|The Future of Literary Studies|
The preoccupation of the humanities with the past is sometimes made a reproach against them by those who forget that we face the past: it may be shadowy, but it is all that is there. Plato draws a gloomy picture of man staring at the flickering shapes made on the wall of the objective world by a fire behind us like the sun. But the analogy breaks down when the shadows are those of the past, for the only light we can see them by is the Promethean fire within us. The substance of these shadows can only be in ourselves, and the goal of historical criticism, as our metaphors about it often indicate, is a kind of self-resurrection.
—Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, 345
“My sole ambition as a composer is to hurl my javelin into the infinite space of the future,” said Franz Liszt in a Faustian mood, as if mindless of where the javelin came from, and ignorant of who was to retrieve it.1 But one takes hold of something to launch it, and calculates its course by considering the ballistic forces acting upon it. All poems are allusive, which means launched from the past, and therefore it may actually take an older poem to determine the future of a newer one. To get the literary allusion, we follow a chain of reference back into an earlier literature. The Latin words welcoming Dante’s Beatrice into the Commedia, for example, are a farewell taken from Aeneas’ descent to the dead.2 “Dante, because Virgil is leaving, do not weep,” Beatrice orders the pilgrim: the unveiling of the author’s name at this point re-veils his apostolic predecessor in the Apocalypse of Paul, an apocryphal Paul who once met Mary in paradise as Dante now meets his lady there.3 Moreover, Beatrice’s next words, “you must weep for another sword” echo Simeon’s prophecy to Mary, “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce” (Lk. 2:35). The Comedy revives Virgil to dismiss him, and tells us literature is a Song for Simeon, a departing from and severance of its own antecedants.4 But with the Apostles’ Creed, I believe in the community of the quick and the dead. We who are alive should count the dead among us, just as the dead, under the aspect of eternity, might number us among the unborn.5
People who report being kidnapped onto Unidentified Flying Objects by seraphic or daemonic aliens (who may or may not reveal secret information about the future to them) only take us back to the chariot on the first pages of the Book of Ezekiel—and I’m no Ezekiel, or prophet.6 Indeed, the temporality belonging to literary words runs in a direction the reverse of prophetic, because it is determined by the delay in understanding, the dilation in comprehension, and the belatedness of a word’s coming, not into event, but into meaning. The hiatus between what is said, and what is being said, between the positing of the sign and the depositing of its significance, is allegorical: meaning develops in the “meantime,” the mediatorial interval between cognition and re-cognition.7 “Every word was once a poem,” but Emerson’s tense is wrong.8 Only by comparing what a word means now with what it meant previously can such a poem be elicited. Every word is now a poem, if only we knew it. He rammed it home; he was not just horsing around; he aped the comedian; he would cow me into not ratting on him. I wormed it out of him. He was dogging me not to weasel on his deal. He badgered me into not letting the cat out of the bag—even while he was crowing over his cute little caper.9 ‘Caper’ once meant goat. The animals are “ready-made metaphors.”10 But so are the gods. Today is Saturday: Saturn’s day—but who is Saturn? He was the god of Time: how appropriate, to slow the week on the week-end, as if to help us illustrate the principle of literary retroactivity. The future of literary study has always lain in those revelations that make the words of poems reinvent the poems themselves, out of their own latent content, but also out of their own past.11
“Herein lies the legitimation of criticism, in the mind’s faith that [...] poems are a corrupt version of some text in nature with which they ought to be made to tally.” So Emerson.12 But our “text in nature” may only be a previous literary acquisition, some ghostly approximation asking for retrieval, and to be brought again to bear. My own “text in nature,” for example, includes a 10th grade textbook from Berkeley High School. I loved Sidney Lanier’s “The Marshes of Glynne,” where the exclamatory rhetoric oriented all grand natural objects on a transcendental horizon. The last stanza of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “The Chambered Nautilus,” at the other end of the scale of magnitude, did the same thing.13 But could “modern literature” have any use for this stuff? The vast influx of Lanier’s tide, filling the marsh at the onset of night, recurred in the “hitherandthithering waters of”: Anna Livia Plurabella. And “Gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,” along with coral reefs where “cold sea maids rise to sun their streaming hair,” began Holmes’ poem, but ended Prufrock’s.
I was thus asking about the development of American literature, meaning out of authors like Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Drieser, Sandburg, Henry Miller, Robinson Jeffers, John Muir, and Melville—but also T. S. Eliot and Henry James. In time I would write a poem echoing Pound’s first canto, the Anglo-Saxon “Seafarer,” Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium,” and Robinson Jeffers’ “Point Joe.” William Everson—then ‘Brother Antoninus’—discussed this piece publicly in 1958, and read from Allen Ginsberg’s recently published Howl.14 Poised on the Pacific rim, our speaker was also guessing what the literary future held: in the case of my poem, a throwback Europeanization, but with an avoidance of “the genteel tradition.” Santayana invented this last term, and in 1956 Lionel Trilling wrote that Santayana was the Gilbert Osmond “of the majority of the academic historians of American culture,” his Jamesian portrait-lady “being America in the perfection of her democracy and innocence,” and the “spoiled” Latin being “all too elegant, [...] cultivated, [...] knowing, [... and] involved with aesthetic values.”15 This almost predicted Lolita: one year’s lit is another’s year’s crit, and every national identity has a future place in an international trope. After all, English literature itself only constitutes a historical episode; authors like Chaucer, Spenser and Shakespeare were once engaged in domesticating imports from the continent, while our own current literature is often manufactured and produced abroad—like much of our clothing and many of our comestibles. The larger shadow cast by the literary allusions that English teachers are so bent on elucidating is little less than the deconstruction and recoupment of literary history. There would be no literature without such a process, and whatever else the future may hold, literary study will always be involved with the on-going project of reconstructing the literary past. The Old Philology and the New Intertextuality have in view a common object.
I was 21 years old when I borrowed a radio to listen to Northrop Frye’s Massey Lectures on the CBC in 1962.16 The second of six, “The Singing School” was a defense of poetry conducted from well within the defenses.17 Frye said Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” was a “story of lost and restored identity,” which was “the framework of all literature.”18 Yet he mocked Americans who came out of St. Louis, Missouri, and Hailey, Idaho, to tell us we should seek our cultural roots in 12th Century Provence. Freshman year in college with Helen Waddell’s The Wandering Scholars and Ezra Pound’s Spirit of Romance had indeed prompted me to buy Ernst Robert Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages and C. S. Lewis’ The Allegory of Love. In highschool I had read T. S. Eliot on Joyce’s invention of a new, “mythical method,”19 but it was Pound’s book that first indicated to me Milton’s possible debt to Camoens, whose Vasco de Gama travels in the tracks of the globe-trotting Satan of Paradise Lost;20 at the climax of Milton’s poem Satan’s project against Adam recommences with a circumnavigation of the cosmos, this going back to the unspelling of a walled city by Achilles’ dragging of Hector thrice about Troy and Joshua’s marching seven times around Jericho. Thereafter the devil penetrates Eden by the waterworks, as David did Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:8, AV “gutter” = waterspout); the Turk Soliman (under the guidance of the magician Ismeno) uses a comparable channel to access the same citadel in Tasso—Jerusalem Delivered, Paradise Lost; Jerusalem Re-Conquered, Paradise Regained.21 But the Satan who in the past has been modeled as a tragically damned Renaissance Prometheus has more lately become a colonial adventurer who finally enslaves the ‘indigenes’ by going native and wearing a snake-skin.22 That is, when one goes to graduate school nowadays, one tends to turn the mythical method inside out, and to ask what has generated the appeal to any given myth in the first place.
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Once an Eagle Scout camping the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, I still feel the thrill of discovery in reading the following passage:
Snow. Everywhere. As far as the eye could reach—fifty miles, looking southward from the highest white peak—filling ravines and gulches, and dropping from the walls of can[y]ons in white shroud-like drifts, fashioning the dividing ridge into the likeness of a monstrous grave, hiding the bases of giant pines, and completely covering young trees and larches, rimming with porcelain the bowl-like edges of still, cold lakes, and undulating in motionless white billows to the edge of the distant horizon. Snow lying everywhere over the California Sierras on the 15th day of March 1848, and still falling.
