Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Literary Journey

I Meant to Kill Ye: Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian (...Afterwords)
I Meant to Kill Ye: 
Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian 

"If only I could discover some crucial piece of information about the kid, my thinking went, then maybe I could finally figure out Blood Meridian and its disturbing grip on me." - Stephanie Reents

This little book of only 159 pages is literally small, measuring only four by six inches. Within this small container is a work of literary criticism that is different from any other that I have ever studied. The author, a college English teacher, decided to delve into Cormac McCarthy's most heralded work, Blood Meridian, by journeying into the sources of the novel.

When I say journeying, again literally, she went to the archives of McCarthy's papers at Texas State University-San Marcos, where in her pursuit of information about the background of "the Kid", one of the main characters in the novel, she perused the papers for some of the drafts of the novel that McCarthy rejected or heavily edited. She continued on her journey to follow the trail of the Glanton Gang from the novel through the southwest. In addition to this tour of some of the actual sources for the novel she also commented on the narrative voice with particular reference to the ideas of James Wood in his book, How Fiction Works.

With a journey bracketed by questions about who "the Kid" from the novel may have really been, this work of criticism works on two primary levels: that of traditional literary criticism and that of the critic as literary detective on a road trip. Sometimes personal reminiscences interrupted the criticism, but on the whole the journey of reading the book was one that provided both some interesting ideas about McCarthy's literary style and a bit of enjoyment from the journey to the archives and beyond.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Lectures on Proust

The Essential Proustian: The Collected Lectures of Joel Rich
The Essential Proustian: 
The Collected Lectures of Joel Rich 

“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer's work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader's recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book's truth.”  ― Marcel Proust, Time Regained

These are the thoughts of a Proust enthusiast presented in a series of lectures. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust encompasses the world and this set of lectures presents reasons why. The lectures comprise topics including women, time, sleep, and reading; also ranging into weather, war, animals, and death. I was fortunate to have been present at most of these lectures when the were presented as "First Friday Lectures" presented by the Basic Program of Liberal Education at The University of Chicago

A good example of the content of these lectures as well as a demonstration of the effect reading Proust's work may have on the reader is found in the following quote from Swann's Way, the first book of In Search of Lost Time:

"When I had found , one day, in a book by Bergotte, some joke about an old family servant . . . which was in principle what I had often said to my grandmother about Francoise . . . then it was suddenly revealed to me that my own humble existence and the Realms of Truth were less widely separated than I had supposed, that at certain points they were actually in contact; and in my new-found confidence and joy I wept upon his printed page, as in the arms of a long-lost father."

Joel Rich had a long association with this program leading Basic Program Alumni seminars on Proust as well as presenting these lectures. They provide a great introduction to anyone new to Proust's writing; but they can be enjoyed by those who already have experienced the world of Proust.

Friday, February 05, 2021

The Classics and Black Folk

Martin Luther King and W. E. B. DuBois

We know of Martin Luther King’s indebtedness to the thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau, and of his theological education. He was also steeped in the political philosophy of the West, from Plato to John Stuart Mill. In his graduate work at Boston University and Harvard in the 50s, he read and wrote on Hegel, Kant, Marx, and other philosophers. And as a visiting professor at Morehouse College—one year before his arrest in Birmingham and the composition of his letter—King taught a seminar in “Social Philosophy,” examining the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Bentham, and Mill.

Here are the thoughts of W. E. B. DuBois:

"I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?"

the last paragraph from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois, "Chapter VII".  

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Tribute to Melville

White Buildings: Poems
White Buildings: Poems 

Take this Sea, whose diapason knells
On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,
The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends
As her demeanors motion well or ill,
All but the pieties of lovers’ hands.  -  from "Voyages", Hart Crane

Hart Crane loved Melville and read Moby-Dick several times along with his other tales of the sea. This was in the early decades of the twentieth century before Melville was renowned as one of America's greatest authors. Crane had a difficult time getting his trbute, "At Melville's Tomb", published. Harriet Monroe rejected it when he submitted it to her Poetry Magazine and Marianne Moore wanted to change it before publication in the Dial, which she edited. Crane withdrew it, but it was included in White Buildings, his first collection of poetry to be published. When Eugene O'Neill agreed to write a foreward to the collection Boni & Liveright chose to publish it. Ultimately O'Neill backed out, but Allen Tate provided a foreward and Crane's first collection of poetry was printed in book form.

At Melville’s Tomb

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides ... High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.