Wednesday, March 14, 2018

because there's no money in poetry.

Roy Lichtenstein, Masterpiece (1962)

From Jack Collom's Second Nature (2012): excerpt from an interview between Mr. Collom (JC) and Reed Bye (RB):
JC: [B]eing in NYC the last five years where the critical intelligence is so voracious, it's very hard to maintain faith and there's a lot of cynicism in the air about everything being done, people categorize——well, in New York with its excessive input, that categorization problem, I mean so much is coming in at you from all sides that people develop this habit of rejecting and classifying and uh—it is very hard to be open when you have that voice around you that's like a school of piranha ready to gobble up your words. You just feel it even if people don't say things like that. 
RB: And the pressure to have your own critical reference and express it with great confidence is much more pronounced there too. You get some overconfident——uh——well it's the sort of trend phenomenon that sweeps over New York or anywhere, any cultural center where trying to constantly keep on top of what has set the trend, or be aware of the new trend, that never stops. 
JC: Yeah——the novelty thing gets a little heavy there. Whatever has not been cloaked with aesthetic feeling before is searched out and eventually after you've gone through a whole bunch of sensibilities, there's a certain aesthetic delight popped out of them because nobody's ever looked at them that way before. There's certainly a lot to that, you know, finding aesthetic delight in anything in the world, but the chase for untried fields in that way just runs around and around, ah, it becomes too conceptual for one thing, people don't have time to develop a competency in a style, they're just after the weird idea that nobody ever thought of, rather than practicing and deepening themselves in some sensibility, filling out a world of nuances... 
RB: In the poetry world, that doesn't seem quite as true. 
JC: No, partly because there's no money in poetry. 
[end of interview]

Monday, March 12, 2018

Mardi & the ecstasy of Herman Melville

An image search for "Mardi" yielded this tattooed quote.

I recently came about 650 pages nearer to my goal of consuming Herman Melville in the entirety of his oeuvre by reading Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849).

To Melville's third book—following Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846) and Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas (1847)—is owed the distinction of being his first true novel, which it earns through its complete desertion of factual truth. Typee and Omoo, despite their embellishments, still fall under the category of travel writing rather than fiction. But apparently some portion of Melville's audience regarded his story of being held the captive guest of an indigenous tribe in the Marquesas Islands, escaping in a leaking, shambolic whaling ship, and then bumming around French Polynesia after being brought ashore and imprisoned for his part in a mutiny, as far too outlandish to warrant credibility. Melville cites this skepticism in the preface to Mardi as the impetus which led him to try his hand at a fully fictional narrative. If his provincial readers were going to accuse him of just making shit up, then why shouldn't he fabricate a narrative and see how they like it?

As it happened, "they" didn't like it very much at all. Mr. Murr of The Lectern suggests "the Book that Cost a Career" should be substituted for "and a Voyage Thither" as Mardi's subtitle. Melville had made a name for himself with Typee, and followed it with the apt and well-received sequel Omoo. Mardi, however, received a critical mauling. Here are some excerpts of contemporaneous reviews from The Life and Works of Herman Melville:
... [I]t is almost needless to say that we were disappointed with Mardi. It is not only inferior to Typee and Omoo, but it is a really poor production. It ought not to make any reputation for its author, or to sell sufficiently well to encourage him to attempt any thing else. --Charles Gordon Greene, in Boston Post, April 18 1849 
We have seldom found our reading faculty so near exhaustion, or our good nature as critics so severely exercised, as in an attempt to get through this new work by the author of the fascinating Typee and Omoo--George Ripley, in New York Tribune, May 10 1849 
This pretension to excessive novelty has in this case resulted only in an awkward and singular melange of grotesque comedy and fantastic grandeur, which one may look for in vain in any other book. Nothing is so fatiguing as this mingling of the pompous and the vulgar, of the common-place and the unintelligible, of violent rapidity in the accumulation of catastrophes, and emphatic deliberation in the description of landscapes. These discursions, these graces, this flowery style, festooned, twisted into quaint shapes, call to mind the arabesques of certain writing masters, which render the text unintelligible. --Translation of an article by Philarète Chasles, in Paris Revue des deux mondes, May 15 1849 
We proceed to notice this extraordinary production with feelings anything but gentle towards its gifted but excentric author. The truth is, that we have been deceived, inveigled, entrapped into reading a work where we had been led to expect only a book. We were flattered with the promise of an account of travel, amusing, though fictitious; and we have been compelled to pore over an undigested mass of rambling metaphysics. --Henry Cood Watson, in New York Saroni's Musical Times, September 29 1849
I can easily scorn the early critics of Moby-Dick (1851) for being too myopic, too cavillous, and too blinded by fashionable prejudices to realize they had the American masterpiece of the century on their hands. But I can't really knock Mardi's detractors. To put it kindly, Mardi adds up to far less than the sum of its parts. More bluntly, Melville's first foray into fiction is a real dumpster fire.