It had been snowing for ten days: snowing in finely granulated powder, in damp, spongy flakes, in thin, feathery plumes, snowing from a leaden sky steadily, snowing fiercely, shaken out of purple-black clouds in white flocculent masses, or dropping in long level lines, like white lances from the tumbled and broken heavens. But always silently! The weeds were so choked with it—the branches were so laden with it—it had so permeated, filled and possessed earth and sky; it had so cushioned and muffled the ringing rocks and echoing hills, that all sound was deadened. The strongest gust, the fiercest blast, awoke no sigh and no complaint from the snow-packed, rigid files of forest. There was no crackling of bough nor crackle of underbush; the overladen branches of pine and fir yielded and gave way without a sound. The silence was vast, measureless, complete!
These words open a Brete Hart novel called Gabriel Conroy, where a posted notice lists a group of snowbound pioneers and appeals for help—a third of them are already dead.23 But the starving Donner Party survives in a Dublin dinner party, and Hart’s first page falls like a curtain on Joyce’s last. The protagonist of “The Dead” thinks the newspapers were right and that “snow was general all over Ireland”—but Joyce is thinking of Brete Hart, and we are thinking of Emerson: “We are as much informed of a writer’s genius by what he selects as by what he originates.”24
For much of my life the future of literary study has lain in catching up with the past, but also in eliciting a developmental rationale for the delay. Consider English Studies itself. The reason Old Historicists brought the history of ideas into the classroom was to diminish the pedagogical sway of the Old Philology. The reason New Critics let the older, Whiggish literary history and documentary criticism out of the classroom was to make space for discussion of the new “modern literature,” and to indulge a more elitist, Pateresque connoisseurship of the aesthetic object and literary technique for their own sakes. Neither Richards nor the later Empson disavowed historical specificities as literary determinants, but the New Historicist initiative to bring cultural studies into the classroom has been contemporary with the recognition that Modernism is itself history. Similarly, the concept of the Renaissance has been unable to remain an aesthetic construct—a well-wrought Uffizi gallery—that ignores the statist and economic formation of the “early modern subject.” The New Historicist was also brought into the world on the heels of the Deconstructionist; the over-determination of the referent by the one answered to the undecidability of the signified for the other.25 The integrity of the author and the entirety of either the work or the oeuvre came to seem like Tristram-Shandean fictions, in comparison to the seemingly determinate ‘locality’ of the text. But by the same logic, that dissolved into the macro-structures of reception-history and the micro-structures of redaction-history, affective stylistics and reader-response theory. “Text” has become the DNA of literary studies, the informational component that allows us to reproduce the words of literature in silicon and scanners while discarding the physical book. It is us Hegelians and Viconians whom the future is bound to take by surprise, and the Darwinians who confidently expect that whatever is new will be generated experimentally, chosen by the invisible hand of the market-place, shaped by the invisible claw of natural selection, and fated to the illusory security of the ecological and market niche.26 Although the Great American Novel comes out with every new American President, and now includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude, it remains an empty title because everyone guessed there had to be a certain kind of contender. Real innovations tend to be the secret of crackpots: only they see salvation in their particular devices, until these have become a fait accompli. Then indispensable innovations—such as Don Quixote and Pilgrim’s Progress—mother their own necessity.27
With the McLuhanatics the would-be futurist might envision the advent of a bookless and “Pentecostal condition of universal understanding,”28 thanks to the dematerialized and ecumenical switchboard of the communications revolution. Nonetheless, this revolution is taking place in English: the English tongue, that is.29 Literature is the rhetoric of the social change producing it, and society is always changing—economics, politics and technology are the things causing the changes. But literary history catches up to even the most original works, and makes for the absorption of any one of them into the larger order of words and forms that constitute the so-called literary universe, which is an expanding one, but also one that curves back on itself, producing the morphological similarity of a recognizable classic. Books may have to go, but before they do, let me give a further example of what I mean about literature being a revolution destined to restore its own past.
A few years after I began to lecture on the Bible—and years before the movie—I found myself reading Mario Puzo’s page-turner The Godfather. The climactic turn-of-the-page comes with the gangland murder of Sonny Corleone, heir apparent of a New York mafia don named Vito—“See how they have massacred my son”: the son’s shot-up remains are being displayed to a mortician from whom Vito is now calling in the favor from which the novel began.30 The mortician and his wife are humble folk whom the legal system has humiliated—indeed, “made fools of” and whose cause Corleone befriended, on his way to becoming a player and replacing a more tribal predecessor. The novel ends after the non-violent death of the retiring Don, who’s planning for another son—Michael, who proves a shrewder character than Sonny—to move the family business to Las Vegas, where it can go legit. With a few more mop-up murders of rivals and traitors, Michael is anointed as the new don, and secured in his father’s old position. The story seemed like a quasi-historical account of the bureaucratization of a family-style patriarchy, but told from inside the family by an omniscient and cunning narrator knowing all the hearts and bedrooms of the principal agents. I was mainly reading for a lurid socio-political plot, or rather the archetypal shadow of a plot, since it began to dawn on me I had read the history of a dynastic intrigue for a throne before.
The Don’s story is based on one of two pieces from the Hebrew Bible that have made it into The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, the so-called Court History of David, otherwise known as the Davidic Succession Document.31 Few will have noticed that the Corleone family business, olive oil, relates to the anointing that makes David a royal savior, but during his exile from Saul’s court, David obviously does run a protection racket, in the Paran of 1 Samuel 25. He is sought out by a wise wife who sees he will be king, and he is spurned by her spouse, a fool or churl named Fool, or Nabal, who shortly dies. Puzo’s next novel was called Fools Die. The title recalls the rhetorical question from David’s elegy over Saul’s general Abner, “Died Abner as a fool dieth?” (2 Sam. 3:33, AV). Vito is an enemy of what he calls foolishness, and the friend of offers it would be foolish to refuse.32 Near the center of the Succession Document the reckless Absalom usurps the kingship. While the Don is sick, Sonny enjoys a similar regency. He beats up on his brother-in-law Carlo for mistreating his sister Connie, as Absalom kills Amnon for raping his sister Tamar. Carlo dies like a fool, that is, like the Amnon whose half-sister warns him “thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel” (2 Sam. 13:13, AV), or like the Adonijah whom Solomon puts to death for foolishly conspiring against his throne. Sonny is needlessly killed in a mafia war. Notable for his large member, he gets whacked at a tollbooth, as Absalom, notable for his big hair, got fatally caught in the oaktree. Distinguished by an Ivy League education, Michael transfers the rackets to Vegas, as Solomon, proverbial for his wisdom, built the temple in Zion.
This all seems slightly satiric, as if the Great American Novel were always teetering on a self-parodic and undiplomatic brink. Ahab with his prothesis readily lends himself to re-depiction as Captain Hook (in James. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan), Hook’s nemesis being a crocodile who has swallowed the metal clock ticking in its stomach. This trans-Atlantic comment on Moby Dick as a boy’s book may be compared to the rendezvous with rocketry—German rocketry—in Gravity’s Rainbow.33 The body of Pynchon’s hero incorporates an erectile plastic used in the manufacture of the V-2, which sympathetically causes the Axis missile to target scenes of his sex-life in World War II London; the white whale tracked by Tyrone Slothrop is the black box (the Schwarzgerät—the “black device,” or death chamber, on the 00000 rocket). Melville went to sea and thought about Leviathan; Pynchon worked at Boeing and thought about Werner Von Braun. In Mailer’s Great American War Novel, The Naked and the Dead, General Cummings plotted the sexual climacteric on the ballistic arc and the collapse of civilization on Spengler’s similarly organic model.34 Thereafter a modern Bible scholar linked the seal on Noah’s peace-treaty with the disc of the Assyrian war-god in the same Near Eastern firmament.35 Mythicized history imitates historicised myth: where the god Asshur trained his rain of arrows on ancient near eastern conquests, a general named Schwarzkopf conceived an Operation called Desert Storm. Slothrop turned into Rocketman, Schwarzkopf into “Stormin’ Norman.”36
* * * * *
We are arguing that the recoupment of a second story (as model) is necessary for the proper understanding of a first one (as text). “Sailing to Byzantium” means sailing back. In Yeats’ poem, the phoenix-like soul of an aged man can surmount the physical reduction of his body to a dilapidated scarecrow; the soul acquires the jubilation of a youthful or spiritual body by studying “monuments of its own magnificence.” It must clap its hands and sing—even if it lacks hands. Daniel Heins points out to me that Yeats’ fellow Blake editor John Ellis reports that shortly before dying, Blake started singing—ecstatically—while claiming that the songs—or the singing masters of his soul—were not his own.37 But if going back to Blake explains the singing, what about the clapping? “At the last solemn moment” of Blake’s vigil over his dying brother Robert, the engraver’s “visionary eyes beheld the released spirit ascend heavenward through the matter-of-fact ceiling, ‘clapping its hands for joy’—a truly Blake-like detail. [...] such scenes [...] With him [...] were work’y-day experiences,” Gilchrist tells us in his Life of Blake.38 Moreover, the dead brother’s spectre was instrumental in revealing to Blake the technical means for facsimilating his designs.39 Blake’s plate showing Milton’s star entering Blake’s left foot reverses a nearly identical plate labeled “Robert,” as Blake’s ‘relief engraving’ reverses normal ways of engraving, which reverse an image to begin with.40
For Yeats’ comparable rejuvenation and self-recognition, his speaker imagines a time-traveling conveyance to the capital of Eastern Christendom and the Eastern Empire. But what about the sages standing in the holy fire there? Three years before his poem’s publication the poet journeyed not to Byzantium, but Ravenna, where a multitude of ecclesiastical buildings are famous for their art-defining mosaics, St. Lawrence beside his fiery grate among them. In a letter Yeats says “I had just finished a poem in which I appeal to the Saints in ‘the holy fire’ to send death on [the model of] their extasy.” He reports he tested his spirits’ powers of clairvoyance to explain this image, and they referred him to Blake’s illustration of “Dante entering the Holy Fire.” Yeats found, moreover, that Blake’s picture with the phoenix-like metamorphosis of one of Dante’s thieves in “the temporal fire” presented the inverse picture and plate number.41 We are inclined to say that Yeats had been tracked to his sources—and/or that he has led his correspondent to them.
