Sunday, January 18, 2004

The 'A' exam has more or less begun. For the next ten days I will be writing three 20-page papers in which I attempt to wrangle the four hundred or so definitions of pastoral that I've come up with into something semi-coherent, with particular regard to the work of Lawrence, Woolf, Stein, Oppen, Zukofsky, Olson, Bunting, and Ronald Johnson. Theorists in my blender include Marx, Habermas, Marcuse, Adorno, Lukacs, Lacan, Empson, Althusser, Heidegger, Raymond Williams, and Peter Burger. The elusive figure posed by Vergil in his Eclogues stands behind it all, launching into eternity his fantasy of a space beyond politics and economics where only nature—sex and death—troubles the shepherds. Actually there's plenty of politics in the Eclogues, but they're always a force from the outside over which song may or may not have an effect. Here are some of the most famous and important lines from the Ninth Eclogue, in David Ferry's translation:

But I was told Menalcas with his songs
Had saved the land, from where those hills arise
To where they slope down gently to the water,
Near those old beech trees, with their broken tops.


Yes, that was the story; but what can music do
Against the weapons of soldiers? When eagles come,
Tell me what doves can possibly do about it?
Hire some eagles of their own, I guess. If you're an Iowan and you're reading this, I hope you go caucus for Howard Dean tomorrow.

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