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Terreson Profile
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Something Camus said


Revisiting and posting on the board an old novel, Open Faces, and a personal reaction to the exercise, brings to mind something Camus said, something I've mentioned before.

"In order to dominate collective passions they must, in fact, be lived through and experienced, at least relatively. At the same time he experiences them, the artist is devoured by them. The result is that our period is rather the period of journalism than that of the work of art. The exercise of these passions, finally, entails far greater chances of death than in a period of love and ambition, in that the only way of living collective passions is to be willing to die for them and by their hand."

Pretty strong words, ne's pas? I remember reading them some decades ago. But long before I read Camus, and was just starting out, I made my writing rule this: only write about what you have experienced first hand, at least relatively as Camus would say. Were I to think on it long enough probably I could find material in which I haven't. But in the main I've kept to the rule.

But there is something sneaky about Camus's words. I am guessing that in America, at least, most writers could say the same, that they have kept to and write about what they experience. But perhaps, however, that is still not enough. Camus specifically points to collective passions and the need to dominate them. He uses the phrase twice. When he says the artist must dominate them I take him to mean the artist must master them while remaining willing to die at their hands. Quite the qualifier.

So maybe the experiential base, in itself, is not enough. Maybe it has to be of a certain order or class. Maybe it has to be part and parcel of, intimately involved in, the collective passions.

I don't know about anyone else, and I cannot speak in the informed way about the contemp. lit of other nations, but in the main I can say that American lit of my lifetime bores me, leaves me restless, all too often leaves me with the question: so what? Mainstream poetry, frequently what you find in small presses, and not coming out of the academy only, bores me. Just to pick on a few big names in poetry, William Carlos Williams bores me. So does Ashbery. So does Bukowski. So do the Lang-Po poets. In the novel genre, well, I've pretty much given up on the contemporary American novel. The last American novelist I can think of who worked in the range of collective passions might have been James Baldwin. Likely there are more recent novelists who have and about whom I'm ignorant. The cardinal condemnation I have of the American novel is that it has misunderstood the genre, its logic. Telling a good story is not enough. The story must flesh out, body forth, an idea, a seminal idea, what amounts to philosophy.

So there it is, what I think. In the end experience is not enough. Ideology in itself has never been. Camus is right to point to a certain order of experience, that involving the collective passions. How else does the writer get to the universals of the human condition?

Tere
Jan/23/2011, 4:06 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Something Camus said


Hi Tere,

I've been seeing mention of Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book around lately. This excerpt of the book as cited in "Duncan's Divagations: On Robert Duncan and H.D." by Ange Mlinko speaks to the Camus quote and what you are saying I think:

"After the excitement in the authenticity of masterpieces, having resistant individuality and a demanding skill, I have come to see such works not as the achievement of inventors or masters or diluters or starters of crazes, as Pound would have us classify writers in his ABC of Reading, not as objects of a culture, embodying original sensibilities, but as events in another dimension, a field of meanings in which consciousness was in process; where I saw psyche and spirit, as I had come thru Darwin to see the animal organism, arising in an evolution of possible forms, surviving, perishing, derived always from an inheritance in which the formal persisted, arriving always as a trial or essay in which the formal had to live the last of a species, the first of a species, and yet having only its own terms, its own life, in which to make it."

http://www.thenation.com/article/158248/duncans-divagations-robert-duncan-and-hd?page=0,0

Then, too, there is this excerpt taken from "The H.D. Book Notes 2" by John Latta:

Robert Duncan, under “Eros” in The H.D. Book (University of California Press, 2011): “The work, the ground, and Eros lie at the heart of our study here. The work itself is the transformation of the ground.” Poetry is “a Making . . . the opus alcymicum”: its “rhymes”—results—being “correspondences, workings of figures and patterns of figures in which we apprehend the whole we do not see.” Duncan puts Psyche and Eros to work in a drama that “determines, beyond individual consciousness, the configurative image of a species”—presumably the work itself. Thus: “the would-be poet stands like Psyche in the dark, taken up in a marriage with a genius, possessed . . .”

