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Essays on Modern American Literature
Author: David Herd

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.

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Marianne Moore
David Herd

4 Presenting: Marianne Moore There was no frenzy about Marianne Moore. She composed not in fits and bursts, but patiently, sometimes over several years. She steadfastly refused to envisage herself as inspired. Her writing doesn’t flirt with gibberish. Her principal mode of production was accumulation. In her various notebooks – of quotations and conversations – she amassed the materials that would sometimes, eventually, constitute the fabric of her poems. One readily available way to view her, therefore, is as a collector, an antiquarian, rooting among the

in Enthusiast!
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Ezra Pound
David Herd

. Generally speaking, in fact, ‘enthusiasm’ features little in high Modernist writing, though Marianne Moore presents an exception. This is no surprise. Modernism, as directed by Pound, involved rebranding art as an anti-Romantic, aristocratic activity. Enthusiasm, from this point of view, was a Romantic idea, rehabilitated but also, as Jon Mee argues, regulated in the face of eighteenth-century political suspicions, suspicions recently rearticulated for Modernism by Nietzsche. ‘In an even more decisive and profound sense,’ Nietzsche asserts in On the Genealogy of Morality

in Enthusiast!
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Enthusiasm and audit
David Herd

dominate – literary enthusiasm stands for the ceaseless and unfettered circulation of works and their insights. It is, isn’t it, the most natural thing in the world, when you have read a great work of literature, to want to pass it on; the reading is barely complete before that recirculation has happened. This is what each of the writers in this book believed, each building that insight into their writing practice. As Marianne Moore said, ‘If you are charmed by an author, I think it’s a very strange and invalid imagination that doesn’t long to share it. Somebody else

in Enthusiast!
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A short essay on enthusia
David Herd

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

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Herman Melville
David Herd

anatomy of whaling, the scholarship emphasized and satirized by the use of book-formats (folios, quartos, octavos and duodecimos) as categories for the cataloguing of whales according to size. There is an enthusiasm in this, an enthusiasm of the order implied by modern usage – a usage which, later in this book, Marianne Moore will be seen to bring into play – the enthusiasm of the antiquarian, or the collector, or the specialist, or, even, the statistician. It is not, however, an enthusiasm the novel looks to endorse, even as it indulges in it. The question being posed

in Enthusiast!
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Janet Wolff

produced lifelong friendships for Watson (known to everyone as Sibley) and his wife, Hildegarde Lasell. The poet Marianne Moore, who took over the editorship of the journal in its last years, visited them in Rochester, and had a lengthy correspondence with Hildegarde. (Volume 85 of The Dial, from 1928, contains two paintings by Kathleen McEnery.) On his return to Rochester in the late 1920s, Watson became involved in making movies, and with Melville Webber produced two films generally regarded as classics of the avant-garde – The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot

in Austerity baby
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Frank O’Hara
David Herd

part with something, as Marianne Moore puts it, without losing it. It is a question here for museums, where the issue is how a public institution enables the requisite intimacy between work and audience. It was a question, also, for writing and publishing, for the choices O’Hara made about when and where to show his work, how to mediate it in such a way that an intimacy might be preserved between work and reader. Chiefly, though, it was a question for criticism, O’Hara aiming always to present the object in its own terms. In particular, what O’Hara sought to

in Enthusiast!
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James Schuyler
David Herd

is unquestionably something of Stevens’ fondness for the Relishing: James Schuyler 171 pleasures of language in Schuyler, ‘savouring’ is not quite the word. As Stevens tells it, the poet, along with other artists, ‘transforms us into epicures’, implying, in the pleasure taken, a refinement that does not describe the way Schuyler handles language. Better, perhaps, to say that Schuyler relishes words – where relishing is a more lip-smacking response than savouring – and all words, or at least any kind of words, the way Marianne Moore did in her collage poems, and

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