Modern American literature began with a statement of enthusiasm from Emerson's writing in Nature. 'Enthusiasm', in Emerson, is a knowing word. Sometimes its use is as description, invariably approving, of a historic form of religious experience. Socrates' meaning of enthusiasm, and the image of the enthusiast it throws up, is crucial to this book. The book is a portrait of the writer as an enthusiast, where the portrait, as will become clear, carries more than a hint of polemic. It is about the transmission of literature, showing various writers taking responsibility for that transmission, whether within in their writing or in their cultural activism. Henry David Thoreau's Walden is an enthusiastic book. It is where enthusiasm works both in Immanuel Kant's sense of the unbridled self, and in William Penn's sense of the 'nearer' testament, and in Thoreau's own sense of supernatural serenity. Establishing Ezra Pound's enthusiasm is a fraught and complicated business. Marianne Moore composed poems patiently, sometimes over several years. She is a poet of things, as isolated things - jewels, curios, familiar and exotic animals, common and rare species of plant - are often the ostensible subjects of her poems. Homage to Frank O'Hara is a necessary book, because the sum of his aesthetic was to be found not just in his writing, but also in his actions to which only friends and contemporaries could testify. An enthusiastic reading of James Schuyler brings to the fore pleasure, the sheer pleasure that can come of combining, or mouthing, or transcribing.
5 Circulating: Frank O'Hara The day Frank O’Hara died, following an accident on Fire Island – he was struck by a beach buggy early in the morning of 24 July, 1966 – ‘the New York art world was,’ as Peter Schjeldahl has said, ‘collectively thunderstruck. In 1 years as a poet, playwright, critic, curator, and universal energy source in the lives of the few hundred most creative people in America, Frank O’Hara had rendered that whole world unprepared to tolerate his passing.’1 ‘A center,’ as the painter John Button put it, registering the magnitude of the shock
scene, deeply despondent at the reception and commercial failure of Moby-Dick. Pound’s cultural enthusiasm distorted into zealous anti-Semitism. Frank O’Hara died at the age of forty, in a state, so some have argued, of literary exhaustion. James Schuyler was periodically hospitalized throughout his life. Emerson had anticipated this. ‘What is a man good for,’ he asked ‘without enthusiasm? and what is enthusiasm without this daring of ruin for its object?’ What he understood was that, difficult as it can be to sustain, and whether at the time people like it or not
Emerson wrote Nature, his aim and achievement was to inject enthusiasm into American literature, is to draw on each of these definitions. It is to identify in Emerson, and in his legacy to Modern American writing, a sense, carried through from the Greek, that in the act of composition words enter writing which have to be understood as coming from elsewhere. It is also to identify the thought in Emerson, and this is especially crucial to the particular writers discussed in this book-Thoreau, Melville, Pound, Marianne Moore, Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler — that in the
most inside the event. This aspect of Moby-Dick, the sense of immediacy that comes through action, through the various deliriums of trashing and flailing, is among its most significant contributions to the American sensibility, which in the figure of, say, Jackson Pollock – as the chapter, here, on Frank O’Hara will observe – came greatly to prize the intimacy of the event. Serenity equally, however, is held by the novel to be conducive to immediacy, periods of imagined calm permitting in the writing a state of self seemingly conducive to the presentation of things
inconsequent bravado – a sense of drama with which we may not be quite at home – was for her a part of that expansion of breath necessary to existence. (CPMM, 292) What Moore wanted of her own writing, and what she admires in Dickinson, in the sense of the ‘expansion of breath necessary to existence’, is a poet’s enthusiastic relation with things. With trees and insects, with imperfectly ballasted animals: with yellow helmets and papaya juice, as Frank O’Hara might have thought. Presenting:Marianne Moore 135 Notes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 George Oppen