Thursday, December 27, 2007

A living defunction

Ted Hughes, writing from Boston in 1959, on American poets:

"... you have to take into account the way their whole life is condensed on the superficialities of the moment. Relation to a changing past [...] they are without, and get no pleasure from contemplating it. [...] Also, poetic language is getting to be more or less consonant with HEP talk over here. I can't describe the terrifying lack of inwardness about America. I think periods of poetry pass because the national character becomes anti-poetic--beauty, & form & metrical laws become meaningless, & that's happened over here. As in England. [...] Behind all these million poems weekly there is nothing individual or human--no brain, just a slightly circumscribed spy-hole into the deathly sargasso of paper-back popularised philosophico-intellectual life. They feel that somehow their numbers must prove they're right, but you've only to think of glancing through a foot-high pile of Quarterlies & weeklies to realise they aren't even plunderable as scrap. A living defunction."

Letters of Ted Hughes, p. 143

In another letter from the same period, he remarks that autobiography "is the only subject matter really left to Americans. The only thing an American really has to himself, & really belongs to, is his family. Never a locality, or a community, or an organisation of ideas, or a private imagination"--and he points out that "they are swamped by the reviews, magazines, etc., from all individuality."

Ibid, p. 140.

I do not reproduce these remarks in order to endorse them myself in any particular way, but to set them out for inspiriting contemplation, etc.

Discuss among yourselves.

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