There are no less than five poets on the last, flaming terrace of Mount Purgatory, and two them are called sages (Purg. XXVII, 69, saggi): Virgil and Statius, who enter the fire with Dante, inside of which the poets Guido Guinizelli and Arnaut Daniel sing to him about their own poetic traditions. Dante reserves his name for the climax of an extended sequence of such poets, whose own names, in the long run, only the Commedia has rescued from literary Limbo. Dante’s name appears uniquely in the text, as an epiphenomenon of the supercession of the authority of Virgil, upon Dante’s own accession to mastery over the matter, models, and metier peculiar to medieval letters and song.42 Thus Yeats’ sages standing in God’s holy fire belong to a Dantean chorus of poets. But what about their “school”? Yeats has apparently sand-bagged the Dante reference twice over, for in approaching the noble castle in Inferno IV the pilgrim “saw assembled the fair school of that lord of highest (l’altissimo) singing” (92-93). Here Dante shares the company of five followers of Apollo from the Classical past—Homer, Horace, Ovid, Lucan, Virgil—who are also referred to as sages (savi, “savants,” 110). “The seigneur of highest singing,” Virgil himself, is the “famous sage” from Inferno I, 89, whom the others are commanded to honor as “the highest poet” in Inferno IV, 80 (l’altissimo poeta).43
The disposition of Virgil’s remains comes up several times in the Comedy, but wherever his body might lie, his soul is alive and well in Dante’s school—or poem. As Dante puts himself among “The honored nominees [made famous]” (L’onorato nominanza, Inf. IV, 76) in the noble castle of limbo and flaming fire of purgatory so does Yeats’ poem forecast a conservation and recovery of identity through literature: Blake in relation to Milton, Yeats in relation to Blake, and Frye in relation to the authors like Yeats celebrated in The Educated Imagination.44 The communion achieved by this collation with an authoritative past also haunted the future author of Four Quartets: “no artist has his meaning alone”; “His significance, his appreciation, is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists [...]; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.”45 Yeats anticipates an almost alchemical purgation in Byzantium, but he does so in contemplation of Dante’s final burial-place, which is in Ravenna. Yeats finally asks to be gathered into “the artifice of eternity,” yet ‘artifice’ insists that “Eternity”—in Blake’s aphorism—“is in love with the productions of time.”
“Baudelaire defined modernity as a keen sense of the present as both future and past”46 when he said “Every old-time painter had his own modernity.”47 We suppose we’re nothing if we’re not modern, sharing in “that which is ephemeral, fugitive, contingent upon the occasion; it is half of art”—says Baudelaire—“whose other half is the eternal and unchangeable”48—the eternal and unchangeable Coleridgean logos underneath sciences like theology, psychology, sociology, anthropology: and narratology.49 The aim of Baudelaire’s seeker after modernity ”is to extract from fashion the poetry in[side fashion’s] historical envelope, to distil the eternal from the transitory.”50 The costume changes, its custom remains. Furthermore, the content of every new, fashionable medium is the unfashionable form of a preceding one:51 pastoral romance reinvents the spirits of the wild, but so do Mallarmé’s “Afternoon of a Faun” and W. H. Hudson’s Green Mansions. Matinee westerns reinvent some of pastoral romance, but so did the second half of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. TV reinvented some of matinee westerns, but so have the pixels of Toy Story or the early scenes of Star Wars. If you prefer old books to old movies, consider library science. But if you are drawn to poetry, drama, and fiction, and literature itself—its matter, models, myths, metaphors, scripts, scenarios, libretti, imagery, sequences, intertexuality, and master narratives—you could do a lot worse than set up shop at the university, the cultural “sementary” from and to which literature’s practice keeps departing and returning, like a library book constantly on loan and constantly on recall. Despite some de-accessioning, the future of literary study continues to lie in our orientation on the past; but considering all the living and the dead, it’s not getting any smaller.
1. Franz Liszt is quoted from André Watts’ Program Notes on the album-cover for a phonograph record, André Watts plays Liszt: Album 2 (EMI/Angel R133907: 1986).
The present essay is the text for a talk for “The Future of Literary Study: An English Department Symposium,” Univ. of Virginia, April 5-6, 2002, but two long, illustrative and perhaps digressive passages had to be eliminated from the final, oral presentation, at the places in the text marked by note 11 (re Spenser and fictionalized truth) and note 36 (re the Book of Genesis and historicized myth). The two eliminated passages are included here, after the notes as a whole, as separate excursi. The talk was one of a number given before potential graduate students.
2. “Bring me lilies with full hands,” put at the earthly, cognitive climax of the Purgatorio (XXX, 21), is used to celebrate the Easter-resurrected Beatrice, but is taken from Aeneid VI, 883, which elegizes the unborn and to-be-prematurely-dead Marcellus.
3. The matter of the apocryphal Paul and the scriptural Mary—in relation to Dante’s naming by himself as a literary author, and by Beatrice as a literary character—is treated at some length in Nohrnberg, “The Autobiographical Imperative and the Necessity of ‘Dante’: Purgatorio XXX, 55,” Modern Philology (forthcoming 2003/04).
4. After Nohrnberg, “On Literature and the Bible,” in Centrum: Publications of the Minnesota Centre for Advanced Studies in Literature and Language, II:2, (1974; publ. 1976), 5-43.
5. In this passage I am adopting some of the words ending the first novel of Z. Vance Wilson, The Quick and the Dead (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986), 395. Mr. Wilson studied Yeats with the author in Yale College, ca. 1968-69.
6. Cf. C. G. Jung, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, tr. R. F. C. Hull, Bollingen Paperback (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1978). This book is a compilation of passages from the Bollingen Series of Jung’s work, in vol. 10, Civilization in Transition (1964) and vol. 18, The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous Writings (1976). See also Michael Lieb, Poetics of the Holy: A Reading of ‘Paradise Lost’ (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1981), on the chariot of paternal deity in Milton’s sixth book.
7. “‘[...][M]eantime’”: I am adopting into my text here two sentences from “On literature and the Bible,” 28-29.
8. “‘Every word was once a poem’”: Emerson in “The Poet,” in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Brooks Atkinson, The Modern Library (Random House: New York, 1968), 319-41: 327. Cf. ibid., p. 329, “Language is fossil poetry.”
9. The suggestion for most of these former nouns denoting literal animals and thereafter becoming metaphorical verbs comes from a list in Emerson, as found in Emerson in His Journals, sel. and ed. Joel Porte (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), 353 (the entry is dated May, 1846, and is headed “Language. Words borrowed from animals”).
10. “Gods are ready-made metaphors,” according to Northrop Frye in Words with Power: Being a Second Study of the Bible and Literature (San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), 71.
