"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Friday, December 10, 2021

My reading notes on The Anatomy of Influence [iii]

The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life by Harold Bloom

(Yale, 2011)

* * *


[....]Shakespeare himself is change, and the bounds of existence are broken and reformed because it is through Shakespeare that we are reminded that the mind is a ceaseless activity.

[....]"He that peruses Shakespeare looks around alarmed, and starts to find himself alone." There is the epitome of Johnson on Shakespeare: here is the writer and his critic who make us tremble like a guilty thing surprised when we first encounter the most vivid immediacy that imaginative literature can afford us.

[....]Shakespeare confronts Johnson with an invaluable dilemma. In his own new way Johnson seems to me essentially a biographical critic. Johnsonian universals always are biographical, that is to say psychological, and that is the clue to his love and understanding of Shakespeare. For Johnson, Shakespeare is the absolute poet of human nature, and of our affections in particular.

[....]Walter Pater's subtle essay on Measure for Measure a century later.

[....]Universal is a key word for Johnson's comprehension of Shakespeare's importance, since "universals" imbue the Johnsonian mode of criticism, empirical but deeply learned, a parallel discipline to David Hume's philosophy.

[....]Of everything on Shakespeare I have read, the most helpful is Johnson's preface to his edition of Shakespeare's plays. Nothing else devoted to Shakespeare brings to the sublime of all works of literature a total human being whose cognitive and affective endowments rival the plays he lovingly confronts.

[....]Always a moralist above all, Johnson is too intelligent not to see the plays are not Christian, and their audience is presumed such only as a social convention.

[....]I agree that we owe everything to Shakespeare, even if to say so invites scorn from the usual rabblement: comma counters, "cultural" materialists, new and newer historicists, gender commissars, and all the other academic impostors, mock journalists, inchoate rhapsodes, and good spellers. Without Shakespeare what would we know? We no longer recognize what we mean by "nature," unless it be Shakespeare's work. To appeal from reason to nature simply is to invoke Shakespeare.

[....]Johnson had a nostalgia for the formalistic neoclassical rules of literature but discarded them whenever they did not fit Shakespeare, since Shakespeare alone gives copious sustenance to our "hunger of imagination."

[....]In the tradition of Longinus, he wants us to apprehend that Shakespeare is showing us much for the first time while making us feel we had truly known it all along but lacked awareness.

[....]Citing this passage or that from Johnson's preface to his Shakespeare edition is a hopeless way of getting at its power of insight. Underlying it throughout is Johnson's sense of perilous balance, of falling into Swiftian madness rather than imitating the supposedly Shakespearean "repose on the stability of truth." For Johnson this is the value of Shakespeare; but reflect upon that massive phrase, "the stability of truth." What can Johnson mean? Nothing, no one, is stable in Shakespeare or in our lives; Johnson knows this too well. It must change is the law of Shakespeare and of life; we have neither youth nor age but a dreaming on both.

[....]Hearing Wimsatt, I said once in a seminar that his Johnson seemed to be a kind of baroque Neoplatonist, and my teacher did not demur. That class was in the autumn of 1951; fifty-eight years later I reflect back on it and wonder whether Johnson's Shakespeare is not a Neoplatonic or Hermetic Demiurge, which is not a bad description of Prospero.

     The preface's Shakespeare is remarkably close to the Bard of Hazlitt and Coleridge, Lamb and Keats: the maker of a new reality in which—not altogether consciously—we find ourselves more truly and more strange. Shakespeare called out to the Romantic strain in Johnson, the mind through all its powers seeking to exorcize the vileness of melancholy and assert itself against a universe of death.

* * *



[Pater, Yeats, Stevens, Merrill]

[....]Lucretian tradition is not less anxious than Protestant continuity.

[....] Milton could subsume all anteriority except for Shakespeare

[....]the hierophant of metamorphosis is an incessant magpie, sensibly appropriating what he finds useful.

[....] the Epicurean exalter of the swerve was a marvelous stimulus to a Skeptical Sublime.

[....] As a disciple of Walter Pater and his ephebe Oscar Wilde, I am an Epicurean literary critic, reliant upon sensations, perceptions, impressions

[....]To-day at least, in the peculiar clearness of one privileged hour, he seemed to have apprehended . . . an abiding-place. . . .

[....]Himself—his sensations and ideas—never fell again precisely into focus as on that day, yet he was the richer by its experience. . . . It gave him a definitely ascertained measure of his moral or intellectual need, of the demand his soul must make upon the powers, whatsoever they might be, which had brought him, as he was, into the world at all.

[clinamen]: swerve

[....]Certainly the strongest of Italian poets since Dante and Petrarch, Leopardi, like Wordsworth, is the inaugurator of modern poetry. Something that went from Homer and the Hebrew Bible on to Goethe and William Blake changed forever with Wordsworth and Leopardi. Two Romantic visionaries hardly could be more different than are Leopardi and Wordsworth in temperament, belief, and hope. And yet they share (with no knowledge of the other's existence) the fundamental patterns of the High Romantic crisis-poem, in which the poet saves himself from acedia if only to write the next poem, to make it possible.

[acedia /əˈsēdēə/ spiritual or mental sloth; apathy.]

[heterocosm] A separate or alternative world. noun

[....] Schopenhauer and of the early Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, in his observation that what the solipsist says is irony but what he means is right.