http://isola-di-rifiuti.blogspot.com/2011/01/hd-book-notes-2.html

(For further reading on Duncan's book, also by Latta "The H.D. Book Notes 1":

http://isola-di-rifiuti.blogspot.com/2010/12/hd-book-notes.html)



Last edited by Katlin, Feb/9/2011, 3:32 pm
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Katlin Profile
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Re: Something Camus said


"In order to dominate collective passions they must, in fact, be lived through and experienced, at least relatively. At the same time he experiences them, the artist is devoured by them. The result is that our period is rather the period of journalism than that of the work of art. The exercise of these passions, finally, entails far greater chances of death than in a period of love and ambition, in that the only way of living collective passions is to be willing to die for them and by their hand."

This morning I heard an interview with Linday Gray Sexton, Anne's daugher, in which she talked about her own struggle with severe depression and what she called her family's "legacy of suicide." A legacy, I couldn't help thinking, Plath's family also inherited. Gray Sexton has fought hard to end that legacy in/for her family. She said she doesn't want to be remembered as "the hysterical daughter of an hysterical poet who killed herself." She wants to be remembered as "the woman who lived." She also recounted how someone had recently said to her, "You haven't lived as interesting a life as your mother did." She said she thought, "Well, if living an interesting life means I have to kill myself, I'd rather live."

"Camus specifically points to collective passions and the need to dominate them. He uses the phrase twice. When he says the artist must dominate them I take him to mean the artist must master them while remaining willing to die at their hands. Quite the qualifier."

To dominate and master the collective passions one must be willing to die, figuratively, symbolically one hopes. If one is devoured and kills one's self, dies literally in the process, I would say the collective passions have not been dominated and mastered. I don't think most people could/can ulimately dominate and master collective passions. A portion of them maybe, which is nothing to dismiss, brush aside.
Feb/9/2011, 12:28 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Something Camus said


Although I couldn't find a link to the radio interview I heard, I did find this article about the book she discussed:

Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by Linda Gray Sexton

. . .it takes its title from a phrase in John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale": "Darkling I listen; and for many a time/ I have been half in love with easeful Death,/ Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme."

http://articles.sfgate.com/2011-01-26/entertainment/27049721_1_anne-sexton-linda-gray-sexton-suicide
Feb/9/2011, 1:26 pm Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Something Camus said


Kat, I always enjoy how you can take an idea or a comment and run with it. The enjoyment squarely resides in how, running with it, you take off in your own directions.

Two immediate thoughts. In the Camus quote there is this for context: "...our period is rather the period of journalism than that of the work of art." That is a huge and hugely honest thing to say. One of the main things I took from Camus is his capacity for critical examination. He considered himself an artist first, a writer. But he was formally trained in philosophy. His training benefited him in two ways: he had the capacity for synthesizing experience and he had a critical eye for observing experience. He had field training in another discipline. Journalism. During WW2 he wrote for a French underground newspaper, "Combat", and he front line reported on the Algerian revolution against French colonials, himself a French colonial siding with the revolution. I figure his experience as a reporter informed on the point, that ours is more an age of journalism than of art. And what does the reporter do? She reports on experience. And what does poetry do anymore if it doesn't report on experience. Same is true of the novel, the short story, the essay, while both painting and music look to interpret experience, not create it through imagination the way Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Delacroix, Caravaggio did. Nor the way Austen, Dickens, or Flaubert did. Certainly not the way Byron, Coleridge, Baudelaire, or Rimbaud did. This is something worth thinking about.

About the case involving the Sextons, Anne and Linda, there is nothing interesting about Anne's life. Nothing interesting about Plath's life either, or E. Dickinson's. All three insufferably self-indulgent drama queens whose worth of experience a white trash girl would dismiss, but who kept in revolt and in defiance. In their own way, with their own poetic means, I figure they dominated collective passions.

