Read The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays by Guy Davenport Online


In the 40 essays that constitute this collection, Guy Davenport, one of America's major literary critics, elucidates a range of literary history, encompassing literature, art, philosophy and music, from the ancients to the grand old men of modernism....

Title : The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays
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ISBN : 9781567920802
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Number of Pages : 384 Pages
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The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays Reviews

  • Eric
    2019-03-28 03:53

    I've lost count of the times I read his essay on Whitman.Within a few miles of each other in the 1880s, Whitman was putting the last touches to his great book, Eadweard Muybridge was photographing movements milliseconds apart of animals, naked athletes, and women, and Thomas Eakins was painting surgeons, boxers, musicians, wrestlers, and Philadelphians. In a sense Muybridge and Eakins were catching up with Whitman’s pioneering. Their common subject, motion, the robust real, skilled and purposeful action, was distinctly American, an invention. Eakins and Muybridge worked together; Eakins came over to Camden and painted and photographed Whitman. Their arts ran parallel, shared a spirit and a theme. Muybridge’s photographs, the monumental Zoopraxia, kept Degas and Messonier up all night looking at it. There has been no finer movement in American art, nor a more fertile one (from Muybridge, through Edison, the whole art of film), and yet their impact was generally felt to be offensive. Eakins and Muybridge were forgotten for years; Whitman persisted.A pleasure of reading Davenport is his compression of any given matrix of affinities—the whole lit-crit trainspotting of influences on and influences of—into striking little scenes like that of Degas staying up all night with the Zoopraxia. (When you see Degas’ dancers or his racehorses, see also his colleague in nineteenth century motion study, Muybridge, the London-born San Francisco bookseller who took up photography after a serious brain injury—he was thrown from a stagecoach whose operator had taken to using teams of half-wild mustangs in a bid to increase speed.) It seems that a way with the suggestive fragment, the connective anecdote—“let the song lie in the thing!”—marks these Disciples of Pound. Davenport and Hugh Kenner (to whom The Geography of the Imagination is dedicated) would say that that is how Pound taught them to write—“ideogrammatically”; but Pound’s poetics are also useful for partisans. His poetry spun off its own polemical-explicatory prose. To defend their then-and still-maligned master Davenport and Kenner had to vividly and concretely communicate his entire intellectual lineage, his often obscure sources and inspirations, his unsuspected sponsorship of Things We Know; to explicate Pound they required a prose that with its combinatory compression, genius for collage, and imagistic piquancy prepared readers for the summa of civilization we are assured is to be found in The Cantos. To be sure, the critical prose instigated by Pound has its drawbacks—essentially peremptory, its salutary solicitousness of the unknown masterpiece, the obscured context, the neglected relation can become at times a hectoring of us ignorant barbarians—but on the whole I love it. The placing of events in time is a romantic act; the tremendum is in the distance. There are no dates in the myths; from when did Heracles stride the earth? In a century obsessed with time, with archeological dating, with the psychological recovery of time (Proust, Freud), Pound has written as if time were unreal, has in fact, treated it as if it were space. William Blake preceded him here, on the irreality of clock time, sensing the dislocations caused by time (a God remote in time easily became remote in space, an absentee landlord), and proceeding, in his enthusiastic way, to dine with Isaiah—one way of a suggesting that Isaiah’s mind is not a phenomenon fixed between 742 and 687 B.C. Pound’s mind has to be seen for the extraordinary shape it has given to itself. To say that The Cantos is a “voyage in time” is to be blind to the poem altogether. We miss immediately the achievement upon which the success of the poem depends, its rendering time transparent and negligible, its dismissing the supposed corridors and perspectives down which the historian invites us to look. Pound cancelled in his own mind the disassociations that had been isolating fact from fact for centuries. To have closed the gap between mythology and botany is but one movement of the process; one way to read The Cantos is to go through noting the restorations of relationships now thought to be discrete—the ideogrammatic method was invented for just this purpose. In Pound’s spatial sense of time the past is here, now; its invisibility is our blindness, not its absence. The nineteenth century had put everything against the scale of time and discovered that all behavior within time’s monolinear progress was evolutionary. The past was a graveyard, a museum. It was Pound’s determination to obliterate such a configuration of time and history, to treat what had become a world of ghosts as a world eternally present.Kenner’s The Pound Era is the best defense/explication any modern writer has had, a spicy masterpiece that can claim an admirer in Vladimir Nabokov—who despised Pound. Davenport hailed it as “not so much a book as a library, or better, a new kind of book in which biography, history and analysis of literature are so harmoniously articulated that every page has a narrative sense”—and the same can be said of The Geography of the Imagination. To use his own phrase, Davenport is an ideal "historian of visionaries."But Davenport’s an astounding fictionist, as well. My only prior exposure was “Some Verses of Virgil,” the novella that closes his collection Eclogues. “Some Verses of Virgil” is a beautiful, unclassifiable freak that displays a virtuosic style, evokes multiple genres, and flamboyantly straddles poetry and prose (if Pale Fire is a “centaur-work,” “half poem, half prose,” according to Mary McCarthy, then Davenport’s novella is a “satyr-work”: less obviously dichotomous, a humanoid biped with goat shanks; it also happens to feature plenty of sylvan trysting). I’ve never read anything like it. So it was strange to read Davenport calmly, humbly, almost professorially explicating the ideogrammatic densities and “architectonic” collages of Pound and Olson, Marianne Moore and Paul Metcalf, without dropping even a hint that he is a part of their lineage, playing in the same league. It wasn’t until I reached the very last essay that I stopped wondering why he seemed to be holding back. He admits, “I was forty-three when I wrote my first story since undergraduate says.” Most of these essays were not written by an artist appreciating his fellow practitioners. Not that it matters. The Geography of the Imagination is a real reader’s testament. It’s packed with those vivid, meaning-making connections apparent to and privately gathered by common readers, but often excluded from the dossiers handed down to us in school and in most journalistic book review columns. It’s up on my shelf—wedged between Evan S. Connell and James Salter, two other American Prose Wizards once published by the lamented North Point Press—but I think it’ll be back down soon. Davenport’s essay on Eudora Welty, I mean his fantasia on a theme of Eudora Welty, deserves a second look—or a third, or a fourth.

