Some people make resolutions. I make to-do lists. So, I suppose you could say that I spend most of the year making resolutions, even if they're more micro than macro. This year, however, I thought I needed to go big for 2011. One resolution to rule them all. Perhaps I ought to resolve not to write so much nonsense, but that just ain't gonna happen. Instead, I've resolved not to purchase another new book until I've read all those I currently own. You might not think this sounds tough, but it's like asking Jeffrey Bernard to give up booze and horse racing at the same time. I love smelling books, looking at books, reading books, talking about books, talking about books I haven't even read; but most of all, I love buying books.
I decided I needed a system, so I spent one evening last week alphabetising all my books by title (how about that for a glamorous life). Even though I'm supposed to be finishing Derrida's Writing and Difference, I got all excited and started reading the first book on the shelf - Ezra Pound's ABC of Reading - last week.
I've mixed feelings about Pound. I can't really get into The Cantos but Diptych Rome-London is brilliant. It doesn't much matter how I feel about his poetry, though, as ABC of Reading (1931) is prose, glorious prose. It's a brilliant read, chock full of pithy arguments and amusing aphorisms, and the perfect way to set up the rest of the books to come.
Some of my favourite bits and pieces:
Some of my favourite bits and pieces:
The critic who doesn't make a personal statement, in re measurements he himself has made, is merely an unreliable critic. He is not a measurer but a repeater of other men's results.KRINO, to pick out for oneself, to choose. That's what the word means.
This is nevertheless the RIGHT WAY to study poetry, or literature, or painting. It is in fact the way the more intelligent members of the general public DO study painting. If you want to find out something about painting you go to the National Gallery, or the Salon Carre, or the Brera, or the Prado, and LOOK at the pictures.For every reader of books on art, 1,000 people got to LOOK at the paintings. Thank heaven!
AT ABOUT THIS POINT, the weak-hearted reader usually sits down in the road, removes his shoes and weeps that he 'is a bad linguist' or that he or she can't possibly learn all those languages.One has to divide the readers who want to be experts from those who do not, and divide, as it were, those who want to see the world from those who merely want to know WHAT PART OF IT THEY LIVE IN.
This is where the so-called crack-brained genius comes in. The concept of genius as akin to madness has been carefully fostered by the inferiority complex of the public.
I mistrust the man who starts with forty-nine variants before stating three or four principles. He may be a very serious character, he may be on his way to a fourth or fifth principle that will in the long run be useful or revolutionary, but I suspect that he is still in the middle of his problem, and not ready to offer an answer.The inexperienced teacher, fearing his own ignorance, is afraid to admit it. Perhaps that courage only comes when one knows to what extent ignorance is almost universal. Attempts to camouflage it are simply a waste, in the long run, of time.
The only other problem with my resolution is that I'm a very spider's web sort of person. If I read something in one book that sparks my interest, I immediately want to go out and investigate. So when Pound reproduces a little passage by Lord Rochester -
Were I (who to my cost already amOne of those strange prodigious Creatures, Man)A Spirit, free to choose for my own share,What sort of Flesh and Blood I pleas'd to wear,I'd be a Dog, a Monkey, or a Bear,Or anything but that vain Animal,Who is so proud of being Rational.
- I want to go out and buy a volume of Rochester straight away. But I can't, because I've resolved... You see the gaping hole in my oh-so clever plan. Alas and oh well. One down. Plenty more to go.
Happy new year!