Tuesday, January 26, 2010

More On R P Blackmur

I want to sincerely thank Chris Banks for providing me the impulse to search out a Blackmur essay I otherwise mayn't have seen, soon or ever. I never direct people to scout out/buy a particular work I'm enamoured by, but in this case I'll make an exception. Those who're following the latest Banks' attempt to silence negative criticism of his poetry -- and who're noting how his quotes keep returning to their manipulator to take large chunks out of his ass -- should sprint to their nearest library to read Blackmur's 1954 "Between the Numen and and the Moha" (interestingly, written the same year, 1954, as the Oates/Banks damned Blackmur essay "Lawrence and Expressive Form"). Everything in this thrilling and expertly-argued 20 page essay not only gives the lie to Oates' fatuous, reductionist, and outright wrongheaded Banks' extract (I, today, read the entire 60 page Oates booklet, The Hostile Sun: The Poetry of D H Lawrence, from which the extract was culled), it takes the opposite view, one much more in line with Lawrence's conception of the artist! Unbelievable! Has Banks actually read any Blackmur beyond what Oates so disastrously misunderstood?

I could go on with my own commentary, but in this case, it's best to allow Blackmur extended quotation. I'll try to keep my words to the minimum. Again, go to Table Music and check the original quote, or simply go to my previous post where I quote most of it (leaving out the most embarassing and inflammatory Oates passages towards the end). I'll be answering Oates' extended argument pro Lawrence/contra Blackmur in my next post.

Here's Blackmur. Again, this was written the same year as "Lawrence and Expressive Form". (All italics are mine).

"In religion there is the direct recognition, the immediate blow -- the shock of light. In myth the perception is mediated or enacted through behaviour. There is the substance of faith and the story of Christ. Who shall say one is not a phase of the other? Both can be creative, both destructive. Both, as we discourse on them (though not in the original experience), are theoretic forms requiring reason to persist or to be recognized afresh." (Blackmur)

This is a perfect rendering not only of literary creation to literary consideration, writer to reader, but also of spiritual transformation and its necessary theoretical or relative framework.

"[Montaigne] doubted in order to bring his mind, not to obloquy or disuse, but to responsive action: which is why his writing is today so fresh. ... [H]ere is my Montaigne .... from Book I, chapter XXXVII:"(Blackmur)

"But the true, supreme, and divine poesy is above all rules and reasons. Whoever discerns the beauty of it with assured and steady sight, he does not see it any more than the splendor of a flash of lightning. It does not seduce our judgement; it ravishes and overwhelms it. (Montaigne)

"Montaigne's words free poetry both from its own rules and from the rules of reason and give it a role superior to both: to ravish and overwhelm judgement. .... Let us say we see in this passage a claim not only tenable but necessary, a claim which asserts only what actually happens in certain reaches of great poetry where the words take fire from each other. We see the pride of imagination, which is confronted with reality, in the act of breaking down the pride of reason, which manipulates reality in a merely administrative rather than an understanding sense."(Blackmur)

"Art keeps reason on its toes, makes it jump and shift its ground, and jump again." (Blackmur)

"In the practise of criticism it is almost the other way round. In criticism it is reason .... that tells us what jumping is like. ....

Criticism keeps the sound of his footsteps live in our reading, so that we understand both the fury in the words and the words themselves." (Blackmur)

"Our reason feeds on the element, as Marianne Moore's poem calls it, of beautiful unreason underneath; and as Eliot's poem says, we know and partly know. We move because we are moved. We know there is something ineluctable about literature .... and we know there is something transitory about criticism because we feel our own attitudes are precarious and provisional." (Blackmur)

"Not the conceptual form, which is the management of intent; not the executive or technical form, which is the management of convention and detail; not the symbolic form, which is what is created and gives lasting power to literature; but the underlying form -- those movements of the soul which is the form of forms." (Blackmur)

"Between The Numen and the Moha" is the last essay in a book of R P Blackmur's essays entitled The Lion And The Honeycomb, from Harcourt, Brace and Company.

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