  • Geoff
    2019-03-26 06:12

    The great modernist archaic, our Montaigne by way of Emerson, whose thoughts elide easily such disparates as Ancient Greece and the Old Testament and Kafka's Prague or Joyce's nightworld, to show us there are no disparities, no true separation, that the human culture which creates the great works of Art is the flame which needs to be kindled, to be carried in a horn through the night as embers for generation unto generation, who makes in these essays a prose-place like eddies out of the River of Time, where the first thought and the last thought commingle and speak with each other and their voices attend to every force that has evolved a form, and every noble creative impulse is resolved into a concept, a graspable infinite, a gift for humanity.

  • Mala
    2019-03-25 11:08

    The Geography of the Imagination turned out to be my stimulating introduction to Guy Davenport, the multifaceted American man of letters. The forty essays here amply convey the range & depth of this fascinating mind.The title struck me as a paradox though: geography deals with boundaries whereas imagination is famously boundless. Geography is about cartography & you wonder if imagination needs mapping but Guy Davenport opines that imagination needs roots: "The imagination, like all things in time, is metamorphic. It is also rooted in a ground, a geography. The Latin word for the sacredness of a place is cultus, the dwelling of a god, the place where a rite is valid. Cultus becomes our word culture, not in the portentous sense it now has, but in a much humbler sense. For ancient people the sacred was the vernacular ordinariness of things."Davenport contextualizes it in terms of an American immigrant experience:"We new-world settlers, then, brought the imagination of other countries to transplant it in a different geography. We have been here scarcely a quarter of the time that the pharaohs ruled Egypt. We brought many things across the Atlantic, and the Pacific; many things we left behind: a critical choice to live with forever."He later returns to this idea in another essay That Fair Field of Enna: "Geography-lands, seas, climates-is overlaid with the second geography of political groups, empires, linguistic conglomerates. The geography of the imagination would be a third construing of cultural divisions, showing, for instance, the areas of the portrait, the epic, the novel, the symphony."Broadly, this collection of forty essays becomes an attempt to map the creative imagination through time & space across various humanities: literature, art, & philosophy (and science too!*). This erudite work would help greatly as a reference book too.The titular essay, in fact, sets the tone for the remaining essays in that Davenport uses his highly compressed ideogrammatic style to capture in just 12 pages a world of ideas & images: the Dogon of West Africa is transplanted to American soil as Brer Rabbit, an essay called Philosophy of Furniture, by Edgar Allen Poe leads to an analysis of the three strands of the Classical, Grotesque, & Arabesque in his imagination, to Greek myths, to Poe's imaginative German counterpart Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, & his division of world cultures into three major styles: the Apollonian, or Graeco-Roman; the Faustian, & the Magian, which then brings up the symbolic pattern of these three in Joyce's Dubliners, & Ulysses, (Are you still with me?), to cultural geographer Fernand Braudel's complaint, "We have museum catalogues but no artistic atlases," to the Persephone myth in an O. Henry story, & finally to a superb analysis of Grant Wood's American Gothic where classical antiquities merge with Protestant ethics. Along with all these, plenty of name-dropping, & cameos by Heraclitus, Amerigo Vespucci, Dickens, Louis Agassiz, Jefferson's dinners at Monticello, & the famous Vladimir Pyast episode! Phew, I'm out of breath!Davenport's apprenticeship of Pound served him well: his essays are prose ideograms- a succession of images in rapid cuts. He compresses in Cubist style. Being a painter & an illustrator himself, his mind keeps writing & painting in close proximity; hence a plethora of images & references to paintings in his work.Davenport's mind, being an associative & assimilative one, seeks cultural continuity in images & metaphor-making, so, Orpheus with his lute reincarnates as Roderick Usher & furthermore as Sherlock Holmes! Hard to believe? How about this: the Olson essay turns into a discussion of Plutarch, Heraclitus, Delphic stone, Pound, Neruda, & Rimbaud as well. Spinoza's Tulip has but a fleeting reference to tulips & explores the poetic kinship of Wallace Stevens "Philosophical landscapist," to Spinoza & Santayana. Mr. Davenport's playful explanation for his technique was, "You get up in the morning and you've got Keats' 'Odes' to take some sophomores through, and you've got a chapter of 'Ulysses' for your graduate students, and the mind gets in the habit of finding cross-references among subjects."