[....]Paterian imagination—"simplification through intensity"

[....]Despite its closing line, this should be called "The Second Birth" since it celebrates the Second Coming of the Egyptian sphinx and not of Christ.

[....]Ultimately Yeats's starting point had to be Shelley's rugged sonnet "Ozymandias"

[....] The Theban sphinx, Riddler and Strangler, overcome by Oedipus, had the head of a woman. Yeats, a late Pre-Raphaelite, followed Swinburne and Wilde in seeing the Oedipal female sphinx as the muse of sadomasochistic self-destruction. This was the sphinx of Yeats's Tragic Generation, his friends the poets of the 1890s: Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symons, Victor Plarr.

[....] What if every two thousand and odd years something happens in the world to make one sacred, the other secular; one wise, the other foolish; one fair, the other foul; one divine, the other devilish?

[....] What if there is an arithmetic or geometry that can exactly measure the slope of a balance, the dip of a scale, and so date the coming of that something?


[....] this shattering poem that more than triumphs over its own incoherence, and indeed exploits such sacred disorder. Why the Egyptian sphinx rather than the Greek? Because Yeats is thinking of Oedipus as he drafts what will become "The Second Coming," yet he strongly desires to exclude his "new divinity" from the poem.

[....] the fascination with what's difficult, endemic in Yeats's work.

[....] Pater's definition of Romanticism as "adding strangeness to beauty,"

[Aickman adds strangeness to banality.]

[....] I cannot think of another twentieth-century poem in any Western language that rivals "The Second Coming" in rhetorical power. Yeats's poem of violent annunciation is as fearfully relevant now as it was in January 1919, when it was composed.


[....] "The Second Coming" is a celebration of the rough beast, not a lamentation. Neither a Christian nor a humanist, Yeats was an apocalyptic pagan, who would have looked on and laughed in what he called "tragic joy."

[....] Politically, Yeats was refreshingly outrageous, and hardly asked to be held responsible for his outbursts. His essay On the Boiler (1939) is a wild absurdity in which "the drilled and docile masses," if they do not submit, are to be rolled over by "the skilful, riding their machines as did the feudal knights their armoured horses." That is Yeats twenty years after "The Second Coming," yet the spirit is the same.

[....] Meditating upon Yeats's reveries on Shelley and Blake crystallized for me the realization that the most fruitful poetic influence was a creative misreading or misprision.

[....] Per Amica Silentia Lunae, more than A Vision, is Yeats's Book of the Daimon. A beautiful, original twist is given by Yeats to daimonic lore. The poet's daimon, or opposing self, is also his muse, the unattainable [Maude Gonne] precisely call her Yeats's Genius, perpetually frustrating him into poetic greatness.

[....]Stationing "Byzantium" both as an aesthetic phenomenon of poetic images and as an emblem of an occult death-before-life gives Yeats an uncomfortable advantage over us, his readers. We simply cannot know where we are, and so we don't really know what the poet is talking about, and perhaps Yeats does not really know either. The rhetoric of "Byzantium" is pitched so high, its rhythms so wonderfully modulated, that we don't much care. With a poem so rich beyond measure, incoherence is no more a burden here than it need be in "The Second Coming."

[Willed phantasmagoria]

[....]"revisionary ratios"  A Map of Misreading



[....]metonymy/metaphor division of Roman Jakobson, I rewrought as kenosis/askesis

[....]hyperbole, but conceived as a daimonic assertion of individual genius.

[....] metalepsis, or the metonymy of a metonymy, which I called by the ancient Athenian word apophrades, the unlucky (dismal) days when the dead returned momentarily to repossess their former homes.


[exegetical instruments]

[....] Once again, influence anxiety, as I have seen it, takes place between poems, and not between persons. Temperament and circumstances determine whether or not a later poet feels anxiety at whatever level of consciousness. All that matters for interpretation is the revisionary relationship between poems, as manifested in tropes, images, diction, syntax, grammar, metric, poetic stance.

[cathected: to invest with mental or emotional energy]

[....]Strong poets do not choose but are found by the imaginative register of blood kindred.

[....] anxiety of influence as an affect of the belated poet scarcely interests me. The impingements of one poem upon another is my concern...

* * *


[....] [Robert Penn] Warren remarked that my phrase "the anxiety of influence" was a metaphor for poetry itself, which is my starting point for this brief coda. Shakespeare's influence upon himself does not mark him as unique, and yet it mattered more than the combined effect of Marlowe, Ovid, Chaucer, and the English Bible.

[....]Only a few of the strongest—Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill—did not respond to [Whitman]. Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, and Hart Crane belong to a particular tradition in which form is almost totally unaffected by Whitman, but the inward motions of stance, trope, and self-awareness increasingly reveal their sonship to the American Homer. Western poetry, perhaps unlike Eastern, is incurably agonistic.

[....]When I began to formulate the image of anxiety of influence, I relied from the start on Lucretius, whose clinamen, "swerve," became my model for the rhetorical relation between earlier and later poets. That is why so much of this book is devoted to Lucretian poets: Shelley, Leopardi, Whitman, Stevens, and others. One could have added Robert Frost, perhaps the most Lucretian of all our poets.

[....]There is no way out of the labyrinth of literary influence once you reach the point where it starts reading you more fully than you can encompass other imaginations. That labyrinth is life itself. I cannot finish this book because I hope to go on reading and seeking the blessing of more life.


10 December 2021

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