criticism, quotes, wordage

I do not intend to define the term “thought”

In beginning to speak about the application of thought to textual criticism, I do not intend to define the term thought, because I hope that the sense which I attach to the word will emerge from what I say.

– A.E. Housman, “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism,” Art & Error: Modern Textual Editing (ed. Ronald Gottesman and Scott Bennett)

How awesome is that? Awesome, right? If I went around like that, I wouldn’t ever have to define anything. “I do not intend to define the term “assonance,” because I hope that the sense which I attach to the word will emerge from what I say…”

I am being kind of facetious. Actually, I like it. And I think he gets away with it. And more:

In beginning to speak about the application of thought to textual criticism, I do not intend to define the term thought, because I hope that the sense which I attach to the word will emerge from what I say. But it is necessary at the outset to define textual criticism, because many people, and even some people who profess to teach it to others, do not know what it is. One sees books calling themselves introductions to textual criticism which contain nothing about textual criticism from beginning to end; which are all about paleography and manuscripts and collation, and have no more to do with textual criticism than if they were all about accidence and syntax. Palaeography is one of the things with which a textual critic needs to acquaint himself, but grammar is another, and equally indispensable; and no amount either of grammar or of palaeography will teach a man one scrap of textual criticism.”

His semicolons are so dashing. Oh, and how about that “no amount either of X or of Y”? Yes. You know you like it.

criticism, poetry, workstyle


I actually have a post to share, for once, about “workstyle,” the subject this blog is supposed to be about.

There is something different about being in the library this time, as opposed to when I used to be there at Stanford. I used to feel that every second I spent in the library was a second deprived from the more important work of making my theories live and breathe on the stage. My time was a zero-sum game and theater was the dying person, or the baby, to whom you cannot possibly give enough attention. Really, none of these metaphors are appropriate. I felt, always have, that I had a purpose with regards to the chorus which was not mine to disregard. A vocation. A command.

Except, now, I have, of course, given it so much – and I am free to read poetry criticism for a few hours without being struck by lightning. I think I was afraid, on this return to grad school, that I wouldn’t be able to focus, just like I couldn’t in undergrad – and that, three hours after walking onto the Hopkins campus for the first time, I’d be starting rehearsals for something.

Well, not yet, at least. I read for a long time, and I experienced that feeling which I have heard scholars talk about, but never, actually, known – the sense that theorizing might be more important than praxis. I found myself skipping past the poems to read the criticism. (Eep.) There was fun stuff – like actor headshots being metonymy for the person. The kind of observation that has no application to your life or work, but is so clever. (I don’t have the citation for that, I’ll get it.)

Creepy, huh?

criticism, rhyme, theater, translation


I just had an idea, which I think comes from time spent on Dr. Crazy’s blog.

As I contemplate the return to academia, I was trying to think if there was any topic that I care enough about to spend an entire thesis on it – something which resides within the family of English and comparative studies, relates to both poetry and theater, relates to other languages while still being grounded in English. Something with a relationship to performance without being exclusively about performance. Something more manageable than the history of rhyme in French and English poetry and theater. Something that lets me work on the Greeks without having to learn Greek.

What about some form of translation studies? You could take a given text and do a study of how its various English translations, over time, reflect (or don’t reflect) concurrent trends in poetry, theater, ideas of the time, etc. I guess it’s a kind of reception studies.

Maybe I could do a degree in creative writing somewhere with a 2-part thesis: a scholarly component on translation history of a particular text (ideally a French rhyming drama) and my own version.

I think this would allow me to prove, or disprove some of my favorite chestnuts (if anyone knows why a “chestnut” is called a chestnut in this context, please let me know), things like the ludicrous idea that it’s somehow “easier” to rhyme in French than in English.

I’m kind of into this.

books, criticism, writing


I have often thought but never written on this blog that dating, relationships, and sex are the feminine-thematic literary equivalent of war and fighting.

