Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dispatches from Beirut

at the London Review of Books online.

Also Amit Chaudhuri on Suketu Mehta; Jeremy Harding on spook fiction and little pots of jam; and Adam Phillips on John Haffenden's edition of William Empson's letters:

Writing to the TLS about Hopkins’s ‘The Windhover’ and the lines ‘sheer plod makes plough down sillion/Shine’, Empson makes clear that a poem about a mystery does not need to mystify. ‘Surely the newly ploughed furrows are what “shine”,’ he writes, ‘not the plough; at least they do in the heavy wheatland I come from – they look greasy.’ It is possible to have these apparently straightforward understandings of a poem because poems are written by people who are similar to us in that they have discernible intentions and share our language; we can make plausible conjectures ‘for the human reason that it was how his’ – the author’s – ‘mind was likely to work’. And for Empson you don’t need to be a psychologist or a philosopher to know how the mind works, you just need to have been a child who was taught to speak in a family. And you don’t claim to know how someone’s mind works, but only how it is likely to work. As ever, ‘plausible’ means for Empson not consensual but available to argue about. For Empson bad writing is writing in which the author seeks to conceal, deny or minimise his conflicts. Hopkins’s ‘recurring doubt . . . that his training’ – as a Jesuit – ‘does not seem to have had good effects’ is what makes ‘The Windhover’ matter for Empson.

1 comment:

  1. Prof. Claybaugh is in this week's issue too - I read her article yesterday (we subscribe to it here).