Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I am packing my library, yes I am. At first when you pack books you do it slowly, lingeringly, picking up volumes that you haven't read for a long time or perhaps haven't read at all and trying to extract a little whiff of their essence—just a sentence or two that will help you contextualize the book for you. Then you begin to panic at the size of the task and the books become cargo, shoved indiscriminately in cardboard boxes that bear the simple label "BOOKS." A bleak democracy that goes beyond anything dreamed of by the Dewey Decimal System. Of course I plan when I unpack to reorganize everything better than I had before; it will help that there are two rows of built-in bookshelves in the new apartment. Maybe I can stop double-stacking them for a while.

"If I were to define poetry, it is that art of language that demands the most of me, both as a reader and as a writer." Thank you, Ron Silliman, for this definition (found in his December response to a letter from Daisy Fried. This is going to be very helpful to me in framing what I want for and from my students in the class I'll be teaching this fall.

Reading has largely fallen by the wayside but for much of the past week and a half I've been enjoying reading the selected letters of D.H. Lawrence and The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin side by side. They were writing at exactly the same time and so I can get two very different perspectives on, say, 1916. From Lawrence mad despair about the war and dreams of a utopian island and lots of thoughts about the purpose of marriage, which was truly a sacrament for Lawrence, though not a Christian one (this is the period of The Rainbow, which I am also nearly finished reading, and Women in Love). Benjamin's letters are more difficult because I know less about the context; up until the war begins he writes mostly about the internal fissures in the Young Student Movement, along with some gorgeous descriptions of mountainous scenery in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. He's younger than Lawrence, and very German and formal in his self-expression. Lawrence's ideas can seem very German—he was married to a German woman and greatly influenced by what he'd read of the German Romantics as well as having powerful reactions to Freud; I see a lot of Heidegger in his thinking, too. But his prose style is very English, sometimes funny, and often beautiful—I think Lawrence is a finer stylist in his letters than he is in the novels, which can seem purple and overwrought especially when a passage is read out of context.

I think I'll have more to say about Lawrence later, but I've got to get packing again.

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