** The essays turn into a free-flowing, free-wheeling lectures. It sure has its charm: you get so many writers at the price of one! There's clarity & there is insight, yes, but, with the vector field of associations & analogies created with Davenport's compressive method & ideography, the mind-boggling details come thick & fast. For respite, you can turn to the last quarter of this book having some light, breezy essays: Trees, Table Manners, Jack Yeats the Elder, an endearing portrait of John Butler Yeats, "one of the most gifted portraitists in the history of art; the father of Jack Yeats, Ireland's greatest painter, and of William Butler Yeats, Ireland's greatest poet",Hobbitry about how Tolkien found those fanciful names, etc.As this book deals mostly with American writers-poets-artists, I decided to use Davenport's proclivity for comparative method on his own book— I was reminded of another significant essay collection Something Said by Gilbert Sorrentino.Like him, Davenport too is a distinguished American writer-poet-critic-editor-academician. Both these books were first published by the North Point Press, and both share some common topics: Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky, Jonathan Williams, Marianne Moore, Paul Metcalf, etc, both have given extensive space to poets and artists, but, while Sorrentino presented them exclusively in terms of an American aesthetics, Davenport delights in showing them as continuators of a classical tradition & interprets them as such. Sorrentino is more focused, Davenport is jazzy in that he jumps from ideas to ideas, riffs to riffs. Davenport is also more kind. Both are great to read.A common trait: as critics, both keep their selves out of the picture— the subject is their focus. Other than sharing a few anecdotes, Davenport completely erases himself from the scene: "Talking about oneself, said Menander, is a feast that starves the guest, and I hope in this essay to keep to the subject I was invited to consider." Despite his formidable erudition, Davenport comes across as affable & modest: "My writing is primitive and contrived, and I have never written about myself in any conscious way."(!)And:"A writer's own sense of influences is spurious and frequently preposterous. When an influence dyes the mainstream it is all too obvious, disastrous, and tyrannical. As a true tributary it adds its lot and disappears into the flow. Who would suspect the influence of Delacroix on Van Gogh; of Dickens on Kafka, of Harriet Beecher Stowe on Tolstoy? My literary models (Kafka, Joyce, Flaubert, Welty) probably go unsuspected because of the ineptitude with which I have followed them, but my pictorial models are more deeply integrated, and perhaps more of an instigation than literary ones. As a scholar I have always kept literature and painting together as a compound subject, the one complementing the other: Milton and Dürer, Joyce and Tchelitchew, Apollinaire and Picasso, Kafka and Klee, Whistler and Henry James.(...) How one art learns from another is a question better asked as what one art learns from another. The process begins in inspiration, which we might call the aesthetic will."Highlights:Guy Davenport is at home in the classical world of antiquity & is happiest when they find correspondences in the modern world, that's why, writers-poets like Pound, Joyce, Olson, Zukofsky, Welty, etc, find glowing treatment in this book. A single review can't really do justice to forty essays; hence, out of necessity, I'm giving you the highlights:Ezra Pound dominates this collection as the subject of three superb essays: Persephone's Ezra: a tour de force, anybody reading The Cantos ought to read it. Davenport's felicity for classical myths & literature finds a natural affinity in Pound's Cantos."The museum, twentieth-century parody of a temple, is all that we have, physically, of the past; and Joyce begins Finnegans Wake in a museum. The early interpreters of The Cantos tended to see the poem as a study of the man of willed and directed action, as a persona of Odysseus. It is now clear that the poem rests most firmly in a deeper, stiller sense of humanity, the city and its continuity, symbolized by the goddess of field and citadel wearing the sanctuary of her people as a crown."The Pound Vortex: A review of Hugh Kenner's seminal study of Pound, The Pound Era"Pound's poetry was very new and very old at once. The man seemed to live deep in history and yet he was the present for writers alive with the idea of being modern. Even now Pound's genius for the ancient and the modern together has not been generally grasped. Our ignorance of the past blinds us to his finest