Tere
Feb/9/2011, 8:41 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: Something Camus said


Tere,

You are right: Sexton and Plath dominated the collective passions, until they didn't. Just because they didn't in the end doesn't mean they didn't significantly for a time.

The thing that struck me most when I visited Dickinson's home was what a man's world it was. Remember that old Rolling Stones song "Under My Thumb"? She was under her daddy's thumb and her brother's thumb but managed not to be under a husband's thumb or a male God's thumb. You really think Sexton, Plath and Dickison were "insufferably self-indulgent drama queens"? Well, from one perspective I can certainly see it. I mean it's not like Dickinson took a page from Louisa May Alcott's play book and went off to be a nurse during the Civil War. (Did it make a difference that her father was Bronson Alcott, I wonder?) But, yes, I guess their life experience quotas were limited. Of course, a white trash girl's life experience can be quite limited as well and doesn't automatically preclude the drama queen syndrome (ever watch Jerry Springer?). Not that I want to trash white trash girls, who often live out the collective passions in painful and dangerous ways even when folks like Springer and Pouvich aren't egging them on and filming it.

"Same is true of the novel, the short story, the essay, while both painting and music look to interpret experience, not create it through imagination the way Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Delacroix, Caravaggio did. Nor the way Austen, Dickens, or Flaubert did. Certainly not the way Byron, Coleridge, Baudelaire, or Rimbaud did. This is something worth thinking about."

Yes, I get the distinction Camus and you are making now, and it's a big one. Thanks for the clarification. And sorry for the diversion! Let me be your huckleberry and make it up to you:

"The cardinal condemnation I have of the American novel is that it has misunderstood the genre, its logic. Telling a good story is not enough. The story must flesh out, body forth, an idea, a seminal idea, what amounts to philosophy."

Philosophy?

  



Last edited by Katlin, Feb/9/2011, 10:35 pm
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Hi Tere,

I'm resisting the urge to delete or at least heavily edit my previous post. Decided to go the opposite route. (In for a penny, in for a pound.) Several thoughts that came to me since last night:

The fact that ED had photographs of George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning hanging on the wall in her room tells me she had dreams for a richer, bigger life.

Despite the fact that someone on McCain's team after the last election referred to her family as the "hillbillies from Wasilla," I've come to view Sarah Palin as an insufferably self-indulgent drama queen, although I think once online elsewhere I used the term "attention whore" instead of "insufferably self-indulgent" to describe her.

I have a neighbor, a young woman in her early 20's who is unmarried with a 5 year old son. The boyfriend/father is around, sort of. The young woman has trouble keeping a job and now works as a receptionist for her father at a small used car dealership. One of my other neigbor's refers to her as "white trash." I overheard the young woman apologizing to some other young women in the neighborhood for getting angry at them. She said, "Don't take it personally. It's not you. It's me. I'm mad at the whole world." One day I heard her screaming at her son, telling him she was going to "beat the !@#$" out of him when they got inside. He weepingly replied, "I hate people."

That's reporting, my friend. I confess I don't know how to bring imagination to bear on the report even though I know others, more intimately, who are mad at the whole world and who hate people, and have felt that way myself from time to time.

Last edited by Katlin, Feb/10/2011, 10:36 am
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Terreson Profile
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Love it when someone gets to thinking like this, Kat, creatively like. But first, my comment was meant as a compliment, so do not feel the need to apologize for the diversions. Rabbit chasing is probably the most creative consequence of colleagues thinking in tandem. Scientists cetainly engage in it.

About Emily's case, I think there was something other than male dominance that kept her in that Amherst house. In fact I think she turned the circumstance to her own advantage, which is not uncommon of a certain kind of woman living in a patriarchal order to do. I think she found a certain degree of freedom. So she played to her father and played to her brother. All her father really required of her was to be his baker. It seems she had a talent for baking good bread. Beyond that the only other domestic chore she engaged in regularly was seeing to the family garden, a chore she came to enjoy; a chore, I'll opine, that benefited her poetically.

