Saturday, August 11, 2012

Snail-nosed and glassy-eyed

It has been long enough since the last post that I've been asked whether I've given up blogging. I certainly don't mean to; I have just been a little crippled by anxiety for the past month, and in this state of mind one is more impatient than appreciative of the internet. (I suppose I could have posted about the books I've read, but I'm reluctant to do so as (a) I'd just be exposing my ignorance, (b) I have a terrible reviewing voice; I tend to PRONOUNCE on things in the worst undergraduate way, and such posts are painful to reread. I was recently skimming Lowell's critical prose and it struck me as stylistically very bad -- though clever and observant beyond anything I could aspire to -- for utterly familiar reasons. The judicial stance is dangerous for anyone who finds it appealing, and the only easy way out of this pass is never to write with primarily evaluative intent.)

(I will note, in passing, this remark by Brad Leithauser about Cheever and Lowell, which I think contains a dangerous implication:
We learn that one character’s “sense of these aspects of privacy was scrupulous and immutable” and that another’s “imagination remained resilient and fertile.” The high-flown adjective pair was for Cheever what the incongruous adjective triplet (“orange, bland, ambassadorial”) was to Robert Lowell: an opportunity to record a legible signature in an extremely confined space.
It is true that grammatical templates like this can be effective when used well; that one becomes better with practice at filling them in effectively; and that this eventual richness can compensate for the dangers of self-parody. Phrases like "flabby, bald, lobotomized" suggest that a one-track mind is not always a bad thing. But to appreciate mannerisms just for being mannerisms, to praise writers for the sameness of their special effects -- as Leithauser seems to -- is indulgent in ways that make my flesh creep; perhaps it is an error everyone falls into with favorite writers -- Auden, in my case -- but it is an error for all that.)

A few linked pairs of pictures and quotes:

Snout 1 (via Jenny Davidson):

Snout 2, an almost-ouroboros ("the great sea serpent" it seems):

Self-involved hawk 2 (see also): 

Passage 1a (from Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows):
When we reached Edinburgh I awoke, feeling warm and babyish and contented, and the pain was so much less that I could hop with joy as we went along Princes Street, because of the splendor of the castle high on its rock over the trough of the green gardens, all the majesty of the city that lives more masterfully among its hills than Rome itself. But when I said, "Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it beautiful?" Mamma made no answer. 
Passage 1b (Beckett, "The End"):
The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said.
Passages 2 (via Calista):
Plath, the cadaver-room poem: "in their jars the snail-nosed babies moon and glow"; out-of-context Lowell [i.e., "For the Union Dead"]: "once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass"

1 comment:

Jenny Davidson said...

Your Lowell triplets made me misremember a passage I once blogged from Iain M. Banks (title of post), only once I looked back I saw of course he didn't just have the string of adjectives!