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TSE  January 2002

TSE January 2002


Re: Thoughts on "La Figlia che Piange"


"Nancy Gish" <[log in to unmask]>


Sun, 27 Jan 2002 18:26:27 -0500





text/plain (235 lines)

Dear Ken,

I am sorry to be extremely stupid here and to have deleted the prior
messages, but what is the principle I am supposed to have upheld? I
honestly do not see to what you are referring. If it is that one may object to
a way of reading or method without the specifics, that is generally true IF
one is familiar with the "way" and/or "method" already. For example, I do
not think there is much to be learned at this point from any new critical
reading of Eliot: it has been done to death. But I was trained in that
method, so I can object from understanding. And I still think the method is
excellent as a way to get students into literature, even essential for them to
understand the text as a beginning, and I use it in classes. But my
question was "what is the way of Seymour-Jones"? That was never said in
any post I have seen. So it seems relevant to me unless I don't see the
principle. As I said in a response to Raphael, I did not say Seymour-Jones
had done her homework properly but that she has done it. She has,
regardless of what reviewers say--in the sense that she has done
exhaustive reading and research. Interestingly, Gordon's comment on T. S.
Matthews is that it is full of inaccuracies. I think the reviewers comment on
homework refers to a different issue (at least from what I have now read,
and this is subject to revision when I have finished it), which is that she is
too quick, even glib, about the meaning of some material, and she no doubt
has inaccuracies. But she has read massively in material others have not
used, like Vivienne's diaries and letters, and one can read through her
commentary to the material itself in quotations and citations. So I stand by
what I said in the way I meant it. And I could not and would not have been
expressing a mere preference since I had, as I said, only started the book
but had studied her lists of sources.

I am, I confess, astonished at the comment about enthusiasm--if I
understand your meaning. Do you think I am on my third Eliot book and
have studied his work for decades because I lack enthusiasm? I have
never denied he was a brilliant poet, maybe a genius. In fact his profound
awareness of his own perverse emotions and desires and his revelation of
them may be one of his sources of fascination along with a genius for
sound and image and a keen intellect. Like Kurtz, he looked inside and
saw something that horrified him. He too had something to say and he
said it. What have I ever said that suggested lack of enthusiasm?

I am glad we agree entirely on your final point. Print does not ensure truth
or even sense. That was why I noted that the Cambridge Companion is
just one person's view. My point about the review of TWL was only that
they were done by people respected and taken seriously at the time and
were published in respected places. So they were a significant part of the
history of reception. And I meant to make exactly the point you note--that
that did not mean they were right.

But I wish to reiterate that there is no necessary and/or logical connection
between one's enthusiasm for, interest in, love of, or admiration for a poet's
work and any evaluation of the poet as a person. Pound broadcast for
Mussolini, but his poems still stand. Hugh MacDiarmid was an alcoholic
and womanizer (I include this in my introduction to a study of his poetry),
but he was a genius as a poet, and I still feel like Emily Dickinson when I
read A Drunk Man, as if the top of my head comes off. "Is there any other
way?" So please do not conflate my views of Eliot with my appreciation of
his poetry.


Date sent: <color><param>0000,0000,8000</param>Sun, 27 Jan 2002 15:20:00 -0500

</color>Send reply to: <color><param>0000,0000,8000</param>[log in to unmask]

</color>From: <color><param>0000,0000,8000</param>Ken Armstrong <<[log in to unmask]>

</color>To: <color><param>0000,0000,8000</param>[log in to unmask]

<bold></color>Subject: <color><param>0000,0000,8000</param>Re: Thoughts on "La Figlia che Piange"

</bold></color>--On Sunday, January 27, 2002 10:49 AM -0500 Nancy Gish

<<[log in to unmask]> wrote:

<color><param>7F00,0000,0000</param>> Dear Ken,


> What is the "way" of reading that is at stake here?

</color> Dear Nancy,

  I don't think that that is relevant to my question, for which, if I may,


I'd like to have an answer before proceeding beyond it.

 The quotation is of one of your posts. If you stand by it, it cannot then


be selectively applied, as you seem to be doing when you notice that

"some" have dismissed the Seymour-Jones book without having read it.

all, that is what your principle calls for: "It is not necessary to

address a specific 'reading' in order to disagree with a way of reading or

a method of criticism." It seems to me premature to discuss the specific

"way" until the rules of discussion are agreed upon.

<color><param>7F00,0000,0000</param>> Separately, I have just read two chapters, and Seymour-Jones has done

> her homework. She also can write.

</color> It is interesting, then, that in the reviews of the book mentioned on

this list it is exactly that she has not done her homework that is the

criticism, with examples cited. Just out of curiosity: have you read those

reviews? They mention specific flaws (misrepresentations, out of

ignorance, of facts)in just the area that you point to now as a strength.

Are they mistaken? If they aren't, I am tempted to think you are simply

expressing a preference in opining that she "has done her homework."

<color><param>7F00,0000,0000</param>> I think it may well be that she

> speculates beyond what some evidence shows and it may be that she has a

> way of looking at the material. That is true of any biography, and one

> can agree or disagree and still get the mass of information on which it

> is based.

</color> I agree in part, with the second sentence above, and find the expression


"a way of looking at the material" enchanting. But I do not see why a

reviewer should not point out that her "way of looking at the material"

includes serious errors of fact, and that these errors make the other

component you mention, her speculative conclusions, highly suspect or

simply lacking in credibility. I don't think that constitutes dismissal;

it seems rather more like recognition and discernment, what one hopes to

get from a review.

<color><param>7F00,0000,0000</param>> Reviewers are human beings.

</color> I agree in whole. Ditto biographers.

<color><param>7F00,0000,0000</param>> They give one a base to work from.

> So their value [reviewers'] is to

> present what was written and their position on it, not to establish

> final truth.

</color> Let us hope, too, that the above applies also to biographers. I'd hate to


think that some unsuspecting person would wade into any biography of

anybody on a mission to read "final truth." A scary thought, that.

<color><param>7F00,0000,0000</param>> Most people now think those reviewers [the early negative reviews of

> TWL]

</color>were > just wrong and did not recognize genius. I share that view.

  I am heartened to read that. Some day, in all sincerity, I hope you will


share that enthusiasm. In the meantime, I would be satisfied just to know

that I could legitimately employ your principle, i.e. that it is as

legitimate for me to employ as it is for you.

<color><param>7F00,0000,0000</param>> They had, however, read the poem,

> and they were distinguished commentators in serious journals or papers.

</color> One wonders as to the propriety of "distinguished" and "serious" here.


my parents often told me, just because it is in print does not make it

true. Some things don't change.




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