Sunday, October 05, 2008

Another View of Logan

Nicholas Manning expresses disagreement with my post on William Logan’s criticism of a few days ago. I’ve got to say, he makes some really good points. For Manning, Logan says things because they sound good, but his insults possess no critical intelligence and are, in fact, badly written.

I do agree that Logan’s perspective on Ashbery is “incompetent”. I’m not so convinced that Logan’s writing is as bad as Manning makes out. However, he makes a strong case for it not to be accepted as good critical writing. Have a look.


BarbaraS said...

More grist for the critical mill. Thanks for that.

"William Logan's next book of poetry, Strange Flesh (Penguin), is due out in October."

Wonder how that will be received...

Anonymous said...

I dunno ... I'd be inclined to take Manning more seriously if he didn't jeer so much, and with that hyperventilating arrogance much favoured by 25-year-old students. He seems to be taking Logan very personally, and this reads more like score-settling than critique.


Rob said...

Barbara - I think we can all guess how it will be received...

Andy, I think his point that Logan sounds good but doesn't provide a genuine critical perspective on the poet in quesion is true at times. His comment that death never enters Ashbery poems, for example, is complete nonsense.

I didn't detect arrogance so much in Nicholas Manning's article as outrage. I didn't agree with every point he made, but I thought he articulated the case against Logan quite well.

Anonymous said...

So this chap Latta takes Logan to task for a scientifically dubious allusion to a firefly, but adds his own gibe as follows "like a crawfish, backpedaling, leaving a slurry"?


Nicholas Manning said...

Hi Rob,

This is an interesting little exchange. I'm happy to meet you all.

I think we do agree about a lot of things regarding Logan. For instance, I'm entirely with you on the refreshing necessity for this type of critical engagement: the eloquent muck-raters and the darting whips are not only fun, but panacea against hyperbolic "I-loved-everything" blurbs of the more frothy praise-merchants.

I also don't really mind if Logan chooses to use language in this very associative, almost soft-surrealist way, in his criticism: what gets me is the double-standard, the fact that the precise thing he criticizes in Ashbery - circuitousness, occasional non-referentiality etc. - constitutes a major element of Logan's own diction and ways of writing. And one can't have it both ways I suppose?

But other problems, as you say, are more on the level of possible readings and semantic perceptions. Your "death in Ashbery" example is an ideal case. I agree it's hard to see precisely what Logan's talking about here. Doesn't a massive amount of ashberian, stevens-esque wistfulness sound like a late/post/lyric todesfuge? I always felt that. And sometimes it's just a rather explicit preoccupation. So I'm not sure how that one stands up.

But I don't really have a score to settle with Logan: I don't know the man, am sure he's a perfect gentleman. I just often read his criticism, and I write some criticism, so it was touching on some common ground. Thus, good to flesh these things out.

So anyway, I didn't mean to "jeer"! Are 25 year-old students really that annoying? Yes, I suppose they (we) are actually. Maybe this is more just the tone of my little blog-thing generally: erring on the side of the irreverent.

But I did just turn 26 today. And teaching a bit now at the uni out in Strasbourg. So perhaps I can leave gallic jeeriness to the realms of irresponsible pre-adult life...

Here's to some more discussions,


(P.S. I think maybe John Latta was being a touch facetious, or at least winkingly ironic, with the crayfish thing. You know, eels and crayfish. And all that...)

Anonymous said...

Apologies for being overly grumpy ...

Just about to start on Logan's 'Desperate Measures', to get a better sense of what he's done. I'm guessing that the longer essays won't be as snarky as his reviews, but I can't resist this one:

"W.S. Merwin's new book is so dreary, I had to recite Henry V's battle speeches just to get through it."

Which doesn't really make sense, I admit ... but then the style is one of waspish, pseudo-casual (OK, lazy?) flippancy. Maybe aiming for something a bit Wildean and memorable, in which the 'sounding good' was the primary objective. Some arrows will stick, others not.

I can take him on that level, and read others for a more heavyweight / academic approach.


Roddy said...

Point taken, Nicholas, but it's hard to tell where irony ends and real criticism begins. Don't you think a lot of Logan's criticism begs to be taken with a pinch of salt due to its high camp?

I feel neutral on Logan - and won't labour this by repeating what his fans and detractors have said at length elsewhere.

But, in literary jousts, meeting like with like never goes very far, especially when the 'like' is male, middle-class 'wit'.

David Floyd said...

As far as I could see with the Frieda Hughes bit of the review in particular, he'd was just subjecting her to a few very obvious 'witticisms' about the work mixed with a series of cheap personal jibes that had little or no connection to the (clearly awful) poetry being reviewed.

That's fair enough if you're writing for Private Eye but I can't really see the point of it in a literary publication.