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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Iceberg Theory / What Mayhew Knew

"If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water."

Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon.

I am going to use that as an explanation for a curious absence in my 2nd book on Lorca: Lorca's poems and plays are largely shining by their absence (brillan por su ausencia). I know large parts of his poetry by memory, it is important to me, but, save for a virtuoso interpretation of "Ode to Walt Whitman," I'm not putting it in the book. (In my defense I just got a book in the mail, 150 pages, that only discusses three Lorca poems.)

I don't want this to be "the only book you need to read on Lorca." It should not be the first book you read, either! It doesn't introduce the reader to the subject. It is not the last word on Lorca, since it doesn't settle debates or wrap things up neatly. What it is, is another book not about Lorca that really is about him, according to the iceberg theory of writing. I've always felt I need to do a third book on Lorca that goes through and talks about all the book individually. But why do I need to do that? I might have another idea, a book that takes 10 poems by Lorca one by one and treats each one as a problem.

You can never say everything you know, or everything you want to say. The feeling that what a scholar is writing is all sh/e knows is fatal. Part of this is because part of what I know is what everyone knows, so why repeat it? That is the dissertation disease. Or if I know very little and write the little I know, the reader will sense that the tip of the iceberg is the entire iceberg: there is no dignity or gravitas.

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

I love the idea of a book about just a few poems by a poet. Diving more deeply into a few poems takes you to a very different place than skimming along through all a poet's books.