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Monday, May 22, 2017

Accidental Erudition

Usually, research takes us in accidental directions and we end up learning about things that we hadn't intended to.  It is impossible to have such tunnel vision (which wouldn't be desirable either) as to avoid getting some accidental, incidental erudition. But then those secondary fields can become primary.

I wasn't intending to look at St. John of the Cross very much, but I have discovered a mystery, or maybe an anomaly.  Although now seen as one of the greatest if not the greatest Spanish poet of all time, he wasn't translated into English until the 19th century, and he was seen almost exclusively as a religious figure. Ticknor, in a history of Spanish literature published in the 1860s, devotes less than a page to him, and puts him in the category of "didactic prose," with only a single sentence on his poetry: "His poetry, a little of which is printed in some editions of his work, is of the same general character {as the prose}, but marked by great felicity and richness of phraseology." The English (or Welsh I guess) translator of SJ did so in a religious context, and it seemed that this author did not lend himself to poetic or semi-secularized readings until much later. Yet he was hiding in plain sight, because of his ecclesiastical prominence, having been beatified 75 years after his death or so.

And now I realize I have become an accidental expert in the reception of him, but that I still don't know something very fundamental.  Why was he obscure (obscured) and how did he emerge in reputation to surpass everyone else? Was it Unamuno, maybe?  


el curioso impertinente said...

Allison Peers and Gerald Brenan

Jonathan said...

I'm thinking more of Unamuno and Dámaso Alonso. That San Juan had to secularized before he could be remysticized by Valente.