accomplishments. Unless he designates that a poem is a paraphrase of Latin, we miss it, Latin having dropped from classrooms. Nor is it a settled matter that Pound is a master poet. The great paradox which Mr. Kenner must struggle with in this first full-scale study of Pound and his era is that Pound was the first to arrive in the modern renaissance, and his reputation will be the last to arrive in its proper place in the world's opinion."Ezra Pound 1885- 1972 : a moving bio, a rich tribute from a disciple to his Guru. I read it along with Gass' essay on Pound— pure bliss!Joyce's Forest of Symbols: a brilliant analysis of Ulysses.Ostensibly this is the only essay here that is attributed to Joyce, but Joyce turns up in practically every second essay in this book! Davenport plugs Joyce's books at every opportunity; not surprising really considering that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, his was the first thesis ever done there on Joyce!The House That Jack Built: an essay on John Ruskin's Fors Clavigera with comparative analysis of Pound's Cantos, & an exploration of similar themes & influences esp. the Daedalian labyrinth in Joyce's Ulysses & Finnegans Wake, WCW's Paterson, and Picasso's paintings.Ernst Machs Max Ernst: the closing essay. Extremely important in terms of statement of Davenport's aesthetics, a very personal essay, should be read in tandem with Barth's The Self in Fiction. How Gassian these lines sound! —"...admit that stories are made of words: writing. Far from wanting a word to be invisible, unassertive, the makeshift vehicle for something else ("idea," "thought"), I want every word to be wholly, thoroughly a word. If reality can be pictured in words, words must be seen as a set of essences in parallel series to the world."Another Odyssey: deals with the subject of Translation & how different translators/translations almost recreate a text. Davenport compares the various translations of Odyssey: Chapman, Logue, Bryant,Lattimore, Fitzgerald, Pope, Fenton, and Broome, Butcher and Lang, Samual Butler, Col. Lawrence, Ennis Rees, & W.H.D. Rouse, all within 16 pages! "Translation involves two languages; the translator is in constant danger of inventing a third that lies between, a treacherous nonexistent language suggested by the original and not recognized by the language into which the original is being transposed. The Greek says "of Odysseus the loved son," and Professor Lattimore translates "the dear son of Odysseus." Who uses such language in English?"Whitman: a stellar essay, written with verve & feeling. "Whitman," Kafka told his friend Gustav Janouch, "belongs among the greatest formal innovators in the modern lyric.(...) He combined the contemplation of nature and of civilization, which are apparently entirely contradictory, into a single intoxicating vision of life, because he always had sight of the transitoriness of all phenomena. He said: 'Life is the little that is left over from dying.' So he gave his whole heart to every leaf of grass. I admire in him the reconciliation of art and nature. . . . He was really a Christian and with a close affinity especially to us Jews-he was therefore an important measure of the status and worth of humanity."The Symbol of the Archaic: an essay that moves from archeological findings to romantic poetry musing on nature's ruins to modern art & poetry finding inspiration in the archaic. Can be read along with Barth's The Literature of Replenishment in that how writers & artists have gone back to the earlier sources for inspiration. Narrative Tone and Form: a quintessential literary essay discussing tone & stylistic innovations/experimentations in the works of such diverse writers as Flaubert, Kafka, Wittgenstein & Gertrude Stein, moving on to an analysis of Iliad & Odyssey, and finding analogies from the art world, ending with a discussion of architectonic form.Olson: a review of his Maximus, & Kingfisher poetry collection which rue the cultural death in America. Even Davenport concedes: "I am not able here to give any notion of the wideness of these last Maximus poems-the horizon they survey is vast-nor of their depth, which goes back into various histories (the Hittite, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, paleolithic) in new and bright ways (Olson's eyes were open to everything and very little got by him). Nor can I adequately represent their religious concern. A movement is closed by them, a movement that began with Thoreau and Whitman, when America was opening out and possibilities were there to be stumbled over or embraced. Olson is the other term of this movement. He is our anti-Whitman (like Melville before him). He is a prophet crying bad weather ahead, and has the instruments to prove it."Zukofsky: Both Davenport & Sorrentino have called him a buried genius."Of all birthday presents