Short takes on literature

From Laozi's time to James Joyce's, no one successfully wrote a sacred scripture in the comic mode. Finnegans Wake is the greatest Menippean satire ever written.

If we, like the inhabitants of Glubbdubbdrib, could call up the ghost of Shakespeare, to ask him what he meant by such-and-such a passage, he could only reply with maddening iteration that he meant it to form part of the play.
     --Northrop Frye (from memory)

Some have called Theodore Dreiser a great writer who couldn't write very well. I reject the notion of artists who aren't craftspeople. Did anyone ever hear of a great painter who didn't happen to paint very well?

Tom Shippey points out in J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century that the split between Tolkien-lovers and Tolkien-haters is basically not between the uneducated and the educated, but between the generally and the specially educated. Tolkien-despising has been a self-perpetuating passion among the English professors (and the literati) for fifty years.

Two Scottish lords in Samuel Johnson's time: "Have you read my latest book?" "I have not, my Lord. You write a great deal faster than I am able to read."

Why did the Hollywood agent respect Shakespeare? Because he said if he made enough money he'd quit and retire to Stratford, and when he made enough money, he (unlike many a Hollywood writer) quit and retired to Stratford.


Anonymous said...

"I reject the notion of artists who aren't craftspeople."

Amen. Aaaaamen.

Anonymous said...

A bad workman blames his tools. Artistry doesn't always necessitate a quantified level of proficiency. It would be a little foolish to believe that the sparks of creativity are confined within certain limits. One person's meat is another person's poison.

John Cowan said...

I've never agreed with that saying. Bad tools are bad tools, and if you are stuck with the tools you are using, you're going to have trouble doing anything craftsmanlike. Try whittling wood with a blunt knife and no sharpener some time.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone ever hear of a great painter who didn't happen to paint very well?

Jackson Pollock

His paintings have great force, they are unique, they are true art - yet Pollock was not a craftsman. Look at his early paintings - not well crafted, no indication he painted well.