11. For an expansion at this point, see “First Excursus: On Spenser and the Literary Reconstruction of a ‘Scripture’”—it is placed at the end of the notes.
12. “‘Herein lies the legitimation of criticism’”: so Emerson, in “The Poet,” in Selected Writings, ed. Brooks Atkinson, 331.
13. “A 10th grade textbook”: namely, Adventures in American Literature, ed. Rewey Belle Inglis, John Gehlmann, Mary Rives Bowman, and Wilbur Schramm (New York and Chicago: Harcourt Brace, 1952). Sidney Lanier’s poem is at pp. 691-94, and Oliver Wendell Holmes’ at pp. 598-99.
14. “William Everson [...] publicly discussed”: Northern California Writers’ Conference, May, 1958, Oakland, Calif. Howl and Other Poems, with intro. by William Carlos Williams, was first printed in October, 1956 (San Francisco: City Lights Books). “Point Joe” is in Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (New York: Random House, 1956), 78-79.
15. Trilling was reviewing Santayana’s Letters, in an essay called “That Smile of Parmenides Made Me Think,” in A Gathering of Fugitives (Boston: Beacon Press, 1956), 153-67: 156. (The essay was originally published in The Griffin of the same year.)
16. Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.: Toronto, 1963). The book prints a series of six weekly talks, broadcast by the C.B.C., and sponsored by Canada’s former Governor-General, who was about to become the founder of the University of Toronto’s Massey College. In the United States, the news at this time was of Washington committing military personnel to South Vietnam and re-strategizing the invasion of Cuba. Such a country was not initiating discussions of Proust and Wallace Stevens on its airwaves. And yet many American stations were happy to take Frye’s lectures for re-broadcast, and nine years later National Public Radio was congressionally founded.
17. “[W]ell within the defenses”: precisely because the apologist is engaged in defending the autonomy of culture: see Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), 126-28 and 344-50.
18. Educated Imagination, 22.
19. “‘Ulysses,’ Order and Myth,” in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode, A Harvest/Noonday Book (New York: Harcourt Brace / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977): 175-78. See p. 177: “Mr. Joyce’s parallel use of the Odyssey [...] has the importance of a scientific discovery. No one else has built a novel upon such a foundation before. [...] In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursing a method which others must pursue after him. [...] It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats, and of the need for which I belive Mr. Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious.” I would have known this passage from its quotation in Harry Levin, James Joyce: A Critical Introduction (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1941), 207. Eliot’s article first appeared in The Dial of November 1923. For more recent echoes and/or a typical updating or re-application of its premise, as internalized in recent novels, see A. S. Byatt, “‘The Omnipotence of Thought’: Frazer, Freud and Post-Modernist Fiction,” in Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings (New York: Random House, 1993 [Vintage Books]), 109-46; but compare Levin, op. cit., 168-205.
20. The Spirit of Romance (New York: New Directions, 1952), 215 (in chapter X, “Camoens”).
21. “Soliman”: in Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, tr. Edward Fairfax, intro. John Charles Nelson (New York: Capricorn Books, n.d.), Bk. X, st. 28-35 (secret ascent to the council chamber in the Temple), st. 49-54 (revelation of Soliman and Ismeno): pp. 209-11, 214-15. Tasso’s scene has also influenced the mock-epiphanic reappearance of Satan in hell in Paradise Lost, Bk. X, 414-59, and itself derives from Aeneas’ and Achates’ beclouded presence and sudden appearance in Dido’s hall, in Virgil’s first book (Aen. I, 439-40, 509-19, 579-93).
22. “[T]o read Milton now”: as, for example, in J. M. Evans, ‘Paradise Lost’ and the Imperial Epic (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995), passim.
23. Text from Bret Harte, Gabriel Conroy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1882), 1-2. The main character of Joyce’s “The Dead,” Gabriel Conroy ends the story by thinking: “Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” (The Portable James Joyce, ed. Harry Levin [New York: Viking, 1948], 242.) Earlier Gabriel has thought: “How pleasant it would be to walk out alone, first along by the river and then through the park! The snow would be lying on the branches of the trees and forming a bright cap on the top of the Wellington Monument. How much more pleasant it would be there than at the supper-table!” (vol. cit., p. 208). But he shortly finds himself at ease in the same place, for he “liked nothing better than to find himself at the head of a well-laden table” (p. 214). His company is not dying of starvation, but Mary Jane does say, apropos the beginning of Harte’s novel: “we really are all hungry and when we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome” (p. 212). Gabriel lives with his wife Gretta in Monkstown, on the way back to which, after the preceding year’s party, she caught, regrettably, a terrible cold. “[O]f their last end” in Gabriel’s last sentence echoes his cousin Mary Jane’s explanation, offered during dinner, for the monks’ sleeping in their coffins at the monastery at Mount Melleray: “‘The coffin,’ said Mary Jane, ‘is to remind them of their last end’” (p. 218). This mortuary discussion takes place with Mr. Browne, who is reported “out there” when an open door threatens Mrs. Malins, who “will get her death of cold.” “Browne is everywhere,” Gabriel’s Aunt replies, “He has been laid on here like the gas.” John V. Kelleher notes, in the Hades episode in Ulysses, this same Browne’s explanation of the effects of corpse-gas (it crosses Bloom’s mind at the funeral in Glasnevin cemetary). Kelleher compares Browne’s ubiquity—“there [...] everywhere [...] here”—to Death’s, in the traditional rhyme, “Death is here; / Death is there; / Death is busy / Everywhere.” The frail and aging Aunt Julia, who hasn’t long to live, sings “Arrayed for the Bridal,” and Browne, identified by Kelleher as a part-time music teacher, mock-possessively proclaims her to be “My latest discovery.” See “Irish History and Mythology in James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Review of Politics (Univ. of Chicago), Vol. 27, No. 3 (July, 1965), 414-33: 431-32.
Also cited for the ending of Dubliners (as in the Penguin edition) is Thomas Moore’s “O Ye Dead!”
O ye Dead! O ye Dead! whom we know by the light you give
From your cold gleaming eyes, tho’ you move like men who live,
Why leave you thus your graves,
In far off fields and waves,
Where the worm and the seabird only know your bed;
To haunt this spot, where all
Those eyes that wept your fall,
And the hearts that wailed you, like your own, lie dead.
It is true, it is true, we are shadows cold and wan;
And the fair and the brave whom we loved on earth are gone;
But still thus, e’en in death,
So sweet the living breath
Of the fields and the flowers in our youth we wandered o’er,
That ere, condemned we go
To freeze ’mid Hecla’s snow,
We would taste it awhile, and think we live once more!
The Joyce passage blends Harte’s snow with Moore’s revisitation from the waves and graves, and the graves with an immanent iconography of the Crucifixion (“lonely [...] hill [...] crosses [...] spears [...] thorns”). For further on the use of Harte, etc., and the literary-critical theme here, see R. B. Kershner, Joyce, Bakhtin, and Popular Literature: Chronicles of Disorder (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1989).
24. “‘We are as much informed of a writer’s genius [...]’”: so Emerson in “Quotation and Originality,” in The Portable Emerson, ed. Mark Van Doren (New York: Viking, 1946), 284-303: 296. Perhaps Joyce could have happily quoted: “A great man quotes bravely, and will not draw on his invention when his memory serves with a word as good. What he quotes, he fills with his own voice and humour, and the whole cyclopedia of his table-talk is presently believed to be his own” (“Q&O,” in Portable Emerson, 288). “’Tis on Marmontel’s principle, ‘I pounce on what is mine, wherever I find it’” (ibid., 295). Moreover, “[e]very one [...] remembers his friends by their favorite poetry or other reading. [...] A writer appears to more advantage in the pages of another book than in his own. In his own he waits as a candidate for your approbation; in another’s he is a lawgiver.” (Ibid., 296.) In a recent New Yorker cartoon a didactic lady is enjoining her companion, “Don’t judge a book by its content” (March 18, 2002: p. 74). I’m with her—insofar as we often judge books by the form they take, the publisher they find, and the company they keep. (Before going to college I had read four books by James Joyce, but an equal number by Hugh Kenner!)
25. “The reason Old Historicists [...] for the other.”: this passage is adopted from Nohrnberg, “The Master of the Myth of Literature: An Interpenetrative Ogdoad for Northrop Frye”: review-essay of Rereading Frye: The Published and Unpublished Works, ed. David Boyd and Imre Salusinszky (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1999), Comparative Literature, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Winter, 2001), 58-82, and it echoes an account Frye gives in his “Foreword” to Robin S. Harris, English Studies at Toronto: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1988), ix-xii.
