Tuesday, September 26, 2023

'Beauty, Clarity, Consolation, Truth'

The blogosphere is infested with hair-trigger book critics whose job it is, at long last, to set you straight. Their world is strictly binary --  like/dislike, good/bad – and they are fond of superlatives: the best/the worst. Dissent sparks crackdowns and there is no appeals process.

In contrast, and much of the reason we so quickly became friends, agreeing or disagreeing with something David Myers had written or said was usually less important and less interesting than letting his insight simmer for hours or days. David was as strongly opinionated and pugnacious as anyone I have known, but he paid you the compliment of seriousness. He listened to your objections before responding. His family has given us the gift of preserving A Commonplace Blog.

Our backgrounds were different. David had multiple advanced degrees. He studied with Stanley Elkin and J.V. Cunningham. I dropped out of the university after junior year and didn’t earn my B.A. for three decades. I’m mostly an autodidact. David was a rigorously trained literary critic with impressive analytical skills. I’m a reader and writer, not a critic, though he insisted otherwise. He was an Orthodox Jew. The world is a less interesting place without him. In 1991, David wrote of Hugh Kenner in The Sewanee Review:

“For Kenner, then, criticism is a kind of writing. Of course it is anything but this for most critics now working, which may explain why much criticism at present is badly written. Second-rate critics solve the problem of writing by adopting some currently dominant view--thus contributing to its dominance. Such criticism never rises above a minimum standard of intelligibility, for although propositions can be extracted from it easily enough, they are difficult to make sense of, because their place in the system is rarely clear.”

How you write at home is your business. Writing badly in public, imposing it on others, is a sin. On this, David and I always agreed. Continuing, he writes of Kenner while revealing something of himself:

“It is difficult to reduce his criticism to a table of deductions, but not difficult to understand him. He is more attentive to the problem of writing, to choosing words and getting sentences to hang together, than to the question whether (on some currently dominant view) he is correct.”

On Saturday, Bill Vallicella at The Maverick Philosopher remembered David, describing A Commonplace Blog as “the best literary weblog that I am aware of.” In a Festschrift we organized after David’s death, the late Terry Teachout characterized him as “a thoroughly decent man of deeply humane values who looked to literature for that which great art is uniquely well suited to provide: beauty, clarity, consolation, truth.” I’ll second both of them.


Husband and father of four, David Myers died nine years ago, on September 26, 2014 at age sixty-two. He once posted this photograph of his desk.


Edward Bauer said...

Thank you for this reminder. Nine years. And also the reminder that Mr.(and Mrs.) T aren't here either.

Although I haven't commented in a while, I'm still here every day. Thank you for your diligence and persistence.

huisache said...

I read through his blog some years ago when I first happened on yours. Enjoyed it even when he was ripping some of my favorites. Just re read some of those, including the ones on McMurtry and Portis, who I had just finished reading some of and in Portis's case, all of the the Library of America volume. His review of Atlantis was the best description I have seen of it and wish he had gone through Gringos.

Thanks as always for a thoughtful offering. I am planning a trip to Houston just for a first visit to Kaboom after reading you occasional comments on it. And the HMFA, one of my favorites. Hate driving in from the south but sacrifices have to be made

Chris C said...

It's pretty cool that AE is on his screen...

I still re-read his work for inspiration and consolation. Hard to believe he's been gone for so long.

Vy glad his family is keeping up the website.

Chris C