of the quatercentenary, none has come close to the poet Louis Zukofsky's offering, a discursive book of 470 pages called Bottom: On Shakespeare, boxed with a second volume by his wife, the composer Celia Zukofsky, a musical setting for Pericles."Louis Agassiz: Apparently, the Comparative Method is his heritage which Pound then applied to literature. A brilliant essay, one of the longest & choc-a-bloc with quotable quotes. All those who pit scientists and humanists against one another/as poles apart, should read this essay: "One of the most provocative books on the biology of sex is by a poet, Remy de Gourmont; one of the finest on art, by a scientist, Leo Frobenius." However, this essay is mute on the racism controversy linked to AgassizThat Faire Field of Enna: an essay on the mythical matrix across Eudora Welty's fiction. Gass & Davenport have both endorsed her highly: "If one were asked what absolute distinction makes Miss Welty's fiction different, the answer would not be her alert, perfectly idiomatic, honest prose, nor her immense understanding of character, nor her transmutation of fact into universal symbol, but her unique study of inarticulateness." In his Paris Review interview, Davenport said: "She is the only writer we have who writes like Joyce."The Man Without Contemporaries: a tribute to the memory of poet Osip Mandelstam & a discussion of his wife Nadezhda Madelstam's two memoirs, & Prof. Brown's critical studies on him."A page of Mandelstam's prose is a kind of algebra of ironies over which the same hand has drawn comic furniture and objects with a life of their own a la Chagall. The Noise of Time is a spiritual inventory of the mode of life swept away by the Revolution-men condemned to stations on the moon might write such books about life on the earth: a book that would teach us that the usual and the routine look like miracles once you have lost them forever. Mandelstam wrote anywhere and everywhere. We can scarcely begin to realize his world in which the pencil stub and the three pieces of paper YOU have is all the pencil and all the paper you are ever going to have. He composed in his head, dictated to his wife, or wrote on a chair seat while kneeling. Some poems (like the offending Stalin lyric) were not written down at all."Charles Ives: Davenport calls him the "greatest (American) composer" ever & writes, "he considered Browning to be the great modern poet, and wrote a handsome, majestic overture in his honor- in twelve-tone rows, a dozen years before Schoenberg invented them."! And there's more:"Did Mann hear about Ives from Schoenberg and conceive of his Doktor Faustus then and there? Faustus is a rich composite, an allegory of the German spirit, but we still have to account for descriptions of imaginary music corresponding so eerily to the Fourth Symphony (Ives'). Hearsay is a powerful instigation to the creative mind."NR?Finding : A very personal essay on Davenport's childhood excursions with his family down in the south- pretty much like Kohler's sunday outings. The childhood foraging of "Indian arrowheads" leading to the literary foraging of adult years."What lives brightest in the memory of these outings is a Thoreauvian feeling of looking at things-earth, plants, rocks, textures, animal tracks, all the secret places of the out-of-doors that seem not ever to have been looked at before."Tchelitchew: an artist whose painting Cache-Cache turned up earlier on with reference to Finnegans Wake, finds a full chapter here: "Cache-Cache inspired parts of Eliot's Burnt Norton; William Carlos Williams's Paterson owes much to "Phenomena"; and some of the most mysteriously beautiful passages in Cocteau's Leone derive from Tchelitchew's doubled images."Guy Davenport's style is a captivating blend of scholarship & sophisticated charm. This book is truly a reader's delight—leading them on to more books, more art, more philosophy. Isn't that what the best of books do? A keeper surely!Recommended for those who love posting long daily updates. There are so many references to art works that their updates space will look quite colourful with all those pics. Which reminds me I got more quotes to share! But nah, go read the book.**************(*) The Louis Agassiz essay.Links:(**) The NYT obit: interview is Absolutely delightful, a must read :INTERVIEWERWould you say that you enjoyed teaching?DAVENPORTYes and no. I enjoy being retired. I had taught, I think, as long as anyone should. The high schools are evidently teaching nothing. I was getting students who had read nothing, knew nothing, and thought the university existed for the sake of the Kentucky Wildcats. It’s shortsighted of Disney not to have built an amusement park: College World, with fraternities, sororities, sports, endless partying, but no classes or library or labs. It would not be appreciably different.