26. “[T]he Darwinians”: for the thinking here I am indebted to Franco Moretti’s lecture, “Experiments with Literature,” at the University of Virginia, April 7, 2000, and to Paul Cantor’s response, upon this same occasion.
27. The witness provided by Pilgrim’s Progress was destined to become an indispensable Christian vade mecum (“walk with me”), and a means of characterization as found in Uncle Tom’s Cabin with its “to be a Christian” leitmotif (Bunyan is mentioned four times in Stowe’s novel, if we include the 1878 introduction with chpts. 8, 12, and 15; see Uncle Tom’s joyous expression in chpt. 41: “‘O, Mas’r George! what a thing ’t is to be a Christian!’”). It this future that Bunyan’s text itself anticipates and predicts, by means of the scroll of testimony carried about and clung to by the pilgrim within Bunyan’s story; moreover, the characters in Bunyan’s Part II have acquired, in place of Christian’s original scroll, the text of Part I itself, as their comfort and inspiration. Bunyan is particularly important for Stowe, not only owing to those of her characters who cling to their New Testament and who also seem to question (or have to answer questions regarding) the necessity for the martyr-making obstacle course they have—or have had—to suffer through, on their way to the Christian heaven. Bunyan’s pilgrim is similarly afflicted, and his path (through this world to the next) equally hazardous and equally a trial to faith.
28. “[T]he advent of a bookless and ‘Pentecostal condition of universal understanding,’”: the internal quote is from Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (New York, Toronto and London: McGraw-Hill, 1964), 80. The passage continues: “[...] The next logical step would seem to be, not to translate, but to by-pass languages in favor of a general cosmic consciousness which might be very like the collective unsconscious dreamt of by Bergson.” See the following: “As electronically contracted, the globe is no more than a village” (UM, 5); and especially chapter 25 on the telegraph (UM, 246-57; 255: “By electricity, we everywhere resume person-to-person relations as if on the smallest village scale”), chapter 27 on the telephone (UM, 265-74), and chapter 30 on the radio (UM, 297-307; 306: “radio contracts the world to village dimensions”). The first, partial statement of McLuhan’s idea is by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in The House of the Seven Gables (chpt. 17): “Is it a fact [...] that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence! Or, shall we say, it is itself a thought, nothing but a thought, and no longer the substance which we deemed it!” Compare UM, 348: “There is no longer any tendency to speak of electricity as ‘contained’ in anything. [...] It is a principal aspect of the electric age that it establishes a global network that has much of the character of our central nervous system. Our central nervous system is not merely an electric network, but it constitutes a single unified field of experience. As biologists point out, the brain is the interacting place where all kinds of impressions and experiences can be exchanged and translated, enabling us to react to the world as a whole.” The news travelled fast: “McLuhan believes that the world is rapidly becoming a ‘global village,’ in which mankind communicates in a supermodern version of the way tribal societies were once related”—Time Magazine, July 3, 1964. See also the pages on “global networking” in McLuhan’s and Bruce R. Powers’ The Global Village (New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), 119-29, with UM, 61: “might not our current translation of our entire lives into the spiritual form of information seem to make of the entire globe, and of the human family, a single consciousness?” All of this is more or less coming to pass, at least according to the letter to shareholders in the 2001 Annual Report of AT&TWireless Corp., which is written in vintage McLuhanese.
29. “[T]he English tongue, that is.” The succession leading from the British Empire to the prevalence English as a language appears to be more than a little like the one leading from the Roman Empire to the Latin or Roman Catholic Church (at least as this successorship is presented by Arnold Toynbee in his Study of History).
30. “‘See how they have massacred my son’” is spoken by the godfather at the uncovering of Sonny’s corpse before Bonasera: Mario Puzo, The Godfather (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969), 258.
31. On the sociology of the biblical text or “document” dealing with David, and the comparison between it and the “Joseph novella” in Genesis—this being the other piece to have made it into the literature anthology in question—see Nohrnberg, “Princely Characters,” in ‘Not in Heaven’: Coherence and Complexity in Biblical Narrative, ed. Jason Rosenblatt and Joseph Sitterson, Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 58-97, 231-239.
32. “‘Foolishness’”: see The Godfather, 285-86, where the Don is suing for peace with the heads of rival New York mafia families: “‘A lot of foolishness has come to pass. It was so unfortunate, so unnecessary [...] Perhaps my son was too rash, too headstrong, I don’t say no to that [...] What would the world come to if people kept carrying grudges against all reason? That has been the cross of Sicily [...] It’s foolishness.’” In “See how they have massacred my son,” the key phrase is simply “my son,” after 2 Sam. 18:33, 19:4 (AV), “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! [...] But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son.” The mortician’s name is Amerigo Bonasera (“Good Night, America”). Vito’s surname speaks for his vitality, and his adopted last name, Corleone (“lion-heart”), for his courage; but the lion may also refer to the emblem of Judah and its power.
The connection drawn here between Vito’s son Sonny and David’s son Absalom may prompt a reader to ask if the biblical text should be read in the same double way, and, if so, what “lies behind” the story of David and Absalom. Yes, if I am correct in suggesting a reference to the Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Absalom’s mode of death at the hand of David’s general Joab. At his sacrifice Isaac says “my father”; at an analogous juncture, David says “my son.” Absalom has been caught like the ram on Moriah in Genesis 22, snarled in the vegetation, and killed like an animal in a trap. But where Abraham could reply “my son” to a living Isaac, the remains of Absalom can hardly reply “my father” to the surviving David. Behind the story of the sacrifice of Isaac lies the circumcision of Abraham’s other son Ishmael (Gen. 17) and that of Moses’ son Gershom (Exod. 4:21-27). In other words, the recess in story-telling is potentially infinite. Cf. the lady’s response to William James, when he asked her what—if, as she averred, the universe rested on the back of a very large turtle—the turtle itself stood upon: she answered back, “it’s no go, Mr. James, it’s turtles all the way down.”
33. The connection between Captain Ahab and Captain Hook has been noted: see David Park Williams, “Hook and Ahab: Barrie’s Strange Satire on Melville,” PMLA 80:483-488 (1965). For some notion of Moby Dick as Barrie might have been reacting to it, see W. Clark Russell (1844-1911), “Sea Stories,” in Contemporary Review (London), Vol. 46 (Sept., 1884), 356-59: “Melville takes this vessel [the Pequod], fills her full of strange men, and starts her on her insane quest. [...] As we read [Moby Dick], we do not need to be told that seamen don’t talk as those men [on the Pequod’s forecastle] do; probabilities are not thought of in this story. It is like a drawing by William Blake, if you please; or, better yet, it is of the “Ancient Mariner” pattern, madly fantastic in places, full of extraordinary thoughts, yet gloriously coherent—the work of a hand which, if the desire for such a thing had ever been, would have given a sailor’s distinctness to the portrait of the solemn and strange Miltonic fancy of a ship built in the eclipse and rigged with curses dark. ” (Text from Herschel Parker, ed., The Recognition of Herman Melville [Ann Arbor, Mich.: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1967], 118). See likewise H. S. Salt, “Herman Melville,” The Scottish Art Review, Vol. 2 (June-Dec., 1889), 186-90: “Frenzied by his loss, he [Ahab] was now devoting the rest of his life to the single object of destroying Moby Dick, who ‘swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them.’ [...] Wild as the story is, there is a certain dramatic vigour in the ‘quenchless feud’ between Ahab and Moby Dick which at once arrests the reader’s attention, and this interest is well maintained to the close, the final hunting-scene being a perfect nightmare of protracted sensational description.” (Text quoted from Parker, Recognition, 126.)
My phrasing for Pynchon’s novel, “rendezvous with rocketry,” is meant to echo Alan Seeger’s poem “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.” A character with whom Pynchon’s vagabond hero trysts is named Geli Tryping; although the phantasmagoric plethora of models and media in Gravity’s Rainbow condemns the isolation of any possible touchstone to being the extraction of a single tile from a very large mosaic, compare the concluding lines of Seeger’s poem: “At midnight with some flaming town, / When Spring trips north again this year, And I to my pledged word am true, / I shall not fail that rendezvous” (Adventures in American Literature, 298 = Poems by Alan Seeger, intro. William Archer [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918], 144; also see, in the Poems, 98-100, “The Rendezvous,” where the “ironical refrain,” “She will not come, the woman that he waits,” teaches the “he” of the poem that life’s hopes —no matter what their particular content—will not be fulfilled).
