Thursday, August 14, 2008

Anecdotal Evidence: `Humor, Imagination, and Manners'

Thanks to Rob over on Surroundings for this one: Patrick Kurp, an American writer and blogger, discussing the concept of the humorous critic. Or rather, humour and the critic, which is perhaps not the same thing.

To illustrate his point, Krup quotes a 1931 New Yorker review by Dorothy Parker of Theodore Dreiser:

I am unable to feel that a writer can be complete without humor. And I don’t mean by that, and you know it perfectly well, the creation or the appreciation of things comic. I mean that the possession of a sense of humor entails the sense of selection, the civilized fear of going too far. A little humor leavens the lump, surely, but it does more than that. It keeps you, from your respect for the humor of others, from making a dull jackass of yourself.

Find Patrick Krup's blog here.

I decided some years ago that I wanted to write poetry criticism as well as poetry. Life, of course, caught up with me in the form of several children. Then poetry had its way too, even though I'd assumed by then that it had finished with me for good.

But things are beginning to open out for me again, and people everywhere seem to be discussing the role of the critic, and talking seriously about criticism again, after several decades of not really bothering much about it, as though criticism was poetry's embarrassing second cousin, the one who's never invited to those lavish family get-togethers at Christmas but might find a box of anonymous hand-me-downs on the doorstep every now and then.

Maybe 2009 will be a year of critical writing for me. If so, I have just the right project in mind. Where, fingers crossed, I shall not make 'a dull jackass' of myself. Assuming I can help it, that is.


Bo said...

Sounds good. Criticism from a poet is often more interesting than from a mere academic, with exceptions on either side.

Jane Holland said...

Yes, and that's almost certainly why Eliot's criticism is still so readable and useful for practitioners as well as consumers of poetry. He knew his onions!

Ms Baroque said...

I'm with Dot. But I'm not sure criticism ever really went away; I've always loved reading it, ever since I was about 14. Most of it, 99% of it, is duller than a jackass, of course. That's why it's so exciting to find something you can actually read.

Clearly old Tom was not in the business of telling jokes, but I think one difference between him and many of today's leaden careerists is the seriousness with which they take themselves; he had worked all his life as well as writing, whereas the university system which so famously dominates (esp.) US poetry today really has fostered a sort of ivory tower sensibility, which mitigates completely against a sense of humour, I feel. Anyway, you know Eliot had one: he wrote The Waste Land. It's even better than just being funny: it's called wit.

Jane Holland said...

Dot? That's Dotty to you, my girl.

I think Eliot's very witty indeed ... I'll often be reading something of his in the evenings while Steve's on the other sofa, devouring some worthy television programme about genetics or humanism etc., when I'll suddenly thow back my head with an eldritch shriek of laughter.

Dear old Harold Bloom could do with a touch of that wit. His prose is astonishingly shiny and complex, like the inside of a Swiss watch, but boy ... it can be a bit dry at times, you know? A bit like chewing on rubber.

Bo said...

Yes, it's like listening to a tedious old uncle sometimes - he has favourite words which get overused. 'Gnostic' is one.

Bo said...

Also I've never forgiven him for failing to include a single work in a Celtic language in his list at the back of The Western Canon. In terms of aesthetic grandeur, I think I would swap e.g the novels of John Crowley and Stevie Smith (both of whom I like but think are minor) for The Mabinogion, The Early Irish Myths and Sagas, Sorely MacLean and Dafydd ap Gwilym, as four representatives of an entire civilisation. Not much to ask.