  • Andrew
    2019-03-31 10:04

    Jesus, this guy is smart. Like the sort of terrifying, broad-ranging intelligence that makes you just sit there in awe. He just rattles off a constellation of references and evidence, each one linking up to the next in a totally unexpected way. It would feel intimidating and/or wankish, except he comes off like he's probably a super nice guy, so you don't feel threatened at all-- rather, he invites the reader into the dialogue regarding Charles Ives or William Carlos Williams or Stan Brakhage or some facet of everyday life. He's especially enamored of homegrown and largely self-educated American oddballs (the above three standing out as remarkable examples, along with Pound, Whitman, Melville, etc.), and it might be because he's a bit of one himself.

  • Paul Secor
    2019-04-08 07:16

    I don't know whether it would have been inspiring or overwhelming to have attended Guy Davenport's classes at the University of Kentucky. I imagine it might have been a bit of both of those worlds. Luckily, his books exist and one can pick, choose, and read at one's own leisure without being overwhelmed.

  • Josh
    2019-03-27 07:11

    Best American essayist of the last 50 years. No...make that 55 years.

  • David R. Godine
    2019-04-17 05:58

    "There is no way to prepare yourself for reading Guy Davenport. You stand in awe before his knowledge of the archaic and his knowledge of the modern. Even more, you stand in awe of the connections he can make between the archaic and the modern; he makes the remote familiar and the familiar fundamental."— Los Angeles Times Book Review"As a critic, Davenport shines as an intrepid appreciator, an ideal teacher. By preference, he likes to walk the reader through a painting or a poem, teasing out the meaning of odd details, making connections with history and other works of art. His must-have essay collections, The Geography of the Imagination and Every Force Evolves a Form, display his range: With a rainwater clarity, he can write about the naturalist Louis Agassiz or ancient poetry and thought... He can account for the importance of prehistoric cave art to early modernism or outline the achievements of Joyce and Pound. He can make you yearn to read or look again at neglected masters like the poets Charles Olsen and Louis Zukofsky and the painters Balthus and Charles Burchfield. He can send you out eagerly searching for C. M. Doughty's six-volume epic poem, The Dawn in Britain, and for the works of Ronald Johnson, Jonathan Williams and Paul Metcalf. In all this, his method is nothing other than the deep attentiveness engendered by love: that and a firm faith in simply knowing things. He conveys, to adopt his own words about painter Paul Cadmus, 'a perfect balance of spirit and information."— Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

  • Will
    2019-04-14 11:13

    Davenport is probably the rarest thing in American letters, an actual intellectual. He's the only rival American essayist to Emerson I can think of, and this is his Conduct of Life. Criticism since Matthiessen, Leavis, and Winters has been (and is with Bloom) about The Big Reading List. "The canon is for people who don't like to read," wrote Edmund White; so is it any surprise the canon is so popular? What would some people do without that kind of guidance? Would they think for themselves, or not think at all? Davenport reminds us of how Wittgenstein died reading Black Beauty. There are more meaningful arguments to be made, he writes, than who's the greatest, most important, the more representative artist. To read Guy Davenport today, after his death, is to be reminded of what passionate criticism looks like, never mind supposedly "close" readings by academics and deconstructionists. The first sentence of the first essay says everything to come:The difference between the Parthenon and the World Trade Center, between a French wine glass and a German beer mug, between Bach and John Philip Sousa, between Sophocles and Shakespeare, between a bicycle and a horse, though explicable by historical moment, necessity, and destiny, is before all a difference of imagination.

  • Alexander
    2019-03-28 08:15

    Reading these essays is like getting a short master class in each topic, while being in the presence of an extraordinary prose style. Sentence for sentence, Davenport is one of the most incredible writers we've produced. This book of essays of his is essential, I think, if you're at all interested in him.

  • Kitty
    2019-04-16 10:16

    I wish every English teacher read this book and shared the insights with their students -- hopefully with shades of enthusiasm and passion like Guy Davenport.This is the sort of book that celebrates humanism and leaves the reader breathless, as if having attended a reception where everybody who was anybody from Homer and all his characters to Wittgenstein and beyond has been present and asked you some probing question. I love the chapters that deal with translation, and appreciate all the insights to so many of my favorite authors, which heretofore, were simply favorites without too much knowledge of anecdotes about them, or the tongue of Davenport to bring them alive.

