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One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

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Blog entries on '29 June 2006'

Thursday 29 June 2006

Nature in the Poetry of Celan

This, The Discourse of Nature in the Poetry of Paul Celan: The Unnatural World by Rochelle Tobias, is, according to Henry Sussman, a "major achievement in the study of Paul Celan's poetry, above all in the field of close exegesis and the cultural ethics and politics implicated by close reading" and it looks very interesting:

Paul Celan has long been regarded as the most important European poet after 1945 but also the most difficult owing to the numerous references in his work to his personal history and to a cultural heritage spanning many disciplines, centuries, and languages. In this insightful study, Rochelle Tobias goes a long way to dispelling the obscurity that has surrounded the poet and his work. She shows that the enigmatic images in his poetry have a common source. They are drawn from the disciplines of geology, astrology, and physiology or what could be called the sciences of the earth, the heavens, and the human being. Celan’s poetry borrows from each of these disciplines to create a poetic universe — a universe that attests to what is no longer and projects what is not yet.

This is the unnatural world of Celan's poetry. It is a world in which time itself takes physical form or is made plastic. Through a series of close readings and philosophical explorations, Tobias reflects on the experience of time encoded and embodied in Celan's work. She demonstrates that the physical world in his poetry ultimately serves as a showcase for time, which is the most elusive aspect of human experience because it is based nowhere but in the mind. Tobias's probing interpretations present a new model for understanding Celan's work from the early elegiac poems to the later cryptic texts.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Thursday 29 June 2006

Zukofsky: the definite article

Last night, I read Charles Bernstein foreword to Prepositions + : The Collected Critical Essays of Louis Zukofsky (Wesleyan University Press -- Prepositions is part of The Wesleyan Centennial Edition of the Complete Critical Writings of Louis Zukofsky).

Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978) was one of the Objectivist poets, a group of second-generation, mainly American Modernists (Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Lorine Niedecker and the British poet Basil Bunting) who emerged in the 1930s heavily influenced by Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (the only poet to be published as both an Objectivist and an Imagist poet). Bernstein's essay is only very short, but it’s a useful piece for situating Zukofsky. In it he quotes Zukofsky's famous statement that:

... a case can be made out for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words a and the: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve. Those who do not believe in this are too sure that the little words mean nothing among so many other words."

Zukofsky's provocation made me think, again, about language, poetry and truth: issues far too big to say much of worth about here and now. But the care with which a good poet tends to language, even to the tiniest words, is instructive. Between the definite article and the indefinite article there is an entire universe; infinity lies between a and the.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 29 June 2006

Recent web reading

Here are a few links to stuff I should have mentioned, but haven't yet:

  • "What happens when Blanchot's writings are refracted through the prism of what he calls community? They shift slightly, or shimmer in a different way." Lars on Blanchot on communism
  • CONTEXT no.19 is online
  • Hobson's Island by Stefan Themerson
  • Happiness is its own end: Borges and Blindness

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Thursday 29 June 2006

Poe books

Matthew Pearl (author of the bestselling The Dante Club and now The Poe Shadow, a thriller centered around Poe's mysterious death) recently picked his top 10 books inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. Scott Peeples' The Afterlife of Poe stands out. Pearl reckons:

Peeples, president of the Poe Studies Association in the United States, chooses a perfect framework for a study of Poe. Poe did not really become the Poe we know until after his death. Peeples expertly examines responses to Poe's writings as well as his life in the century and a half since his death. His chapter on Poe's death, and the way it has been perceived, stands among the very best texts on the subject.

The Afterlife of Poe is kindly being sent on by the publisher, Camden House, and I'll review it as soon as I can. The Poe Shadow is published by Harvill Secker so that probably won't get reviewed: getting review copies from Harvill Secker is, sadly, like getting blood from a stone.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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Memorial Tablet

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’... that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?

-- Siegfried Sassoon
Collected Poems (Faber and Faber)

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Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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