34. “General Cummings plotted the sexual climacteric on the ballistic arc [...]”: in his notebook in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948) (New York: New American Library, 1951 rpt.), 480-82: “The asymmetrical parabola [...] Re: Spengler’s plant [= organic] form for all cultures [...] An epoch always seems to reach its zenith at a point past the middle of its orbit in time. The fall is always more rapid than the rise [...] the fundamental curve of love, I suppose [...] and it seems to be the curve of sexual excitement and discharge [...] It is the fundamental path of any projectile [...] It is the curve of the death missile as well as an abstraction of the life-love impulse; it demonstrates the form of existence, and life and death are merely different points of observation on the same trajectory. The life viewpoint is what we see and feel astride the shell [...] The death viewpoint sees the shell as a whole, knows its inexorable end, the point toward which it has been destined by inevitable physical laws from the moment of its primary impulse when it was catapulted into the air [...] If only gravity were working, the path would be symmetrical [...] it is the wind resistance that produces the tragic curve [...] In the larger meanings of the curve, gravity would occupy the place of mortality (what goes up must come down) and wind resistance would be the resistance of the medium . . . the mass inertia or the inertia of the masses through which the vision, the upward leap of a culture is blunted, slowed, brought to its early doom.”
35. George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973), 44-48, and passim on the Bible’s re-assignment of “the monopoly of force” to the Hebrew deity.
36. For an expansion on the cultural reconfiguration of myth at this point, see “Second Excursus: On the Book of Genesis and the Reconstruction of Near Eastern Literature,” which is placed at the end of the notes here.
37. Daniel Heins is a Ph.D. candidate currently studying at the University of Virginia.
38. “‘At the last solemn moment’”: Gilchrist, The Life of William Blake, as quoted in G. E. Bentley, Jr., ed., Blake Records (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 30. Yeats cites the story in his introduction to The Poems of William Blake (New York: The Modern Library, 1920).
39. “[T]he dead brother’s spectre revealed”: Gilchrist, Life, as quoted in Bentley, Blake Records, 31-32.
40. Plates 29 (titled “William”) and 33 (titled “Robert”), in William Blake, Milton a Poem [...] (Princeton, N.J.: The William Blake Trust / Princeton Univ. Press, 1993).
41. Letter to Olivia Shakespeare, dated 27 Oct. 1927, in The Letters of W.B. Yeats, ed. Allan Wade (New York: Macmillan, 1955), pp. 730-31. I have had to add “[the model of]” to make sense of the passage. The numbers of the given plates are 84 (“Dante entering the holy fire”) and its inverse 48 (“‘The Serpent attacking Vanni Fucci’”). This letter is cited in T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower: Studies in the Poetry of W. B. Yeats (London: Methuen, 1965 [rpt.]), 246-47. See also “William Blake and His Illustrations to ‘The Divine Comedy’” (1897), in W. B. Yeats, Ideas of Good and Evil, 3rd edn. (London: A. H. Bullen / Dublin: Maunsel & Co., 1907), 176-225. Yeats here takes up the question Blake’s and Botticelli’s imaginative recreation of Dante, as opposed to the more prosaic and fanciful renditions of Gustave Doré, which merely accommodate “an ordinary intelligence” like Doré’s own. The poem’s “ordinary” students will tell you that the more inspired “have builded worlds of their own and called them Dante’s—as if Dante’s world were more than a mass of symbols of colour and forms and sound which put on humanity, when they arouse some mind to an intense and romantic life that is not theirs; as if it was not one’s own sorrows and angers and regrets and terrors and hopes that awaken to condemnation or repentance while Dante treads his eternal pilgrimage; as if any poet or painter or musician could be other than an enchanter calling with a persuasive or compelling ritual, creatures, noble or ignoble, divine or daemonic, covered with scales or in shining raiment, that he [i.e., the ordinary student] never imagined, out of the bottomless deeps of imaginations he never foresaw; as if the noblest achievement of art was not when the artist enfolds himself in darkness, while he [= the artist] casts over his readers a light as of a wild and terrible dawn.” (Op. cit., pp. 219-20.) I.e., only the artists who have discovered in Dante monuments of their soul’s own magnificence—because they, unlike Flaxman, “have [...] been really moved by Dante” (op. cit., p. 221)—can illustrate the Comedy as it asks to be illustrated by a genuinely responsive reader.
42. I am adapting points and phrasing from Nohrnberg, “The Autobiographical Imperative and the Necessity of ‘Dante’” (art. cit. in note 3, supra).
43. My identification of Virgil with “the lord of highest singing,” as a kind of Apollo “who soars above the others like an eagle” (Inf. IV, 95-96), will be problematic for those Dantisti who think the reference should be to Homer, “the sovereign poet” who is seen “coming ahead of the others as their lord” (87-88). But Dante-as-narrator echoes the anonymous commanding “voice” of line 79, and they seem to me to agree in identifying the preeminent pre-Christian practitioner of the lofty kind of song as Virgil. Of course a “singing school” of poets is not peculiar to Dante’s recognition of himself in the Comedy; Hans Sachs, for example, founded such a school, and thus provided the necessary basis for the fable by which Wagner was to recognize himself in Die Meistersingers von Nürnberg.
44. Milton may belong here because Blake’s involvement of him in the action of Milton implies a fulfilling of Milton’s express hope to “leave something so written to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die” (Reason of Church Government: The Second Book, prologue). Somewhat similarly perhaps, Fearful Symmetry revealed Frye’s immersion in the mind of Blake as Blake’s immersion in the mind of Frye.
45. “‘[N]o artist has his meaning alone [...]’”: T. S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Methuen, 1960), 49. In the section on the archetypal image of “the Furnace,” Frye’s Words with Power, 302, manages to put Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium,” Dante’s Statius in the Purgatorio, and Eliot’s visit with the modernized shade of Dante’s teacher Brunetto Latini all on the same page, in the course of which he also notes that “when the ghost [in Eliot’s “Little Gidding”] discusses the social function of the poet he gives a purgatorial twist to a phrase of Mallarmé: the poet’s task, he says, is ‘to purify the dialect of the tribe.’”
46. “‘Baudelaire defined modernity as [...]’”: quoting Victor Brombert, “Of trains and stations,” FMR No. 19 (April/May, 1986), 42-52: 52.
47. “‘Every old-time painter had his own modernity’”: quoting Baudelaire’s “The Painter of Modern Life,” in The Essence of Laughter and Other Essays, tr. Peter Quennell (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), 19-62: 32.
48. “‘[T]hat which is ephemeral [...]’”: ibid., 32.
49. For Frye on the elucidation of this logos as an object in criticism, see Anatomy of Criticism, 125-28 (and note p. 125: “Poetry, said Coleridge, is the identity of knowledge”).
50. ”’[T]o extract from fashion’”: “The Painter of Modern Life,” in Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Literature, tr. P. E. Charvet (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992), 391-432: 402.
51. “The content of every new [...] medium”: the point is adapted from Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 8: “The ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.” Professor Wilbur Schramm, the fourth editor of the 10th grade literature text previously referred to, is thought by McLuhan to have employed poor tactics “in studying Television in the Lives of Our Children,” because “his tests were of ‘content’ preferences, viewing time, and vocabulary counts [...] his approach to the problem [of television’s influence] was a literary one, albeit unconsciously so”—rather than cognitive (UM, 19). When we watch an old movie, we are very conscious of its affinity with a stage-play: e.g., the group- or plebiscite-scenes in old movies seem less like the contemporary newsreel as mimed by such scenes in more recent movies, and more like tableaux from a production à la Bertolt Brecht.
