From Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa --
“'Well,' I said, 'we have had, in America, skillful writers. Poe is a skillful writer. It is skillful, marvelously constructed, and it is dead.'”
I read this the other day, and had difficulty figuring out what Hemingway was getting at, with respect to Poe. The “dead” part, that is, not the “skillful” part. I think to understand it you have to imagine your way back to the 1930s, when Poe would have felt a lot more dated than he does now. Maybe the deal is that if people remember you eighty years after you die, you seem dated, but if they remember you another eighty years after that, you seem timeless.
Of course, some people still hold it against Poe that he wasn't very literary -- or wasn't until Baudelaire decided he was. But as a rule of thumb, anyone who's still being read two hundred years after they're born counts as literary. I'm still soliciting comments on "The Cask of Amontillado" by the way.
Tonight (Friday August 14th 2009) we San Franciscans will celebrate Poe's two hundredth birthday (a few months early) at the Goth Hop, a pre-Litquake fund-raiser event, at the Verdi Club, from 8:30 p.m. until the witching hour, with absinthe bar courtesy of Le Tournment Vert absinthe, telltale heart beatboxer, and a mosh pit complete with pendulum. Well maybe I made that last part up.
Note that the year 2099 will be the date both of Litquake's hundredth anniversary and of Hemingway's two hundredth birthday – according to my theory, Hemingway will seem less dated then than he does now -- so anticipate some serious matador action...
2 thoughts on “Poe Lives! Goth Hop”
When a concept cannot be clearly defined, it is a useless concept. The term "literary" is vexing in this sense. Vague to the point of useless in the pretentious extreme.
James Warner to the rescue: "anyone who's still being read two hundred years after they're born counts as literary" So let it be defined.
Alternatively, we could adopt the rationally bankrupt notion of "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it" — attributable to an appellate court (I believe?) in its failure to define pornography. The thing is, though, in admitting that something is ill-defined, doesn't one also admit, by definition, that they don't know what they're talking about?
Thank the gods for the genius of James Warner. Goofy haircut, uneven glasses, pointed-finger-dance, and all. We love him.
The Hemingway paragraph I quoted continues:
"'We have had writers of rhetoric who had the good fortune to find a little, in a chronicle of another man and from voyaging, of how things, actual things, can be, whales for instance, and this knowledge is wrapped in the rhetoric like plums in a pudding. Occasionally it is there, alone, unwrapped in pudding, and it is good. This is Melville. But the people who praise it, praise it for the rhetoric which is not important. They put a mystery in which is not there.'"
We need more books that provide detailed histories of the course of authors' posthumous reputations. Often a few pages at the end of a biography are devoted to this topic — but this is hardly sufficient, when you think how frequently the significance of a writer gets vigorously reevaluated after he or she stops breathing.
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