Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Still more on criticism



Steven Fama, in a comment on one of my posts on criticism, suggests that I should have mentioned Olson's Call Me Ishmael. Consider it an addition to my list, and heartily endorsed, along with Zukofsky's Bottom: On Shakespeare and Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore.

There are, of course, countless other books (and essays) that I could add. Fama points out an apparent blindness in my list to anything more than thirty years old; it stems not from a deliberate project or agenda on my part, but from the non-systematic and off-the-cuff manner in which I approached the task. And his observation calls other omissions to mind as well, particularly of art and film criticism. Certainly Arthur Danto's Art After the End of Art merits inclusion, along with P. Adams Sitney's Modernist Montage and much of Cahiers du cinema.

Of course, there's more that could be added — as before, I remain stubborn in my refusal to stand up and have my memory triggered by even the most basic "research" of looking at my bookshelf.

But instead, I'm curious what other books you would include on your own list(s). Comment in the appropriate space, if you're so inclined.





6 comments:

Steven Fama said...

Me again. I hope others drop in too. I cheated I guess and looked at little at my bookshelves. Cheated again I guess by including a couple essays as opposed to books. Here's five works of criticism that were seminal for me one way or another:

Joseph Campbell and Henry Morton Robinson, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944).

I think some question whether this book actually unlocks anything, but jeez the authors' effort alone makes it incredible.

Michel Carrouges, Andre Breton and the Basic Concepts of Surrealism (1974).

It's very, very good on Breton. But I'll always remember it for a single passage: “Poems are really disorientation maps. They violently cast a gleam of irrationality, a disintegrating and subversive light over the breadth of this world, a light which bursts upon the poet and is reflected on the reader. The point of a poem is not to gather together a museum of poetic expressions that one has only to admire passively, but to put into circulation mental explosives destined to blow up the walls of habit and inertia.”

Philip Lamantia, “Poetic Matters.”in Arsenal, No. 3 (1976).

Lamantia fiercely dismisses most modern and contemporary poetry up to that time (and he names names too), except for Bob Kaufman and Corso, and among other things declares that the immediate American precursors of his particular (at that time) surrealist poetics are but Samuel Greenberg, Mina Loy (in Lunar Baedeker (1923)) and the Harry Crosby of Mad Queen. While Lamantia in subsequent decades somewhat tempered his views about poetry, the critical fire of this essay burns hot and is a fine example of the power of an ardent presentation of a deeply held opinion.

John Ashbery, “The Impossible” [on Stein’s Stanzas in Meditation], in Poetry (July 1957).

This essay is available on the web. Every time I read it I want to read the poem again, or write about some other poem.

Kenneth Rexroth, Classics Revisited (1968) and More Classics Revisited (1989).

Cogent and lively, these short takes on dozens and dozens of classics humble me, awesomely. Originally published serially, mostly in The Saturday Review.

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