All of us are aware, in one way or another, of a deep posteriority in literature, of which one example might be that mute and admiring retrospectivity that overtakes us at the end of a long novel: that moment in which all our surmise is a surmise upon things past, as if the ending of a book were a kind of funeral. This posteriority is found in any assumed secondariness of the literary treatment of a subject to the subject itself: narrative’s resemblance to history; the recorded words of poetry as a reproduction or echo of the spoken word; the derivation of literary fictions from the previous fictions conserved or fossilized in myth; the re-presentative character of mimetic art. Literary words often exist as the contemplative left-over from a prior event, an elegiac recollective consolation for the loss of the event’s immediacy. A portrait, as Pascal says, conveys both presence and absence (Pensées, X, 677). Literary art readily points to its own character in this regard. The Achilles who retreats to his tent must be singing the lyre-songs commemorating the kind of action from which he has withdrawn, like Milton’s devils reasoning and singing together after their fall from heaven—Christian authors identify this posteriority with the supercession of pagan literature. An analogous instance of enhanced secondariness appears in the last book of the Iliad which has the symbolism of a descent to the dead, and seems to take place in a kind of post-mortem zone set apart from the preceding poem; this remove allows the characters to talk reflectively about their own former selves and roles, as if they were becoming critics of the literature in which they were formerly were the actors. Or consider Altisadora’s haunting report, in Don Quixote, regarding her descent to hell’s threshold, when she tells Quixote she beheld the fate of apocryphal novel written by Cervantes’ rival: “I am not disturbed,” the knight responds, “to hear that I am wandering about in fantastic body in the infernal regions or the light above, for I am not the one of whom that history treats. If it by chance is a true, faithful and worthy account, then it will live for ages, but if it is bad, it will not be far step from its birth to the grave” (DQ Pt. II, chpt. 70)—from the cradle of the printing-press to the grave of critical oblivion (see Pt. II, chpt. 30: “‘Sancho Panza by name, is my own self, if I was not changed in my cradle, I mean, changed in the press’”). But Quixote is hardly to be distinguished from his rival, if a personage from the other book can show up as a character in Quixote’s own. (After “On Literature and the Bible,”27-28.)
Poetry is language under a spell, and literature is written as a kind of cipher of itself: “A cipher has a double meaning, one clear, and one in which it is said that the meaning is hidden” (Pascal: Pensées, X, 676; Carlyle’s Teufelsdroch says something similar in Sartor Resartus: “In Symbol there is concealment and yet revelation” and “hence, therefore, by Silence and by Speech acting together, comes a double significance”: i.e., allegory is a discourse that is censored in its production precisely in order to get something secretly stated past the censors that operate in the agora). To a student of Book I of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, this could be like saying that the work of the imagination is as much like the imposture of Duessa and the fantastical Archimago, as like the faithful defense of veiled truth by its naive and single- or simple-minded champion. As Duessa tells it, her story begins from her engagement to a knight subsequently defeated and disgraced by his foes, with the loss his body, which was “conveyed, and from [her] hid,” in a kind of ‘Passover Plot’ for which the Scriptural basis is an episode near the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Duessa’s disgraced Prince “Fell from high honours stair” (I.ii.23) as the bankrupt majority in Lucifera’s dungeon “Fell from high Princes courts” (I.v.51). This slander is a kind of foreclosure on the truth and power of the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 skandalon is a trap, gin, something that springs up to trip you: “we preach Christ crucified,” writes Paul, “unto the Jews a stumbling block and foolishness to the Gentiles.” The scandal of the cross among Paul’s Jews is the scandal of the Resurrection among Matthew’s high priests, because of the plot laid at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “And when” the chief priests were shown that Jesus was alive, and they were “assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers [guarding the tomb], Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So [the soldiers] took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (Mt. 28:12-15). I.e., the Jews’ current belief that the Resurrection is a hoax comes from their own scandalized leaders’ success in covering up the truth from them, and in slandering the disciples as bodysnatchers. The witnesses to the theft are the guards, who were also asleep, since the theft could not have taken place otherwise! This passage comes in Matthew at a juncture analogous to the one where Thomas the Twin doubts the Resurrection in John, where the shorter text of Mark falters altogether, and where two of Luke’s disciples retail the astonishing report of Jesus’ being seen alive while failing to recognize that the person to whom they are telling this is none other than their Lord. Thus the stumbling-block of the Resurrection, and its virtual duplication in the experience of the disciples, is an essential textual or narrative feature of the gospel form itself.
If Redcrosse’s legend is also a life-story that culminates in a mimetic death and resurrection, an essential episode would present a similar stumbling-block in a post-Resurrection position. It is here that Duessa, as she conspires to tell her story at the end of the legend, recurs to the tale of her vexed engagement, this time in reference to the alienation of her rights as the betrothed of Redcrosse. But this is the kind of betrayal and conspiracy with which Una’s own story has become involved, from Spenser’s opening cantos. Moreover, the narrative coda in Spenser’s Book I is in agreement with the nefarious plot found in the same position in the Prose Lancelot. For when Duessa sends an emissary to forbid the bans, claiming that Redcrosse cannot marry owing to a previous engagement, she impugns the knight’s truth in a way distinctly reminiscent of the attack on Guinevere’s authenticity after the late rapprochement in Prose Lancelot, which secures the joint membership of Lancelot, Arthur, and Galahaut in Arthur’s court and the Table Round. But in a kind of Derridean supplement, the false Guinevere sends in her claim upon the allegiance of the king—a claim, moreover, Arthur is inveigled into temporarily honoring. This “stumbling block,” situated at the end of a celebrated narrative from medieval romance, offers a commentary on the penultimate events of Spenser’s Book I.
Here is an account of the action, after the summary in Lancelot of the Lake, as translated by Corin Corley (Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), 415-17.
“King Arthur is in Carlisle, with all the Round Table knights. One day, a beautiful damsel arrives with an old knight. They tell Arthur that they are from ‘Guinevere, daughter of King Leodegan of Camelide.’ Arthur, they say, [has] married this Guinevere and vowed to honour her, but he has not in fact done so. They explain that, on his wedding night, Arthur left his bridal chamber, and ‘Guinevere’ was spirited away by her enemies, who substituted the [present] queen in her place, while the real bride was carried off to an abbey, where she has been ever since. The old knight, Berthelai, offers to prove this claim in combat against any knight who wishes to challenge it. The damsel gives Arthur a letter from the noasticised ‘Guinevere,’ and tells him that if he will not take her back, he is to return the Round Table to her, with as many good knights as it came to him with. She has sent an old knight as her champion as a sign of the justness of her cause. The damsel shows Arthur a ring, which does seem to be the one Arthur gave Guinevere when they were married. However, Gawain goes and fetches the queen’s ring: the two are identical. The damsel demands a day for judgment for the case. Arthur sets it for Boxing Day, at Camelot; it is agreed that if no one defends the present queen, Arthur will accept that she is an impostor. Berthelai and the damsel return to (their) ‘Guinevere’ (the bogus one). The old knight tells her that, if she does as he instructs her, he will make her a queen.”
Thereafter the conspirators’ agents kidnap Arthur, and they drug him in such a way as he falls in love with the bogus Guinevere, and is turned against his real wife. When the set time comes, Arthur tries the case against the accused queen with her present, and he pronounces her guilt himself: she is to have her hair and scalp removed, and to be burned. Anyone wishing to challenge the verdict, he decrees, must fight the three best knights that the newly promoted Guinevere can find. Challenging the verdict, Lancelot undertakes the (true) queen’s defense, and handily dispatches the three champions appointed by the liar. The (true) queen’s cause being proved, Arthur now calls the fake Guinevere and Berthelai to judgment. The pretender confesses, Berthelai reveals how he conceived the scheme, and the miscreants are taken off to be burned.
Perhaps the similarity to Spenser is merely morphological: each story is contrived to unravel the synthesis and social consensus arrived at by the preceding story's dénouement, and to turn the tables on well-established values for its characters. Duessa, after all, has already been attached and exposed by Una for “the secret treasons” (I.xii.33)—or “counterfesaunce” (I.viii.49)—that have previously undone the easily inveigled Redcrosse, and Una must intervene, as once before, this time to expose Duessa’s letter-carrier as the same Archimago who began his career by telling Redcrosse enchanting stories about Saints and Popes. Yet what the letter says that Redcrosse has done to Fidessa could well have been Una's complaint about what Redcrosse had done to her. The story of the bogus Guinevere forms a missing link between the Archimago of the first canto, who substitutes a false and fabricated body for Una, and the last, where his letter ventriloquizes that same personage. At first the story from the bogus Guinevere itself seems unprecedented, yet she is made plausible by our standing knowledge that the marriage of Arthur’s actual queen is also something of a sham, because of Guinevere’s adulterous relation with Lancelot. (The story told by both the messenger and the letter touches base with a much more canonic deception from the Tristan literature, namely the famous fraud at the bedding of King Mark’s bride, when Isolde’s virginal maid Brangane stands in for her un-virginal mistress.)
