Wednesday, May 11, 2005

My cold is mostly gone—now Emily's looking after it for a while. So it goes. Perfect summer weather ongoing. I am trying to bear down on Ezra Pound, immersing myself in some secondary literature to reassure myself I haven't missed crucial parts of the conversation, that I'm not simply reprocessing leftover notions. So far I am reassured that no one has taken my particular crackpot approach vis-a-vis Pound and pastoral. However, most of my imagination is still focused on The Extravagant, having finished the second chapter which looks at Rimbaud, Nietzsche, and Bataille as Faustian questers for what might lie behind the borderland of not just utilitarian values, but existential projects of any kind—what in Rimbaud and Nietzsche turns into the adventurous transformation of a wild impatience (for transformation, transcendence) to a wilder patience. Again, as with the sublime, the self seeks to be shaken up and returned to itself with new powers, but the movement of the modern seems to valorize the shaking while mistrusting the powers. It's a magisterial work, only "magisterial" doesn't quite capture the brio and confidence Baker writes with. I am looking forward to the third chapter and the period of digestion that will come after; I suspect this book is remaking my own map of the territory of modernity.

Haven't yet commented on some of the delightful acquisitions I made in my recent travels to Boston and Providence. I have been on a Boswell kick for some weeks now; in addition to being three-fourths through The Life of Johnson, I've read Adam Sisman's very entertaining Boswell's Presumptuous Task; on the road to Boston I brought the first volume of Boswell's London Jounral, 1762-63, and while in Cellar Stories in Providence I found what I think is the third volume, which covers his travels in Germany and Switzerland. There is something permanently delightful for me in eighteenth century prose and conversation; I picked up a taste for it reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, which provide an uncanny simulation of the age at its most enlightened, earthy, and attractive. Eighteenth century poetry is hard to take except in small doses (like some of Pope's Epistles), but I have a limitless appetite for bon mots and repartee. Boswell's enthusiasm, good nature, and feckless self-love are infectious; you can see how he persuaded so many eminent men to think him a good companion. He manages to be a tremendously skilled writer while yet persuading the reader that he is more than half an imbecile; quite a trick. I am on the lookout for a cheap edition of The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. For a taste of his prose, check out this excerpt from his journal, in which our hero meets Voltaire.

Also acquired in my travels: Ange Mlinko's Matinees, a book of essays by Donald Davie, Slavoj Zizek's The Ticklish Subject, and most excitingly, a copy of the fabled Exact Change Yearbook, the first in a projected series that never came to fruition. Sadly, the CD is missing, but at least the recordings have been preserved by PennSound. Received: Jonathan Skinner's Political Cactus Poems, newly published by Palm Press. And now, instead of reading any of these, I am going to glance through Ann Lauterbach's brand new "Writings on the Poetics of Experience," The Night Sky.

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