But even in her own way Emily was a journalist. I have no authority to back me up on this. But to me the chronology makes something quite clear. Emily is credited with having written 1,775 poems. The last attested date of a poem of hers is 1886, which is the year she died. The earliest date ascribed to a poem of hers is 1850. In 1850 Emily would have been twenty years of age. So 30 years of poetry making. Now for the kicker.

Between 1861 and 1865 Emily made 1,648 poems. This means she made 127 poems before and after the Civil War. So many questions about motive and intention the numbers raise. Maybe Emily internalized, went journalistic, during the worst national crisis America has yet known.

I'll get back to your white trash girl later.

Tere
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Katlin Profile
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Hi Tere,

A friend of mine is currently teaching a course in Civil War literature and is using this poem by ED as part of the curriculum:

        XXXIII

When I was small, a Woman died —
Today — her Only Boy
Went up from the Potomac —
His face all Victory

To look at her — How slowly
The Seasons must have turned
Till Bullets clipt an Angle
And He passed quickly round —

If pride shall be in Paradise —
Ourself cannot decide —
Of their imperial Conduct —
No person testified —

But, proud in Apparition —
That Woman and her Boy
Pass back and forth, before my Brain
As even in the sky —

I'm confident that Bravoes —
Perpetual break abroad
For Braveries, remote as this
In Scarlet Maryland —

(1862) (aka Poem 596)

There may be other poems in which she directly addresses the war, but this is one I know of.

Yes, I agree ED found a degree of freedom. The tour guide at her house told a story about her hiding somewher on a Sunday morning when the family was about to go to church together. They searched but could not find her and eventually had to leave without her. The guide also said that in addition to baking and gardening, ED took care of her sick and bed-ridden mother. To his credit, her father did allow her to get an education and seems to have encouraged her reading.

Last edited by Katlin, Feb/21/2011, 11:00 am
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Terreson Profile
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Thanks for posting the poem, Kat. It certainly does address the war. But perhaps I should clarify what I mean about Dickinson and the War. I do not feel she so much reported on the War in those years as she internalized it to such an extent it catalyzed her poetry. It could be coincidental she wrote most of her poetry during the War years. She would have been in her poetic prime during the period. But I cannot think of another poet who has written as volumnously during a period of war as she did. In comparison, the famed, and combined, poetry of the War Poets of WW1 is slim. 1,648 poems in four years, not many of which are DOA kind of poems, most of which deal with death. Something ignited her.

Journalism of a different kind, maybe, but journalism all the same. I picture Emily reading the newspaper(s), maybe daily, maybe semi-weekly, maybe weekly, what with both Boston and New York not so far away. Then she is in her room upstairs with pen and paper, and with internalized information about the killing fields. Internalized information.

Tere
Feb/17/2011, 8:26 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Journalism of a different kind, maybe, but journalism all the same. I picture Emily reading the newspaper(s), maybe daily, maybe semi-weekly, maybe weekly, what with both Boston and New York not so far away. Then she is in her room upstairs with pen and paper, and with internalized information about the killing fields. Internalized information.

Hi Tere,

No, I understood what you meant by internalized journalism. I was the one who wasn't clear as to why I was posting the poem: Simply because I had never read a poem in which ED addressed the war directly. I think you are right to picture Emily reading about the war, perhaps on a daily basis. I recall the tour guide saying the family subscribed to a number of newspapers and journals, so it seems likely Emily must have read them and went internally journalistic, as you say. Those are amazing stats regarding her poetic output, aren't they?
Feb/21/2011, 10:59 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Amazing stats indeed, Kat. I remember deciding to do the math. I recall having a hunch about Dickinson and the War years. Still I was stunned.

Tere
Feb/21/2011, 1:26 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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