Thursday, July 26, 2012

`Like Flocks of Doves'

Three years ago, David Myers posted some of the notes he made in 1976 as a student of the poet-critic J.V. Cunningham (1911-1985). David says the seventy-seven notes, aphoristic in their concision and wit, represent about a third of the total he recorded. Someday, we hope, he will share the rest. Few writers are so tersely acidic as Cunningham. Reading him again reminded me of another devotee of cant-free common sense, the Colombian aphorist Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-1994), known as Don Colacho. Read him in Spanish and English at Don Colacho’s Aphorisms. The parallels and small variations between Cunningham and Gómez Dávila are interesting and fruitful:

1. Cunningham says: “An artist must follow a model. That is the meaning of mimesis.”

Don Colacho says: “I have no pretensions to originality: the commonplace, if it is old, will do for me.”

2. Cunningham: “The quiet, plain style. It is noticeably unnoticeable. Two examples from Stevens: `The house was quiet and the world was calm.’ And: `junipers shagged with ice.’”

Don Colacho: “Perfect prose is prose which the ingenuous reader does not notice is well written.”

3. Cunningham: “The writer seeks the unique in the common language.”

Don Colacho: “Being common and customary without being predictable is the secret of good prose.”

4. Cunningham: “It would be indecorous to ascribe a fault to Jane Austen.”

Don Colacho: ‘It is not just to reproach this century’s writers for their bad taste when the very notion of taste has perished.”

5. Cunningham: “The finder of his theme will be at no loss for words.”

Don Colacho: “Words arrive one day in the hands of a patient writer like flocks of doves.”

6. Cunningham: “The writer seeks the unique in the common language.”

Don Colacho: “The only indices of civilization are the clarity, lucidity, order, good manners of everyday prose.”

1 comment:

Helen Pinkerton said...

Thanks, Patrick, for noticing the parallels of the aphorisms of Gómez Davila with the classroom remarks of Jim Cunningham, as preserved by D. G. Myers on his blog. Familiar as I am with Don Colacho's work, thanks to your linkage, and have been with Cunningham's work since the days of my youth, I had not noted the similarities in their perceptions of style and language. I cannot undertake it now, but it would be interesting to check out whether more parallels could be found. It is interesting that Myers's record of Cunningham's informal remarks reads almost as if it were a series of deliberate aphorisms. He should be encouraged to post all of the notes that he took. I took classes from him at Stanford in 1945-46, and later became a friend, but never had the good sense to write down what he said.