Sunday, February 15, 2009

Readings: Second-hand Prose

Sometimes it is good to read an author not in quest any major theme or system of thought, but only because he writes well and says interesting things. Thus it was that, having been directed by Paula Fredriksen’s footnote to Frank Kermode’s The Genesis of Secrecy, of which I which I posted below, I went back to the stacks for more Kermode.

I came away with a book of articles, the majority of which had been previously published in The London Review of Books, entitled, Pleasing Myself – from Beowulf to Phillip Roth. The two excerpts below are from “Empson the Poet”:

The radical contradiction is between the hope human happiness, for which, at least at certain moments, we feel our selves so wonderfully suited, and the power of the world as it inescapably is to frustrate or even ridicule that feeling. Hence Empson’s endorsement of the Buddhist position that ‘no sort of temporal life whatever can satisfy the human spirit’. Yet Buddhism also takes account of the fact that ‘birth has a human being is an opportunity of inestimable value. He who is so born has at least a chance of hearing the truth and acquiring merit.’


A much quoted remark occurs in Empson’s notes to the poem ‘Bacchus’: ‘life involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can’t be solved by analysis’.

Although I’ve never read much, if any, of William Empson’s poetry, he has provided me with food for thought via the medium of Kermode’s journalism.