Sunday, February 21, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 33 (Paul Fussell)

Fussell, Paul
The Great War and Modern Memory

Purchased online about three or four years ago.

Robert Creeley taught one course the whole time I was in graduate school (5 years) and it so happened that it conflicted with a course I was teaching that semester, so I couldn't attend. I remember paying close attention to the syllabus and asking a lot of people about what was going on in the class, which was never quite clear to me from the outside. They spent a long time on this book, and I remember Creeley himself telling me he was very interested at the time in a biography of Woodrow Wilson written by Sigmund Freud. It was several years before I actually bought and read this book, a couple years beyong graduate school, even, and I only did so after reading Fussell's excellent book, Poetic Meter & Poetic Form. Anyhow, even though I got to spend more of my share of time with Robert Creeley in one-on-one situations, I always regretted that I didn't get to take that class.

from The Great War and Modern Memory

Thomas Hardy, Clairvoyant

By mid-december, 1914, British troops had been fighting on the continent for over five months. Casualties had been shocking, positions had settled into self-destructive stalemate, and sensitive people now perceived that the war, far from promising to be "over by christmas,' was going to extend itself to hitherto unimagined reaches of suffering and irony. On December 19,1914, Lytton Strachey published a piece in the New Statesman focusing on the "tragedies of whole lives and the long fatalities of human relationships." His language was dark. He spoke of events, remorseless, terrible, gruesome. He note that " the desolation is complete" and recalled a phrase of Gibbon's appropriate to the kind of irony he was contemplating: "the abridgment of hope." "If there is joy that is long since dead; and if there are smiles, they are sardonical."

But actually Strachey was not writing about the war at all. In his 2000 words he doesn't mention it. Instead, he is reviewing Thomas Hardy's most recent volume of poems, Satires of Circumstance, published in November, 1914, but containing–with the exception of the patriotic and unironic "Men Who March Away," hastily added as a postscript–only poems written before the war. Many emanate from Hardy's personal experience as far back as 1870.

As if by uncanny insight, Hardy's volume offers a merdium for perceiving the events of the war just beginning. It does so by establishing a terrible irony as the appropriate interpretive means.


Barbara said...

Thanks for directing me to Freud's biography of Wilson--something I did not know about.

As I am the great, great grand niece of Wilson (as in my great great grandmother looks like the Pres. in drag), I'm especially interested in this!


Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Well, as the fourth cousin once removed of Abraham Lincoln...