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Saturday, April 23, 2005
The first time I watch a Stanley Kubrick movie, I'm thrilled by its ambition and clarity.
The second time, the anticipated moments of humor, beauty, and shock re-arrive precisely in order, but thinner, like an anecdote that's outlived the memory it tells. Actors who'd conveyed life in other roles are played like tokens. My laughter and startles are a bit forced, as though I'm trying to put a lecturer at ease.
The third time, after the first ten minutes or so, there's no more movie. Just an idea I already know.
Only two Kubrick movies have interested me past that point. Both are literary adaptations, and in both, the ideas are formal. I watch them as literary analysis. With a 100-to-1 shooting ratio.Continue reading "Kubrick, Critic"
Saturday, April 16, 2005
The Spasmodic Gap: Textual Notes
Although the editors and authors of Victorian Poetry, Vol. 42, No. 4, don't feel the need to issue a manifesto, they clearly enough share ideals of class mobility and aesthetic diversity.
I wonder if any have considered that their work can only be reached by associates of fairly well funded institutions?
By that I don't mean to imply hypocrisy. I'm certain they're all trying to do a good job while scraping by as best they can.
But I'm also genuinely fascinated by how habitually we treat our present circumstances in our present day as somehow exceptional (or, equivalently, somehow universal). If there's any point to the study of history, literary or otherwise, it must be to combat such exceptionalism.
And yet even among historians it's there, undefeated, indefatigable.
Moving on to primary sources, should you be fortunate enough to have a large state university library at hand, you still might not find Spasmodic material. Its moment of mainstream popularity came just too early for most collections.
Here at Berkeley, W. E. Aytoun's victorious Firmilian is just as unavailable. Oh, digital publishing behemoth Proquest / Chadwyck-Healey lists it in their "English Drama" collection. But with robotic literalness, that collection transcribes only the imaginary "play" itself, "Preliminaries and introductory matter omitted." With the source text in front of them, and with no space limitations to consider, Chadwyck-Healey's staff discarded the preface which gave the satire its point.
(And yes, in case you're wondering, their "English Poetry" collection similarly excludes the preface from Lyrical Ballads. 'Cause any fool can see just by lookin' that ain't poetry.)
The Spasmodic Gap
In mid-nineteenth-century Great Britain, a group of left-wing lower-class poets publish autobiographical free verse epic dramas. Critics name them the Spasmodics.
For a while, my answer was "Baby, I don't care." Editors Charles Laporte and Jason R. Rudy select well and structure novelistically. First, Herbert F. Tucker begins with a high overhead shot of exposition, a lightly satiric, lightly sympathetic tone to draw us into the story. Then, with admirably ethical opportunism, a series of contributors apply varied professional interests to bring out aspects of Spasmodic characters and times. Details and depth accumulate. Finally, Florence Saunders Boos, openly partisan, fully engaged, describes the movement's catastrophe, with heroes ambiguously vanquished and villains ambiguously triumphant, leaving the signature effect of alternate history: an exhilarating sense of possibility; a melancholy sense of possibility foreclosed.
When curiosity won, though, I found confirmation (if not texts) easily enough.
"But, by a certain gorgeousness or intricacy of language, by a scrupulous avoidance of the apparent commonplace in subject; by more or less elaborately hinted or expressed unorthodoxy in religion or philosophy; and, above all, by a neurotic sentimentalism which would be passion if it could, and, sometimes, is not absolutely far from it, though it is in constant danger of turning to the ridiculous or of tearing its own flimsiness to tatters — by all these things and others they struggled to avoid the obvious and achieve poetic strangeness."- George Saintsbury, Cambridge History of English and American Literature
How to excuse, or at least explain, my ignorance?
When I search my memory for verse of the 1840s and 1850s, I find Poe smouldering at one end of a long flat expanse of Tennyson, broken by a few Brownings, between the issueless extravagance of the late Romantics and the parentless extravagance of Swinburne and Whitman.
That bare spot is where the Spasmodic impulse once grew. Insofar as the Spasmodics could be construed as a group, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh is what's left of them. Kirstie Blair points out that, for once, reactionaries had reason to welcome a major work by a woman. Despite its provocations, Leigh's redemption ("Oh, wait — did I say Art was the most important thing? Sorry, I meant Marriage.") provided a reassuring ending all round. Domestication was what the Spasmodics most infuriatingly lacked.Continue reading "The Spasmodic Gap"