  • Wayne
    2019-04-17 06:09

    A Pre-Read Memoir of a Book Too Often Forgotten:(for Kalliope who requested it!!)I always seemed to find myself book browsing on rainy afternoons when I would wander up the book shelved hallway into my bedroom where, lying aslant my bed, I'd dip into the bottom shelf of my large bookcase there, in the semi-darkness, and lazily cruise in and out of various volumes.Volumes of essays. "The Geography of the Imagination" was one of these.I had purchased it because I liked the name of the book and its strong patterned cover as well as the name of its author.And essays were a kind of addiction. Since high school days. A Lamb and volumes of Montaigne and various anthologies of English essays, all with their seemingly compulsory Bacon, were gathered here as well.Now, the Davenport with its 40 essays has lain there neglected for some years, browning with age like a slow cooking piece of toast.Absolutely everything, and them countable on the fingers of one hand, read in it over the years, has been practically forgot. Except for one piece.Every time the book came to hand, I found myself turning to this one particular essay without fail. It was short for a start, a mere 3 pages. And it described how on another dreary winter's afternoon the poet Shelly and an older friend both came to write their own version of the now famous poem "Ozymandias". Its title was also the title of the essay. And is marked by a fading pencilled X.Both poems were printed there in their stages of creation - one a work of now recognised genius, the other to receive only a crumb of attention, as both were subsequently printed together in a newspaper and now perhaps again here, in this essay. It all added to the melancholy atmosphere of shadowy room, cloudy weather and addicted mind.Now, today, all - poems, essay and book itself - have undergone their obscure little resurrection from their entombment on the bottom shelf.But, no doubt, sitting elsewhere, in well-used glory, well-thumbed, annotated with industrious pencilled scribbles, every essay pawed and pored over and fondly loved.Perhaps this aged yet still practically pristine volume with 39 of its essays is about to enter into its own wee slice of Glory?At least one was well-loved.Now, hopefully, to reclaim the rest!!

  • Mark
    2019-04-16 08:13

    One of only a few books I can say for certain changed my life. I was twenty years old and had just moved to NYC, where I found a job within a couple weeks at Endicott Booksellers. I bought THE GEOGRAPHY OF THE IMAGINATION my first week there... and through it I discovered many of the writers -Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Ronald Johnson, Jonathan Williams (and through Williams, with whom I struck up a correspondence, dozens more writers)- that I would spend my early 20s exploring.Too bad a worthless shitbird like Bruce Bawer is his biggest cheerleader right now...

  • Stacia
    2019-04-01 06:09

    Shifting perceptions of landscape from topographical features we encounter in space to milemarkers in whole though cannons, Davenport brings readers across bridges linking Olson, Pound, Greek myth, Joyce, traditional symbolism of the Angles, and the revival of Old the first two essays. A total mindflare.

  • Slap Happy
    2019-04-25 10:59

    Some of these essays really aren't for me. Case 'n point: Another Odyssey. Davenport breaks down various lines from multiple translations of Homer's epic to show how the translator will always recreate his own version of the original. That, in every translation, you get a lot of translator to go along with your Homer. It's not a profound observation in itself, but in his hands he showcases the variety of subtleties that each translator employs in his spin on the language of the original. It's the sort of nuances that words possess that only a true poet like Davenport can recognize and appreciate. In other words: not a philistine such as myself. But that is why I enjoy books like this, they are worth reading because they expand my appreciation for the beauty and depth of language, books, and the imagination. Recommended.

  • Richard
    2019-04-05 08:16

    I think I'm going to be "currently reading" this for the rest of my life. It's intellectually a bit thick, and not a cover-to-cover experience. The author finds it necessary to quote in foreign languages. I"m an American - no fair!

  • Thomas Baughman
    2019-04-02 05:11

    Reading Guy Davenport's essays are an education in themselves.

  • Charlotte
    2019-04-20 08:56

    I am not generally a fan of criticism but this is an order above. I've got to return to Eudora Welty thanks to Guy, and I loved his funny turn on Tolkien. First rate book. One of those books I didn't want to finish!

