Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pound’s James

In a Garden

Periodic lost footing sense, continuing. Pound, prone to athletic one-upmanship, says of Henry James’s A Little Tour In France: “Allow me my piéton’s shrug for the man who has gone only by train.” Found reading Pound’s “Henry James,” looking for an approach to what, at a distance, appears to be unremitting fuss, a deep slurry with no salient. Evidence that Pound thinks somewhat similarly. Talking of James’s “subtly graded atmospheres”:
If one were advocate instead of critic, one would definitely claim that these atmospheres, nuances, impressions of personal tone and quality are his subject; that in these he gets certain things that almost no one else had done before him. These timbres and tonalities are his stronghold, he is ignorant of nearly everything else. It is all very well to say that modern life is largely made up of velleities, atmospheres, timbres, nuances, etc., but if people really spent as much time fussing, to the extent of the Jamesian fuss about such normal trifling, age-old affairs, as slight inclinations to adultery, slight disinclinations to marry, to refrain from marrying, etc., etc., life would scarcely be worth the bother of keeping on with it. It is also contendable that one must depict such mush in order to abolish it.
Ah, the sop vacuity of habit. Pound notes directly how “good prose arises . . . from an instinct of negation,” claiming it to be “the detailed, convincing analysis of something detestable; of something which one wants to eliminate.” Contra: “Poetry is the assertion of a positive, i.e., of desire, and endures for a longer period. Poetic satire is only an assertion of this positive, inversely, i.e., as of an opposite hatred.” Is it the reference to “velleities, atmospheres, timbres, nuances, etc.” that makes one recall the meagre un-nuanced quacks of Flarf—all that terribly thick impasto of little nothings, the slightness of verbal “inclinations”? Or is it how its idling fussiness smacks of the Jamesian leisure’d? (Pound’s complaint about Jamesian characters applicable, too: “reduced to the status of voyeurs”—James is absorb’d “in bagatelles.” The fault: “lack of the classics,” “no real series of background of mœurs du passé, only the ‘sweet dim faded lavender’ tone in opposition to modernity . . .” Marvels of ga-ga sentiment, easy and witless. Pound, speaking of such allegorical “tilting against the vacuity of the public figure” chez James: “it is pleasing that he should tilt, but the amusement partakes of the nature of seeing coconuts hurled at an aunt sally.” (See Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman’s manifesto Notes on Conceptualisms with its claim that “Conceptual writing is allegorical writing.” A coconut’s allegorical too. It’s also made of wood. See Pound’s: “Emotions to Henry James were more or less things that other people had and that one didn’t go into; at any rate not in drawing rooms.” See Conceptualism’s shiny and unperturb’d lack of any affect-tumult or intensity or vehemence whatsoever.) Notable, too, is James’s own view of New York (partially quoted by Pound, out of A Small Boy and Others), the uncanny shrug-provincialism of the imperium, early “I got mine”:
The special shade of its identity was thus that it was not conscious—really not conscious of anything in the world; or was conscious of so few possibilities at least, and these so immediate and so a matter of course, that it came almost to the same thing. That was the testimony that the slight subjects in question strike me as having borne to their surrounding medium—the fact that their unconsciousness could be so preserved. They played about in it so happily and serenely and sociably, as unembarrassed and loquacious as they were unadmonished and uninformed . . .
(Against Pound’s complaints about James: an admit’d sense that “masterwork is usually the result of the return from such excess”: “One does not know, simply does not know, the true curve until one has pushed one’s method beyond it.” The individual’s need and duty to exceed and misfire and re-collect.)

No. 3

Pluck and diminuendo. So long,
Jack. So long, sigil-maker.
Anything’s liable to bust under
Conveyance to a new rumble-
Strip. Lyric prettiness, its incongruously
Droll brinkmanship against the drone
Ferocity of the unrelenting empire.
Solfège of the launch pad.
Prong of Echinacea an un-
Emerged bumblebee’ll rout in August.
The tender’d butt of sack,
The shapeless leaking body-bag.

No. 6

Like the ‘vague, empty, rock-
Roughen’d pastures’ at night, or
The never-tacit heights of
Unbridled air a notch above
The sun, the heart is
Sounding itself out, and is
Coming un-cinch’d. And like
The slack-jaw’d idiocy of
A stock market analyst caught
Strong-arming a cashier, unheard-
Of splendors call out its
Malignity, its lineages of light.

Henry James, 1843-1916