Monday, January 30, 2017

`Between Silence and Being Read'

A reader has reminded me of a sentence I wrote six years ago but had forgotten entirely: “So much writing is inert gas emitted merely to attract attention, like pheromones.” It’s nice to be reminded of something one has written that isn’t an embarrassment. It’s also nice to read Yvor Winters again. Imagine his reaction to the state of literature and literary studies today. In the 1958 letter to Malcolm Cowley that I quote, Winters says in that common-sensical, matter-of-fact way of his: “One can write only if one has something to say (and exercises on nothing in particular are a curse), has talent, and acquires scholarship.” If that diktat were enforced, the presses would stop and the bookstores close. Then we would have to rely on the libraries, personal and public, as some of us already do. Reading and writing would resort to a sort of digital samizdatIn a note to his translation of The Noise of Time: The Prose of Osip Mandelstam (1986), Clarence Brown writes:

“To write at all is a kind of infinitely clandestine sort of publication, or at least publication in posse, something in between silence and being read. Just to unburden one’s heart with words is a relief, and if the words are not borne away on the wind but traced on paper, so much greater the relief. And how much greater still the relief if the words are well selected and fall into a pattern that suggest a permanence beyond their temporary means of preservation.”

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