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Davenport hailed it as “not so much a book as a library, or better, a new kind of book in which biography, history and analysis of literature are so harmoniously articulated that every page has a narrative sense”—and the same can be said of The Geography of the Imagination.
The great modernist archaic, our Montaigne by way of Emerson, whose thoughts elide easily such disparates as Ancient Greece and the Old Testament and Kafka's Prague or Joyce's nightworld, to show us there are no disparities, no true separation, that the human culture which creates the great works of Art is the flame which needs to be kindled, to be carried in a horn through the night as embers for generation unto generation, who makes in these essays a prose-place like eddies out of the River of The great modernist archaic, our Montaigne by way of Emerson, whose thoughts elide easily such disparates as Ancient Greece and the Old Testament and Kafka's Prague or Joyce's nightworld, to show us there are no disparities, no true separation, that the human culture which creates the great works of Art is the flame which needs to be kindled, to be carried in a horn through the night as embers for generation unto generation, who makes in these essays a prose-place like eddies out of the River of Time, where the first thought and the last thought commingle and speak with each other and their voices attend to every force that has evolved a form, and every noble creative impulse is resolved into a concept, a graspable infinite, a gift for humanity.
Our liveliest literary tradition, as usual, is an unknown, even an unsuspected one.
My only prior exposure was “Some Verses of Virgil,” the novella that closes his collection Eclogues.
“Some Verses of Virgil” is a beautiful, unclassifiable freak that displays a virtuosic style, evokes multiple genres, and flamboyantly straddles poetry and prose (if Pale Fire is a “centaur-work,” “half poem, half prose,” according to Mary Mc Carthy, then Davenport’s novella is a “satyr-work”: less obviously dichotomous, a humanoid biped with goat shanks; it also happens to feature plenty of sylvan trysting). So it was strange to read Davenport calmly, humbly, almost professorially explicating the ideogrammatic densities and “architectonic” collages of Pound and Olson, Marianne Moore and Paul Metcalf, without dropping even a hint that he is a part of their lineage, playing in the same league.
William Blake preceded him here, on the irreality of clock time, sensing the dislocations caused by time (a God remote in time easily became remote in space, an absentee landlord), and proceeding, in his enthusiastic way, to dine with Isaiah—one way of a suggesting that Isaiah’s mind is not a phenomenon fixed between 742 and 687 B. Pound’s mind has to be seen for the extraordinary shape it has given to itself.
To say that The Cantos is a “voyage in time” is to be blind to the poem altogether.His poetry spun off its own polemical-explicatory prose.To defend their then-and still-maligned master Davenport and Kenner had to vividly and concretely communicate his entire intellectual lineage, his often obscure sources and inspirations, his unsuspected sponsorship of Things We Know; to explicate Pound they required a prose that with its combinatory compression, genius for collage, and imagistic piquancy prepared readers for the summa of civilization we are assured is to be found in The Cantos.There has been no finer movement in American art, nor a more fertile one (from Muybridge, through Edison, the whole art of film), and yet their impact was generally felt to be offensive.Eakins and Muybridge were forgotten for years; Whitman persisted.In a sense Muybridge and Eakins were catching up with Whitman’s pioneering.Their common subject, motion, the robust real, skilled and purposefu Within a few miles of each other in the 1880s, Whitman was putting the last touches to his great book, Eadweard Muybridge was photographing movements milliseconds apart of animals, naked athletes, and women, and Thomas Eakins was painting surgeons, boxers, musicians, wrestlers, and Philadelphians.It’s packed with those vivid, meaning-making connections apparent to and privately gathered by common readers, but often excluded from the dossiers handed down to us in school and in most journalistic book review columns. Connell and James Salter, two other American Prose Wizards once published by the lamented North Point Press—but I think it’ll be back down soon.Davenport’s essay on Eudora Welty, I mean his fantasia on a theme of Eudora Welty, deserves a second look—or a third, or a fourth.Being fair, I likely rounded up as I think this would've been pristine were it 31 or 32 essays rather than 40.Many reviewers have noted that this is a master class of sorts; well, it is of a certain reading/poetic ideology. While Davenport confesses to subsisting often on fried bologna, canned soup and candy bars, his reclusive career is one to be celebrated.