The allegations of Guinevere’s impersonator contradict the virtuous pretensions of the genuine Guinevere, as Fidessa’s specious letter gives the lie to the actual Redcrosse’s eligibility, and as Matthew’s Jews call into question the truth of the Resurrection. In other words, these stories all contain the seeds of their scriptures’ destruction—or secularization—in the guise of their confirmation. —Has Duessa been more engaging to Redcrosse than Una? Will Guinevere end up in a monastery because her status as Arthur’s wife will be fatally usurped upon by her entrancement with Lancelot? Though Duessa and the false Guinevere are exposed as impostors, their stories are true counterfeits, scandals that have gotten themselves enshrined in their respective scriptures, and that tend to secularize or problematize them, by calling their truth, authority, integrity, and univocality into serious question. Thus these are stories turning into what we tend to mean by ‘literature,’ while also decomposing what we tend to mean by ‘scripture.’
Not only is ancient literature a source for modern literature and the understanding thereof, it is a source for itself. Everyone knows the story of the creation of man from mud and his mate from his rib, and God breathing into man’s face the breath of life. But as a Bible teacher it is my job to connect this story to the biblical diatribe against making idols out of mud, the Egyptian embalming procedures that are applied to the bones of Joseph at the other end of Genesis, and accounts of miraculous resuscitation found in the Former Prophets and the New Testament. The tallying of one story with another is what makes the biblical narrative meaningful: which is to say, “intentional.”
The Bible does not ignore the received, primeval events of the earliest history in the way it ignores received gods. It accepts the loss of immortality owing to the serpent, the divine causation of a universal flood, and the building of Babylon as the gate of heaven; all these Near Eastern stories have been incorporated into the front-end of the biblical chronicle. But the Bible re-works them. For example, the serpent-kind, in the older story, has a motive for depriving man of immortality (or rather the power of rejuvenation)—it wants it for itself. Mesopotamian man was optimistically conceived: he was going to get the power to renew his skin; but the serpent stole this for serpent-kind. The Bible has deprived the serpent of this motive, not because it is interested in a motiveless malignity, but in the trial of the answerable moral subject. The serpent is there to test what God has said, to take issue with it, to tempt man to tempt God. The serpent is thus merely the voice of subtlety and casuistry, giving voice to the provocation that the fruit can be, once it is seen as fair to the eyes, good to eat, and sufficient to make one as sophisticated as the gods. Thus the tricky and pseudo-knowledgeable serpent in the Bible presumes to speak for what the gods have denied to man—forbidden knowledge—rather than for what the gods originally intended for man, and what the knowledgeable Sumerian serpents deprived them of—the power of rejuvenation or preservation of life. In other words, the Biblical serpent cagily presumes to reveal to man the kind of secret, beneficial knowledge that the Sumerian serpent-kind cagily contrived to prevent man learning.
The Sumerian serpent-kind successfully outwits the gods, to get this knowledge for itself. The Biblical serpent tempts man to take the part of the Sumerian serpent: to appropriate what is not divinely intended for him as his own (it is intended for the other race—the race of gods in the Bible, the race of men in the Sumerian story). The dénouement in the Bible is similarly turned inside-out. Unlike the successful Sumerian serpent or serpent-kind, the successful Biblical serpent is subjected to liability for what he has done; and the power to renew his skin, which the serpent steals from man in the Sumerian tale, becomes the immortality which God denies man as a consequence of his theft of knowledge. Animals do not, in the biblical sense, know death. The Sumerian serpent gains immortality, or rather the power to rejuvenate itself, from their theft of a secret or secret substance, where Biblical man loses this same immortality, “the tree of life,” for his theft of the tree of knowledge. But God compensates man for the loss of his immortality, by making him coats of skins: just what the Sumerian serpent now has by theft. Biblical man is compensated with a version of the winnings of the Sumerian serpent: the Sumerian serpent extends his life by renewing his skin, Biblical man preserves his life by covering his. But since it is God who makes the coats of skin, it is obvious that Biblical man cannot cover his nakedness before his judge. This does not seem to have been a problem for the Sumerian serpent, but rather for the Sumerian gods! In contrast, the will of the Biblical God is tested, but it is not mocked. (See Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd edn. with Supplement, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), 96-97 [ = Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XI, 258-302].)
For another example, let us take the story of the Flood. The Book of Genesis gives the story of Noah no less than four whole chapters. This probably means that the Flood was an event of the world’s legendary past well nigh universally recognized and received. But the Bible’s “ancient Flood story” exhibits transformations. This time the story begins pessimistically, from the population explosion in the Mesopotamian kingdoms between the two rivers: the gods plan to destroy a world that man has made too noisy, and that has become dangerously overcrowded. This plan is a secret from the victims, like the plan to immortalize man, which was a secret from the serpents. The god Enlil is furious when he discovers that a living soul has escaped drowning—no one was supposed to survive. But one human being is informed by a divine informant from the the council of the gods, by a dream this renegade god confesses; thus warned, the man builds an ark and boards his family, and the beasts of the field, and all the craftsmen and silver. Thus civilization is saved from the gods’ intentions. That is not the point of the story as it is incorporated into the Gilgamesh epic, though the goddess Ishtar does indeed repent of having caused the life-destroying flood. Rather, the story explains how the angry god Enlil, who was not invited to the Flood-hero’s post-diluvian sacrifice, is nonetheless prevailed upon to spare this hero. Having penetrated to the secrets of the gods, of which he is now in possession, the man is uniquely rewarded with immortality: in accordance with the favor the gracious informant had originally shown him.
In the Biblical story, we have said, the will of God is tested, but it is not mocked. For God is said to have both repented the making of man, and also the sending of the Flood against him. But God's will is not really wishy-washy here. For God anticipates repenting of the destruction of man, since he also plans for man to survive through Noah. Noah is divinely warned, but not through an intelligence leak. In the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, information came to Upnapishtim by way of a wall Ea speaks to and which the hero hears, and Upnapishtim, on Ea’s advice, kept his secret from his compatriots. (The comparable Sumerian character, Ziusudra, may not have shared his knowledge either.) Noah is recognized at birth by his father Lamech as a future comfort (Gen. 5:29), and by the narrator as “a just man and perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:7). The Jesus of the apocalyptic sermon of Matthew 24 implies the Flood was a secret from a contrastingly heedless people (vss. 38-39: “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away”); 2 Peter 2:5, on the other hand, makes Noah “a preacher of righteousness,” implying that he might well have warned his heedless neighbors of the wrath to come. In any case, Noah had himself been both warned and prepared: the divine counsels concerning his destiny were not divided by cunning, or diverted by malice.
The most important difference between the Biblical story of the Flood and the other Near Eastern versions is the emphasis on the protagonist’s family and lineage. In the Gilgamesh epic the Flood-hero earns precisely that immortality that is denied to the rest of mortals, Gilgamesh himself especially included. Noah, on the contrary, receives, for the first time, the conditions of ordinary life that pertain to everybody. Noah is the first man of name born beyond the life-long curse on Adam: Adam has died when Noah is announced, and Noah is thus the first second Adam: since his wife is not named, the story reiterates that all men derive from a single ancestral personage, blessed with the divine word “increase and multiply.” The Noachic covenant is between God and all life, not God and a specific ancestry or a specific people. Nonetheless, every creature that lives on the earth “went forth by families out of the ark” (Gen. 8:19, RSV). This is the first use of this word—mishpachah—in Scripture, replacing the word “kind” (Heb. min, related to the root for ‘number’), used for the same purpose before the Flood. Humankind was the elect or princely kind in Genesis 1, and surely the elect family here is Noah’s, for it is through Noah’s family that all the “families” of the earth have been saved. We may thus compare Noah to the Abram whom God addresses in Genesis 12:3: “in thee shall all families [mishpachah] of the earth be blessed” (AV). Among the ancient Flood-heroes, only Noah is genealogized in this way, that is, by linking back to Father Adam (via Sethite genealogy) and forward to Father Abraham (via Shemite genealogy). He is thus drawn out of legend towards the historicity of the annal or chronicle. (See Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. Walter Beyerlin [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978], 87-97 and also 8-11 [ = Egyptian text on the gods’ annihilation of the human race]. For the genealogical theme, see Nohrnberg, “The Keeping of Nahor: The Etiology of Biblical Election in Genesis,” in The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory, ed. Regina Schwartz [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990], 161-188.)
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