Monday, August 3, 2009

The Heffalump trap!

Craig Raine recalls that when the former chairman of Faber, Charles Monteith, encountered the suggestion that one of Philip Larkin's poems was indebted to Théophile Gautier, he was "incredulous." To Monteith, the idea that Larkin might have been influenced by a foreign poet was "ludicrous." "He had fallen," Raine comments, "for the propaganda - Larkin's bluff insular, faux-xenophobic self-caricature." [...] Much of our response not just to Larkin but to Movement writers more generally turns on the question of how we construe the process of "self-caricature." There is much about their writing and behavior, that of Larkin and his close friend Kingsley Amis in particular, which contemporary sensibility finds parochial, conservative and sometimes offensive. For some years now, condemning these writers has been a means of affirming one's credentials as progressive and internationalist, as pro or post but definitely not anti-modernist, of being right-on in one way or another. But there is always the suspicion that to respond this way is to fall into a cunningly designed heffalump trap, a spectacle witnessed with rowdy delight by the shades of Larkin and Amis, drinks in hand. For it could be said that the critics had, like Monteith, "fallen for the propaganda" and failed to recognize the elements of "self-caricature." Or - the question swings back - is this to credit Larkin and company with too much self-awareness and too much choice? -- Stefan Collini in the London Review of Books

Collini: “good criticism makes us wary of underestimating writing with which we thought ourselves familiar.”

The video above is a bit fustian, but don't be fooled into letting it reinforce your prejudices. About the only thing I love more than hearing Christian Bök and Ezra Pound read is... Larkin reading "The Old Fools."

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