Thursday, October 25, 2007

“Such a loon way backwards to row!”

Red Maple

Claudio Magris (in Danube) remarking how it’s possibly “an advantage in literature to write for no one, now that wherever one goes the machine of organized culture falsely claims to represent everyone.”

Elsewhere Magris writes (more or less) of: “A decorous and useless work,” one showing “the tragedy of a worthy disciple whose undoubted . . . expertise no longer has anything new to say.” He says: “B______’s worthy disciples are tragic figures: they emerge at once for what they are, and waste away their lives in work that, however respectable, is dated from the start. The wily followers of S______ or of P______, equally able and useless, succeed in hiding the fact that they are late in the day, to pass themselves off as originals, and to avoid tragedy thanks to their philistinism.” The wily philistine unable to see the tragic figure he (or she) cuts. Or sees it all too clearly and opts for a bang-up career anyways. (It’s followers who get career-offers, that is one definition of a follower in a wily-morass’d safe “era.”) Likely the sad obverse of the decree of Ammons to keep oneself “stupid.”

Because I am a book-butterfly, a biblio-siren’d unfinicky Lepidopteran in nigh-instantaneous infatuation with, wholly enfeoff’d by, the turn of any sturdy page, enfeebled by all bookish flora, a verbivore, say, of—cut it out—because of that “irregularity,” I find myself in the middle of a joint biography of Robert Lax, Thomas Merton and one Edward Rice (founder and editor of the Catholic magazine Jubilee), a Columbia crowd that study’d under Mark Van Doren in the late ’thirties, sort of automatic pre-Beats by dint of that. Odd to think of a period when all the up-and-coming literary wags (“worthy disciples”) dogged the bumptious (or bumpsy) incalculable Joyce of Finnegans Wake, though of course that’s exactly the kind of thing smart young things “go” “for.” Witness lines out of a letter by Lax to “Maistyer Meetin” (Merton):
How lung have I help beneeps the hegelstroms of imargination the ungunned feuerbachs of deliht? My girl dancy flutes is in tune from north chaplin and tomorrow I will see her wile the clock bings in the novcent horissimus of the sun’s dumb golden eagis. What breaknecks will be eke in wop flourecent palaz, beaneggs wat fakely glowering water wool we nod wizder conuming the uncoprehestive exactimentos most lightly give my the clown of dimones at sniffs gobbage.
None of “what exsprains my dilastory hoverage” about the Merton, someone I keep curiously circling the hermitry of, or Lax for that matter, wanting to “untie the gemman’s fistiknots, Qvic and Nuancee” of? Maybe. To say nothing of Van Doren, what made him tick? That so many’d sort Columbia so unfettered and raw? (Or is it the “exspraination” of any of the high-flight “instituertions”—big gaudy flowers and the nimbl’st bees? Maybe.)

Raving, unraveling.

Mark Van Doren and Robert Lax