GREATNESS and IMPORTANCE
|March 8, 2012|
The Poor Poet, Carl Spitzweg, 1839
Since when did being a writer become a career choice, with appropriate degree courses and pecking orders? Does this state of affairs make any difference to what gets written?
A natural selection process favors those writers whose style and content cross borders easily. Success and celebrity breed imitators. Lots of them. Nobody can read everything. Nobody can read the hundredth part of everything. Nevertheless international prizes purport to tell us which is the best novel of the year, who the greatest writer.
The ultimate achievement of the career writer, after a lifetime of literary festivals, shortlists and prizes, readings, seminars, honorary degrees, lectures, and, of course, writing is, or would be, to place himself inside “the canon.” But in the publishing culture we have today any idea that a process of slow sifting might produce a credible canon such as those we inherited from the distant past is nonsense. Whatever in the future masquerades as a canon for our own time will largely be the result of good marketing, self-promotion, and of course pure chance.
Is all this bad news? Only if one is attached to dreams of greatness. In a droll lecture entitled “Ten Thousand Poets” delivered at the annual conference of The Association of Literary Scholars and Critics at Boston University last October, the excellent poet Mark Halliday reflected:
“I think all of us who keep striving and striving to publish another and another book of poems are still in love with the ideas of GREATNESS and IMPORTANCE.”
As Halliday concluded such ideas were simply not compatible with the era of the career writer.
Inherent Vice’s Two Directions
The jokes certainly strike one as sophomoric and the latter one as clichéd, further below Pynchon’s intelligence than one would like to think he would stoop, at least in print. Discounting them and moving on, or throwing the book across the room as Parker half implies we should do, however, would be to lose sight of “that high magic to low puns”.
Auden, Larkin and Love
I was prompted to revisit these ancient questions anew by a long footnote about a single line in the new Complete Poems edition of Philip Larkin’s poetry. The footnote refers to “An Arundel Tomb” contains a provocative remark about that the poem’s celebrated, controversial, closing line, the one about the true nature of immortality: “What will survive of us is love.”
Plato, Our Comrade?
Not surprisingly, there have already been critics of Badiou’s translation. The first is that his translation breaks the formal rules of translation to such a degree that the original meaning of the text has lost its significance. But this critique is inadequate at face value because Badiou’s hyper-translation is forthright in its intention of taking Plato’s concepts and modifying them into his own lexicon.