Rejoice! The latest issue of the Notre Dame Review is out, with work by all manner of worthies, including the great Gerald Bruns’ “The Plain Sense of Things: Göran Printz-Påhlson’s Vernacular Modernism,” an essay in the form of a review of Letters of Blood and Other Works in English, a volume of Printz-Påhlson’s poetry and prose I edited. It begins like this:
In The Elsewhere Community, a series of radio talks delivered in 1998 for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the critic Hugh Kenner described 20th-century literary modernism as follows: “Two sorts of writers dominated it: Irishmen, often self-exiled, and Americans who lived abroad”…. Meanwhile, someone looking at things from a European perspective would cite the Dadaists in Zürich, Thomas Mann in Los Angeles, Paul Celan and Edmund Jabès in Paris, not to mention the creation of this country’s first Comparative Literature Program at the University of Iowa in the 1940s by the Viennese exile René Wellek. And then there are poets and translators like Pierre Joris (b. Strasbourg, 1946), who want to extend this itinerant modernism into a Nomad Poetics that “will cross languages, not just translate, but write in all or any of them.
If Pound, Joyce and others have shown the way, it is essential now to push this matter further, again, not as ‘collage’ but as a material flux of language matter, moving in and out of semantic and non-semantic spaces, moving around and through the features accreting as a poem, a lingo-cubism that is no longer an ‘explosante fixe’ as Breton defined the poem, but an ‘explosante mouvante.’ It seems to me that people (like me) know very little about Scandinavian modernism, but this volume of writings by the Swedish poet, translator, and critic Göran Printz-Påhlson (1931-2006) may help to improve matters. Printz-Påhlson was certainly at home in the “elsewhere community.” He studied for a doctorate at Lund University in Sweden, then taught at Berkeley and Harvard before settling in England at Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1964, where he taught in a department devoted to the study of Scandinavian, Russian, and Finno-Ugrian languages. And Letters of Blood offers a nice example of “nomad poetry”...
Bruns goes on to contrast Printz-Påhlson’s poetry with that of J.H. Prynne, and compare it to that of John Ashbery (whose work Printz-Påhlson translated into Swedish), before making a case for Printz-Påhlson as a “comic modernist.”
Later, Bruns discusses Printz-Påhlson’s critical and theoretical essays, in which he notes the influence of “linguistics, semiotics, Prague Structuralism, and French readings of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.” Bruns notes that the work “of principal interest, given what has been said so far about his own poetry in English, is Printz- Påhlson’s inquiry into… linguistic primitivism, a term that cov-ers a number of efforts to rescue poetry from the conventions of ‘poeticalness.’”
Bruns’ essay can be read in its entirety here, and is a good introduction to an important European modernist and poetic theorist largely unknown in the English-speaking world.
Letters of Blood is available here in hardcover, paperback, or as a Kindle edition. A full preview of the entire text is available online here.