How far are these observations related to notions of high literature vs
other kinds of writing. While I have heard people take diametrically
opposed views of the humanity of Lenin based on his writing it is not so
common to have an opinion of writings v. writer in other fields is it. And
if so what does it illustrate about what we are doing when we care to even
raise the discussion or list some examples as you have done. I suppose the
cult of Wittgenstein focuses on the personality ( maybe because like me most
can't get too far past the world being all that is the case) but how many
engage with thoughts about A.J. Ayer's personality when considering his
works. And then is this about the engagement with an author delineated by
notions of moral worth a la Leavis. Does one think about the person Dashiell
Hammett? Maybe some do; the slick aphorisms of detective fiction imply a
common sense of humour or one wouldn't have got to page 100 together... well
maybe. Perhaps what I am getting at is that the issue arises only once the
text is given a high status and the reader has invested in it and become
identified with it in some way.
From: T. S. Eliot Discussion forum. [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
Of Carrol Cox
Sent: Thursday, 21 February 2013 2:34 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Can less be more? was Re: (something else...
Nancy's last example, Homer, by itself resolves the question abstractly.
I suspect I would not care to have as a colleague any of the poets I admire
most: Jonson, Milton, Rochester, Pope, Wordsworth, Yeats, Pound. There are
single lines or short passages in each of these writers which, abstracted
from the whole, momentarily embody a persona one could feel great warmth for
-- but that _persona_ is created by the reader and has little connection to
the "whole" man or woman who wrote the whole text. In reading I try, and
usually succeed, to take the perspective of the implied narrator; I do this
even when reading analytical prose by a person whose views I detest. That
is, I in a sense make myself into a person I detest while holding such a
text in hand.
I also found that the most impressive poems by Robert Frost tended to imply
that the author was a real shithead viewing his readers with utter contempt.
Some of those poems however are about as "immortal" as a mere bunch of
words can be.
And then, of course, there are the writers one has not read extensively but
suspects would have been favorites had one read them enough. For me that
includes Marianne Moore, Thomas Pynchon, Byron, and Virginia Woolf. (If the
phrase "impersonal poetry" has any meaning at all, which I doubt, it might
apply to _Gravity's Rainbow_.)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: T. S. Eliot Discussion forum. [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On
> Behalf Of Nancy Gish
> Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 12:38 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: Can less be more? was Re: (something else...
> Ken asked the most interesting question in, I think, a couple of years or
> on this list, so I am responding to that before I offer my response to his
> questions. How great to have a real and serious question here. I hope
> respond, however they think.
> You ask if one must not love the writer to fully love (and, I presume,
> understand) the work. I think it is quite the opposite. I deeply admire
> could no doubt love as a person someone like Keats, but no one really
> "loves" an abstraction. I never met him. On the other hand, I think he was
> one of the great poetic geniuses in English, but not Dante or Shakespeare.
> We don't know what he might have been had he lived past 26. I do not at
> even like much of what I know of Conrad, but his novels are also those of
> genius--and written in a second language--astonishing.
> As for understanding, it seems that idealizing or loving can easily slip
> cherry-picking. I think it is as likely to create mistakes as loving. I am
> making an either/or; I met and interviewed Hugh MacDiarmid and, despite
> all the errors in his past and the fact that I do not share most of his
> found him truly wonderful. But that is not why I write about him and it
> not prevent my questioning many things in his life.
> It is ironic that any time I try to discuss Eliot's life, someone
> invokes his (when quite young) theory of "impersonality," which he did not
> even retain himself and which did not stop him from using poets' lives
> himself (as, for example, Yeats) as important in their work and also said
> own life with Viv produced TWL. Yet any objection to his life leads to a
> that one must care about the poet as a person. This is a contradiction. As
> said before, it is even the great conflict of idea and feeling that made
> "immense, magnificent, terrible." It did not come out of being nice or
> or even good. I think Pound is, though, a fine example: I find his letters
> annoying, his misogyny in correspondence to Marianne Moore stupidly
> offensive, and his Fascism unforgivable. But he really could write.
> If we demand that great writers be paragons or saints, or even likable, we
> will have little to read. I'm reading Malory at the moment. He seems to
> been even criminal, at least by the views of his time. But his stories of
> are wonderful, and his writing is also. And what does one do with Homer?
> Avoid him because no one can say if he was a nice person?
> Your queries:
> >>> Ken Armstrong 02/19/13 5:14 PM >>>
> On 2/19/2013 11:35 AM, Nancy Gish wrote:
> I also have no idea where "lower standards" comes from. At least in
> my university--and others where I have taught--there is a pretty
> correlation between publication and good teaching. Obviously that is not
> always true, but nothing is. This is not some absolute standard either
> And if getting past serious editing and reviewing is "lowering," I would
> difficult time knowing what would raise standards.
> Again, making publication one of but not the only path to advancement
> would very possibly raise standards. It would do that by making
> more proportionate to the cause of the subject under examination than to
> the need of the writer to get something into print.
> I'm afraid I disagree, depending on how you mean this. Yes, good teaching
> and important service contributions are essential, but I feel that what it
> means to be a professor is to profess, not simply to pass on what others
> think. So it is not a matter of substitution but of varying combinations.
> is a research degree for that reason.
> It is simplistic--and mistaken--to denigrate publishing as if it
> of value.
> Of course no one has done this. It's the overemphasis on publishing,
> publishing itself, that's been questioned.
> I do not think it is overemphasized; in fact it is too often attacked
> What should one teach? Should one reiterate forever, from yellowed
> notes, the ideas of one's own professors?
> Should one pursue the minutiae that the proliferation of publications
> engendered by the publish or perish ethic has produced?
> Neither literature nor scholarship appears in a vacuum; there must be a
> broad engagement in ideas and debate for the best to emerge. So even the
> minutiae, as you call it, is part of a larger cultural and intellectual
> that makes possible the better and best.
> The expectation of publication is one of several serious ways to
> students the kind of knowledge and experience they want and should have.
> What we ask of them is to write well, to think critically, and to develop
> distinctive theses. And to deal with our editing and evaluations. That is
> is required of us also. Nor is it only to improve teaching. Universities
> centers of discovery and knowledge in every field.
> Noble stuff and no disagreement here. I'd only suggest that the
> editing and evaluations that you have to undergo might also rise with
> publications and less compulsion to get into print. Seems a simple enough
> For every question there is an answer that is "obvious, simple, and
> The scholars with the most impact are often the ones who publish the most.
> We can all think of names. Would you rather have a seminar on Eliot with,
> say, Ron Schuchard, or with someone who never put in the immense effort
> and work to know what he does?The problem is that not all can give it that
> much time--it takes a research university and a major library (and no, the
> internet is wonderful but not sufficient to replace the library--what I
> in Scotland is not there, for example) to be able to do that. But some
> overcome the difficulties. There is no logical reason why doing less is
> What is the logic or evidence for this judgment?
> The one I mentioned or the one you wrote about?
> The notion of a "simple enough concept," which I do not see as either
> or logical.
> Ken A