’d talked last week with his nurse, and told her Avram was a very distinguished writer, “just a notch or two below Tolstoy,” which I’d thought was a practical hyperbole. The nurse got this all mixed up, and thought Avram lived in Bremerton near the Tolstoys, and asked what kind of neighbors they were.
Nonrecognition of the great always causes high comedy. Do you remember the Mafioso who was executed by fellow business partners on his doorsteps in NY (back in WW II)? He has in his pocket a list of names (presumably to buy art books as Xmas presents for a daughter). Anyway, the FBI sent out an all-points alert to bring in Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Duccio di Buoninsegna. Shoot on sight.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin],” (7 May 1993; my emphasis)

One of the things in today’s mail was Avram Davidson’s Adventures in Unhistory (Owlswick), signed. Avram died four days ago, just beyond his 70th birthday. He had a diabetes attack, went into a coma, lay on his floor for 2½ days, but had been dismissed from a hospital and put in a nursing home. I had a scrawled letter from him, which I’m still trying to decipher, and a dictated one. He was reading my Drummer. He must have signed my copy of his new book just before the collapse. I wonder if the Times did an obit? I would place him beside Perelman as a humorist and close to Mark Twain as a compounder of the fantastic and the absurd.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin]” (13 May 1993)

I’ve finished Avram’s book—Studies in Unhistory—that came out while he was dying. It’s for people who delight in Burton (Robt, of the Anatomy), Pliny the Elder, Montaigne, and Hakluyt. Each essay comes up with an unlikely origin for the mandrake, dragons, mermaids, werewolves, and such. A book for bright teenagers, and old codgers nodding by the fire.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin]” (17[-18] May 1993; my emphasis)

(All letters excerpted from Guy Davenport and James Laughlin: Selected Letters [2007].)

Bromwich & Green on two “personifications of psychic forces”

In Leviathan Hobbes said that what we call the ‘deliberation’ of the will is nothing but ‘the last appetite, or aversion, immediately adhering to’ an action. Whatever the general truth of the analysis, Trump’s process of thought works like that. If Obama often seemed an image of deliberation without appetite, Trump has always been the reverse. For him, there is no time to linger: from the first thought to the first motion is a matter of seconds; the last aversion or appetite triggers the jump to the deed.
—David Bromwich, “Act One, Scene One,” London Review of Books (16 February 2017)

Indeed this was ever Loki’s way, for he took such a delight in mischief that he would often do whatever came into his head, without counting the cost.
—Roger Lancelyn Green, Myths of the Norsemen (1960)

(The headnote quotes Jung’s “Essay on Wotan“; quoted in Corey Pein’s “Donald Trump, Trickster God.”)

Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 3

Alastair Reid‘s bio, from the back of Ounce Dice Trice:

Alastair Reid is a poet, translator, essayist, and scholar of Latin American literature. He had been on the staff of The New Yorker since 1959 and has translated works by Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. Among his many books for children are A Balloon for a Blunderbuss, I Keep Changing, and Millionaires (all illustrated by Bob Gill), and Supposing (illustrated by Abe Birnbaum). In 2008 he published two career-spanning collections of work, Inside Out: Selected Poetry and Translations and Outside In: Selected Prose. [my emphasis]

Cf. Since I know nothing of Reid except his Borges translations & the book quoted above, here’s cento of outsides for rapid orientation: Continue reading “Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 3”

Wright on alt-right Austen & Bloom

Not that I read The Chronicle, but:

Other alt-right partisans pay backhanded compliments by emphasizing Austen’s singularity as a celebrated female novelist. In a post that debuted in 2012 on Alternative Right and has since been lauded as an alt-right “classic,” the “manosphere” blogger Matt Forney mentioned Austen as an outlier from the norm of female mediocrity: “Virtually all great leaders, thinkers and artists were men. Aristotle, Galileo, Michaelangelo [sic], Napoleon: all men. Not to say that all women are incapable of artistic, scientific or military talent; every so often, we get a Marie Curie, a Jane Austen or a Joan of Arc.” Here the alt-right finds common ground with the literary gatekeeper Harold Bloom; in his best seller The Western Canon(1994), Austen is one of four women on a list of 26 most influential authors. According to this formulation, Austen is not a trailblazer for the female authors who followed in her wake, but rather a rebuke to women who have not reached her level of achievement.
—Nicole M. Wright, “Alt-Right Jane Austen,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (12 March 2017)

The purchase on reality offered by extrapolating from taste—particularly shared ones—is dubious.* But to draw distinctions that leave Norman Thomas voters lumped together with the alt-right is to lose contact with a considerable portion of external reality. When it hinges on Jane Austen, it’s probably one of the more mannered forms of psychosis, and not necessarily a bad response to our long march through the Chaotic Age.

Bloom makes no such “rebuke” argument. If it’s statistics that damn him, he gives her better odds in the actual chapter on Persuasion:

Henry James insisted that the novelist must be a sensibility upon which absolutely nothing is lost; by that test (clearly a limited one) only Austen, George Eliot, and James himself, among all those writing in English, would join Stendhal, Flaubert, and Tolstoy in a rather restricted pantheon.
—Harold Bloom, The Western Canon (1994)

33.33% is less rebuke-y than 15.38%.

*The exception that proves the rule: people who enjoy Rilke are reliably boring. (And seven times out of ten, despicable in some minor way.)

Hesse on idle reading

Knecht saw a bookcase full of old books which aroused his curiosity. Idle reading was another pleasure which he had unlearned and almost forgotten in years of abstinence. This moment now reminded him intensely of his student years: to stand before a shelf of unknown books, reach out at random, and choose one or another volume whose gilt or author’s name, format or the color of the binding, appealed to him.
—Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, trans. Richard & Clara Winston (1943/1969)

Hugo on octopuses

At certain moments one is tempted to think that the intangible forms which float through our vision encounter in the realm of the possible, certain magnetic centres to which their lineaments cling, and that from these obscure fixations of the living dream, beings spring forth. The unknown has the marvelous at its disposal, and it makes use of it to compose the monster. Orpheus, Homer, and Hesiod were only able to make the Chimæra: God made the octopus.
When God wills it, he excels in the execrable.
—Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea, trans. Isabel Florence Hapgood (1866/1888)

Also evidence for the argument that Hugo is a precursor (Borgesian, not Bloomian) of Lovecraft.