Friday, August 05, 2005

Back in the USA and Griping About Silliman

I'm back, I'm groggy, and I'm ticked off at Ron Silliman.

Ron's been blogging away about Christopher Middleton, at one point quoting a Middleton poem and saying "my take on this piece is that it reminds me of what Auden might have been had he actually been a good writer." He seems especially irked by what he calls the "absolutely normative narrative figuration" he imagines in Auden. I am tempted to put "[sic]" after the word "normative," since I don't think Silliman means that the "narrative figuration" prescribes anything, but rather that it follows forms that have been used by many others, and that one could argue are already implicitly prescribed by others. But this sort of half-assed throwing around of terms doesn't bother me too much, or I wouldn't be reading Silliman's blog at all. No, indeed.

The most irritating thing about this dismissal of Auden isn't just the wrongness of it. Nor is it the ideologically blinkered nature of the comment. The really irritating thing is the ignorance. I mean, the young Auden was working experimental veins of a kind that Silliman is generally sympathetic to. If one of Silliman's friends had written The Orators, he'd almost certainly have praised it extravagantly. I'd bet my whole collection of Hejinian first editions on it. (If you want to read an essay demonstrating that The Orators does not follow "absolutely normative narrative figuration [sic]", I suggest this one by Chris Jones, which is more interesting and far-reaching than the synopsis might lead you to believe).

One way to file Silliman's snark is as a generational matter. This easy dismissal, one could say, is old school langpo stuff, the product of a mind still dividing the world into absolute friend and absolute foe based on stlylistic shibboleths. Another way, though, would be to put it down to ignorance of British poetry, especially of British modernism, of which the young Auden was very much a part. A third way to file this is under irony: guys like Silliman have been dismissed out of hand because of what people who don't really know the range of their work imagine to be their limitations. I even did this once, years ago, on the Poetics list, and Ron quite rightly tore into me about it. But here's Ron, being just as unfair to Auden for reasons as illegitimate as those of his own knee-jerk detractors.

Lee Glidewell takes Silliman down for this at greater length than I, a hung-over, jet-lagged, cold-having derelict can just now.