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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
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LET'S REVIEW: BOOK REVIEWING AS LITERARY CRITICISM

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01/13/2006

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Jonathan Mayhew

"Chldren picking up our bones / Will never know that we were once / As quick as foxes on the hill..."

What a collosally simplisitic view of Stevens this Wiman has. One must have a mind of winter indeed.

JK

Hey Dan,
This is sort of off topic, but about that "inhuman" thing... I've seen it used in two very different if not diametrically opposed contexts. The first by usually conservative commentators on art who see themselves as following in the Arnoldian tradition of art-as-high-culture that you pinpointed in your post on the New Criterion a week or so ago. A quick googling for "art" and "inhuman" brings up these:
http://www.taemag.com/issues/articleid.15393/article_detail.asp
http://www.taemag.com/issues/articleid.15401/article_detail.asp

Althought it remains more or less implicit in both articles, the idea, I gather, is that anything that deviates from the great tradition of the best known and thought (as defined by such commentators) also happens to deviate from the category of human. Now, to this end, I think (I hope) that these commentators are using "human" to refer to some brand of the idea of Humanism (like, say, Humanism vs. Scholasticism or Humanism vs. Marxism). If that's not the case, then I suppose they're denying the basic humanity of the guy who did "Piss Christ," which, given the heat of some of the rhetoric these people use, might not be so far from the truth. (Anybody remember an article where a conservative made some kind of parallel between "Piss Christ" and Abu Ghraib?)

But that brings us to the second context where I've seen "inhuman" used in discussions on art/literature: namely, in Heidegger-influenced, post-structuralist talk. It usually comes up when the commentator wants to allude to the idea of "Speech speaks us" (I forget the German... it sounds cooler in German). The idea here is that we don't have control over language, that language is a kind of machine that controls or speaks for us. Inhuman is called for in this context because it's as if the human element, or at least what we think of as the human element (warmth, freedom, abruptness), is suppressed by a language which weighs down upon us.

Nick

And innovative writers such as Ron Sukenick have said that we are all 'posthuman' now. This perhaps relates to JK's point about collective language, whereby language speaks through us, overriding the individual ego. However, with Sukenick et al this is seen as a good thing, while the 'posthuman' condition is simply our reality (neither intrinsically good nor bad).

marlyat2

On the "more people should write in meter" issue mentioned in your first installment, I find that one of the notable things about Stevens is his use of short blank verse--a thing that must have seemed counter-intuitive at the time.

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