Monday, July 28, 2008

Hill on the metaphysical significance of inaccuracy

"'One must, however barely, hope to be taken seriously'": "'The perpetration of "howlers", grammatical solecisms, misstatements of fact, misquotations, improper attributions': these may seem like petty errors, but [Geoffrey] Hill labours in th[e] essay ['Poetry as "menace" and "atonement"'] to bring home to the reader their metaphysical significance. They are not technical infractions but the stigmata of human and linguistic fallenness, the cracks in the tea cup that open a lane to the land of the dead. That is why he admires Simone Weil's proposal that 'anybody, no matter who, discovering an avoidable error in a printed text or radio broadcast, would be entitled to bring an action before [special] courts', which would be 'empowered to condemn a convicted offender to prison or hard labour'."

     Adam Kirsch, reviewing the Collected critical writings of Geoffrey Hill; "The poetry of ethics," Times literary supplement no. 5494 (July 18, 2008): 11. Not surprisingly, Kirsch is not convinced. Hill is one of those who "'after the ethical has manifested itself to him [sinfully] chooses the aesthetical'" (Kierkegaard): "Has 'the ethical' manifested itself to him, that is, does he believe in the absolute authority of the Christian tradition to which he stands in such a close but ambiguous relation? Or are the writers to whom he pays homage in his criticism . . . primarily just that, writers, in whose works Hill finds the tones of authority with which he himself longs to speak?" (12). (I for my part am a competent judge of precisely none of this.)

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