By Day One Cannot See Any Stars

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Guy Davenport: Collage is retrospective in content, modern in its design.  Kept up, it will recapitulate and summarize the history of its own being.

Herakleitos:  The untrained mind shivers with excitement at everything it hears.

Kafka: Anyone who believes cannot experience miracles. By day one cannot see any stars.

Tatlin: We declare our distrust of the eye, and place our sensual impressions under control.

Fourier:  By its growth and influence the merchant class has done much more harm to industry than have the monks and lawyers.  For the monks merely deprive the farms and workshops of their labour. The lawyers’ fault is somewhat graver, since they distract others from labour and rob them without producing anything themselves. But commerce is guilty of both these vices and it adds a third: it diverts and turns against industry capital which, under a better system, should be devoted uniquely to the improvement of farming and manufacturing.

The Life of the Mind

February 20, 1975

Guy Davenport, reply by Irvin Ehrenpreis

In response to: Enigma Variations from the December 12, 1974 issue

To the Editors:

I have endured twenty-six reviews of my book Tatlin! in stoic silence, and would keep quiet about Prof. Ehrenpreis’s notice in your paper [NYR, December 12] except that its stupidity is more an affront to the life of the mind in the Republic than to my book.

I could not possibly have used “several of Mrs. Mortimer’s devices,” as her book was not published when I was writing mine. Nor do I recommend anything at all in any of my stories, least of all the combining of orgies with physical-fitness programs. I regret that the remoteness of my style from speech saddens Prof. Ehrenpreis, but I accepted no more in writing these stories than to imagine the tragic endurance of a Russian genius within Soviet tyranny, the psychological temper of a few days in Kafka’s life, the discovery of the prehistoric paintings at Lascaux, Herakleitos talking with a disciple, an entertaining lie of Poe’s taken at face value, and the life of a modern Dutch philosopher whose studies of Samuel Butler and Charles Fourier constitute a critique of European history.

Any reviewer’s first duty is to describe the book he is in effect recommending (or not) to the readers of your paper. Except that he says so, I would not otherwise have known from Prof. Ehrenpreis’s review that he was airing his inept, feeble, and illiterate response to my stories.

[Herakleitos: Ephesians, be rich!  I cannot wish you worse.]

There is, I suppose, something to be said about a man who has before him a book that contains the life of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, l’Abbé Henri Breuil, Vladimir Tatlin, the polychrome caves at Lascaux, Blériot’s Antoinette of 1909, the perceptions of Herakleitos, and what he calls “an easy method of learning the anatomy of the genitalia,” and mentions nothing but the latter, but I have better manners than to say it. What a dullard!

[Tatlin: Not the old, not the new, but the necessary.]

The truth, of course, is that Prof. Ehrenpreis had never before in his life heard of Fourier or Tatlin; and has apparently forgotten what symbol, parody, and form might be, and thought that if he dashed off a few lines of twaddle professors are so good at (and probably practice before the mirror), he could scare readers away from a book which he found to be over his head.

[Fourier: It will be observed that in Harmony the only paternal function of the father is to yield to his natural impulse, to spoil the child, to humor all his whims.]

What’s more, an editorial policy that can devote four pages to repressiveness in Russia and still send a book with the title Tatlin! to a nitwit who can’t read and gets all flustered at a description of the human body is an editorial policy that can go flush its head.

Guy Davenport
Lexington, Kentucky

Tatlin: In the squares and in the streets we are placing our work convinced that art must not remain a sanctuary for the idle, a consolation for the weary, and a justification for the lazy. Art should attend us everywhere that life flows and acts.

Kafka:  The whole visible world is perhaps nothing more than than the rationalization of a man who wants to find peace for a moment. An attempt to falsify the actuality of knowledge, to regard knowledge as a goal still to be reached.

Herakleitos: Having cut, burned and poisoned  the sick, the doctor then submits his bill.

Fourier:  The only art that the moralists know is that of perverting human nature and repressing the soul’s impulses or passionate attractions on the grounds that they are not suited to the civilised and barbarian order. The real problem on the contrary is to discover the means of escaping the civilised and barbarian order. This order is in conflict with man’s passions and inclinations, all of which tend to unity, to domestic and agricultural association.

Herakleitos:  Man, who is an organic compound of the Logos, thinks he can sever that continuity and exist apart from it.

Guy Davenport:
The world’s order is in the stars.
We are its children, its orphans.
Cicadas shrill in the willows.

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