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Saturday, 05 July 2008

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Rich Puchalsky

How do people forget rule #1 of poetic parody? It should be comic in intent! Rule #2 is that if you're going to do it, you have to at least try to imitate the poet's voice: e.g., if you're going to do Whitman, you should at least realize that when he uses an exclamation point at the end of a first line of a stanza it's with a short phrase that appears in a singe burst. Rule #3 is that anything goes better with a squirrel.

See, if this damned thing had been:

O American bard!
Rough, large, proud, affectionate, eating acorns, drinking, and breeding,
Not contain'd by the leafy oak
Not running merely around the tree
Not chittering out the chitter of decadent Europe
But running to left, right, left in the incoming lights

That would have been, well... still bad. But marginally less so!

SEK

But it's not a parody, Rich! It's an actual review, written by some anonymous literati drunk of Whitman. All I did was break the sentences up to look like the Whitman poem this person so obviously thought he was writing.

Rich Puchalsky

You put in the line breaks? Egad. I thought that you were quoting directly.

SEK

The breaks are Whitmanian par excellence, i.e. based on the repetition of the first word, no matter where it appears in the sentence. As noted, I don't think it's a good imitation of Whitman -- unlike the found WCW, which is damn near indistinguishable from the anything the man himself wrote -- but it's typical of the kind of reviews Whitman received when he (first) published Leaves of Grass. Sure, it's printed in prose form, but you can see the desire of reviewers to imitate the object of review, which is what I was getting at here. I'm sure I could, given time, come up with a better Whitman parody, but as a matter of history, I thought I'd stick with the text given.

On a completely different note, I'm on 231 of The Player of Games -- about halfway through the second round of Azad -- and I'm not seeing the bildungsroman in it. It's a damn fine novel, mind you, and I should've taken your advice years ago, but I'm not seeing whose development is being narrated. Flere-Imsaho? Because Gurgeh seems fully-formed, more like a chess player encountering a new style than an adolescent (or adolescent-minded fellow) coming into their own. Depending on how you feel about games, I could see this as a kunstlerroman inasmuch as as Gurgeh seems to be coming into his own ... but I don't see much bildung in this roman as of yet.

Rich Puchalsky

I had originally thought that the review was published, with breaks, as you quoted above. When you called it a poemified version, I thought that they had poemified it, not you. Pretty funny.

WRT to The Player of Games, I'm not sure if I should predispose your reading... oh, might as well. What I think is important about the book is that Gurgeh, from the viewpoint of the Culture, is rather a jerk. He's an adolescent, really (only 70 or something? and then generally live to 400) who never accepted the Culture's attitude towards power, because he had this talent for games that made him as much of a celebrity as they can have. So he uses games to try to dominate, in a way that they've rejected. And then he runs into another culture where games really are seriously used to dominate, and he's changed by the experience and finally grows up...

The key to that reading is that, yes, Gurgeh seems fully-formed. He thinks of himself as fully-formed. But he flails through the beginning and middle of the book, and finally he more or less changes. It's a highly political book, of course, and he's a sort of exemplar of what Banks seems to be trying to do with the reader. Use of Weapons is that way, too. His finally-realized adolescence is our finally-realized adolescence.

SEK

WRT to The Player of Games, I'm not sure if I should predispose your reading... oh, might as well.

Just so you don't think I'm ignoring you, I didn't read anything after this. I'm finishing the book tomorrow, so I'll read the rest of your comment then. Because, well, ¡!YOU KNOW

SEK

Also, since Vance ruined the joke over there -- the joke I should've indicated via an x-post, but I didn't think my mom would be too interested in Whitman, which, if I'm not mistaken, means I'm abjuring blog responsibility in favor of not typing stuff.

Anyway, the prose I poemified up there? It's not someone imitating him, it's Himself. (As I'd say were I Irish.) Why then -- and this is where you can probably offer a much more intelligent response than Y.T. -- does his prose grind when it ain't clunking?

zunguzungu

It took me a second to even realize what the joke was; I cut my teeth on Whitman and I forgot that everyone doesn't already know he wrote hilarious anonymous reviews of himself. It's sort of the sine qua non of Whitman; when I've taught him, my opening line was that this guy wasn't above writing anonymous praising reviews of himself, or revising his criteria for what made a great american poet when it turned out his reception didn;t make him one.

Amazing how nicely it scans when you prosify it though.

Rich Puchalsky

"Why then -- and this is where you can probably offer a much more intelligent response than Y.T. -- does his prose grind when it ain't clunking?"

The problem is that there is one too many agents in this chain. Poemifying his prose doesn't make it almost the same thing -- those line breaks are important. For instance, when you have:

"Self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature!
Talking like a man unaware that there was ever hitherto such a production as a book, or such as being as a writer,"

Whitman anonymously wrote:

"Self-reliant, with haughty eyes, assuming to himself all attributes of his country, steps Walt Whitman into literature, talking like a man unaware that there was ever hitherto such a production as a book, or such a being as a writer."

I can believe that Whitman wrote the second. I couldn't believe that he wrote the first, because (as previously said) I can't remember him ever starting a stanza with such a long, cluttered line followed by an exclamation point.

So, going back to the original, why does it appear like a bad Whitman parody, in prose? I'd guess that it's because it's self-parody. Written by someone else, it would be laughable, but he's perfectly free to advertise his style while not taking himself seriously.

Lloyd Mintern

For a real parody of Whitman, here is G.K. Chesterton, written in 1921:

Me clairvoyant,
Me conscious of you, old camarado,
Needing no telescope, lorgnette, field-glass, opera-glass, myopic pince-nez,
Me piercing two thousand years with eye naked and not ashamed;
The crown cannot hide you from me,
Musty old feudal-heraldic trappings cannot hide you from me,
I perceive that you drink.
(I am drinking with you. I am as drunk as you are.)
I see you are inhaling tobacco, puffing, smoking, spitting
(I do not object to your spitting),
You prophetic of American largeness,
You anticipating the broad masculine manners of these States;
I see in you also there are movements, tremors, tears, desire for the melodious,
I salute your three violinists, endlessly making vibrations,
Rigid, relentless, capable of going on for ever;
They play my accompaniment; but I shall take no notice of any accompaniment;
I myself am a complete orchestra.
So long.

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