  • Stephen
    2019-04-21 05:17

    Tremendous skeleton key to art and literature. Left me agape, staggering. The essay here on the Greek and Latin roots of Eudora Welty's fiction -- on the frickin' dendrology and etymology of myth in a Southern writer's imagery and prose, on how her characters, her words, even her trees are patterned off the thicket of Ovid's stories, of how the North Mississippi hill-country folks are actually a mirage of ancient Sicilians.... just insaley good. Best evening of reading in a marathon of recent good reading.I came to the book for Davenport's essay on his neighbor, the photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard (both men worked and flourished in the same "rotting Kentucky town", Lexington), but all 40 of these essays (written in the 1970's) are well worth devouring.Davenport was a classicist by training and shared a lot of the same turf as the mythologist Joseph Campbell (both have a strong interest in Joyce and wrote heavily about myth's survival under the cover of what was passing for modernity), but honestly Davenport is the more interesting and varied writer, and funnier.Not for stuffy lowbrow Goodreads shitbird-types who pout about an author being smart and challenging. Yet while Davenport's essays ooze erudition from every square molecule of print, he's quite witty and accessible. Absolutely stands with the best work of the great bibliophile poets and critics like Borges and Robert Graves - except Davenport is equally as capable of lapsing into Flannery O'Connor-like Southern humor, in the course of telling you about the perambulations of a Latin botanical name that has its roots in Zeus's testicles, or of a summer-school Kentucky teenager out looking for a "poem book on E.E. Cummings."

  • Carl
    2019-04-01 06:12

    Quite an experience: almost certainly the most erudite, uncompromising essays I have read. Davenport wears his erudition -- even abstruseness -- like a badge, but without the arrogance that one would expect. He's an elitist in the best, most productive way. He alludes without bothering to translate, effortlessly recalls sparkling anecdotes, ranges as widely as anyone I've read (but definitely hunkers on his few touchstones: Joyce, Tchelitchew, Brakhage, Zukhovsky, the Dogon, Lascaux, Marianne Moore, Olson, especially Pound), and reminisces uncompromisingly.He proposes theories at a fast and furious pace. His style is to assert, not to wonder. Most of these are wise, although a few seem overly ambitious, especially when unelaborated-upon. I enjoy his writing, which is forceful and crisp.But it's intellectualism that makes this hum. Not a trek for the uncurious to tackle, it was (to me) incredibly tiring and humbling...but well worth the voyage.

  • Dan
    2019-04-05 10:12

    A selection of well-written essays on modernist writers like Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Charles Olson and Marianne Moore. One thing I particularly like is that the points Davenport makes about the works he discusses seem exclusive to him—I have not seen them mentioned in work by other commentators. Both in his focus (the modernists, and particularly Pound) and in his writing style, Davenport’s work resonates with that of Hugh Kenner.

  • Jeff
    2019-04-18 10:58

    he's at his best talking about ancient greece or modernist poetry; when he can combine the two (like when he's talking about pound) he's absolutely incredible. otherwise, at best: its of passing interest and cute; at worst: its hardly readable and impossibly dull. still gets four stars because the essays on pound, johnson, zukofsky, et al, the title piece, and some of the opening pieces are the best essays i've ever read.besides: he writes about ronald johnson and tolkien, the greatest poet and novelist the english language has produced, in the same book.

  • Douglas Dalrymple
    2019-03-31 11:15

    I’ve had a hard time with Guy Davenport’s fiction but his criticism and essays are excellent and reward multiple readings. He brings a sort of geological perspective to literature, a sense (in John McPhee’s phrase) of “deep time” that you don’t often find in American letters. I consider Geography of the Imagination one of the treasures of my home library.

  • Emilymcmc
    2019-04-04 08:14

    I go back to this book when I am feeling too tired to read anything new, or feeling dull or complacent. Most of these essays involve making connections among writers and books and ideas, getting to the heart of a book I've never read in a way that gets me excited to pick it up.

  • Peter
    2019-04-16 03:51

    Among the three prose books about poetry essential to me.

  • Tyler
    2019-03-28 07:03

    I'm always reading this. The essays, and Davenport's mind, are a stunning display of learning and synthesis.

  • Rod
    2019-04-23 06:09

    One of my all time favorite books. Davenport unpacks the works of western literature,illuminating influences and inferences with passion and sensitivity. Such a treasure!

  • Tasha Cotter
    2019-04-07 03:15

    What a terrific collection! I love the way Davenport bridges all the arts together with such ease! I loved reading about his funny literary run-ins with Pound and Sartre. Highly recommended.

  • ryan
    2019-03-31 04:12

    Currently reading, again.

  • Caroline
    2019-04-04 07:04

    I am laying/lying (?) on the floor and dying. Though, parts do suck.

  • Valerie McLean
    2019-04-25 06:14

    The interesting premise and smart analysis are great, but one has to get through a thick layer of pretension and Ezra Pound to get to it. While it's clear that he has a full command over the subjects that he writes about, it's often the subjects themselves that alienate. Still, I highly recommend the essay on Tolkien.