I was reminded of this in December, while watching FOUR CHRISTMASES with Eileen. Watching Vince Vaughn get beat up by his brothers was juxtaposed with watching Reese Witherspoon get female-relationship-attacked by her sisters. Punching someone in the gut was the same as asking “When are you getting married?” Stereotypes, yes, but more than that. Models. Themes. Some truth.

Sometimes this thought train leads me to think that PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is the feminine version of, I don’t know, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK. As you moved forward in the history of the novel, you could set up things like THE RADETSKY MARCH alongside THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. You could contrast, historically, the depiction of sex to the depiction of violence. Someone’s probably already done this. What would you put up against THE NAKED AND THE DEAD?

Sometimes the idea leads me to think that there ought to be sex choreographers as well as fight choreographers, for the New Theater.

Mostly I use it to remind myself that I am, as a writer, more of a woman than I sometimes want to admit. I have never written about a fight. I’ve never even been in a fight. I have written, a lot, about relationships, and as I write more, that subject matter keeps coming to the forefront. There may be no avoiding it.

criticism, poetry, quotes

the poet might have been eaten by a shark

In his description of [Hart] Crane’s death, [biographer Paul] Mariani was attracted to the captain’s notion that the poet might have been eaten by a shark—”Did he feel something brush his leg, the file-sharp streaking side of concentrated muscle, before the silver flash and teeth pulled him under?” This is sheer moonshine, but a biographer’s fantasies—and gruesome fantasies they are—don’t mitigate the critic’s error of fact.
I once heard an undergraduate, a stack or two over in a faceless library, say plaintively, “What are you going to do about the Jesus in my heart?” What are you going to do about the poetry in my heart? If the critic were meant to offer solace, he would have taken up a different line of work.

William Logan, “The Hart Crane Controversy,” on Poetry Magazine’s website.

acting, criticism, writing

“Acting — good, bad and indifferent — can lead you down some strange and regrettable byways of opinion.”

Charles McNulty writes for the LA Times about whether the merit of a performance is found in its acting or its script, particularly in reference to the Ahmanson-based productions of DOUBT and HISTORY BOYS.

“Separating the player from the play, to paraphrase Yeats, is never easy. And critics themselves aren’t always adept at distinguishing where fault and virtue lie. An ambitious drama given an uneven premiere is flicked away like a piece of lint while a mesmerizing performance in a silly trifle can translate, as it did for Douglas Carter Beane’s giggly 2006 comedy “The Little Dog Laughed,” into not just raves but a Tony nomination for best play.”

criticism, quotes, style

“a justification for their pitiable and base existence”

From a fellow formalist. I really like the way that Wolfe, using language, blames the language itself for the use it’s being put to. This is out of a description of a graduate class in theater criticism, at Harvard:

“…He gave them a language they could use with a feeling of authority and knowledge, even when authority and knowledge were lacking to them. It was a dangerous and often very trivial language – a kind of jargonese of art that was coming into use in the world of those days….

But although this jargon was perhaps innocuous enough when rattled off the rattling tongue of some ignorant boy or rattle-pated girl, it could be a very dangerous thing when uttered seriously by men who were trying to achieve the best, the rarest, and the highest life on earth – the life which may be won only by bitter toil and knowledge and stern living – the life of the artist.

And the great danger of this glib and easy jargon of the arts was this: that instead of knowledge, the experience of hard work and patient living, they were given a formula for knowledge; a language that sounded very knowing, expert and assured, and yet that knew nothing, was experienced in nothing, was sure of nothing.

It gave to people without talent and without sincerity of soul or integrity of purpose, with nothing, in fact, except a feeble incapacity for the shock and agony of life, and the desire to escape into a glamorous and unreal world of make believe – a justification for their pitiable and base existence.

It gave to people who had no power in themselves to create anything of merit or of beauty- people who were the true Philistines and enemies of art and of the artist’s living spirit – the language to talk with glib knowingness of things they knew nothing of…”