Friday, April 1, 2011

An appreciation of Robert M. Adams - an April Fools' Day post (I am the fool)

I have never written an April Fools’ Day sort of blog post, and do not plan to start now.   Wuthering Expectations is an intrinsically foolish pursuit.  Plus, I don’t have any ideas.  On an entirely unrelated note, I cannot wait to get my hands on Duty, Esther, Duty: Or, Esther Summerson, Vampire Killer.  The new Ian Rankin novel also sounds like keen fun.

Instead, I will write more Robert M. Adams, the critic who wrote the wonderful nonsense about Milton that I wrote about yesterday.  I know nothing about Adams, nothing not on this Norton page.  I first encountered him, without knowing it, in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 1, fifth edition, and have since read five or six of the Norton Critical Editions which he edited – The Prince, The Egoist, Candide, The Red and the Black (he titles it Red and Black), and Ben Jonson’s Plays and Masques.*   Candide and The Prince are in his own translations.  The Prince, in particular, holds the peculiar distinction of Greatest Critical Edition I have ever read.

How strange, to pay so much attention to the editor of the edition I am reading.  But how strange, also, to encounter a critic, a scholar, adept at the reading and study of Milton, Voltaire, Ben Jonson, Machiavelli, etc.  Thus, my interest – I, too, want to be a person who reads Milton, Meredith, and Machiavelli well, who can hop from era to era and country to country, who can write clearly, without reverence, without jargon.**  Adams seems to be something of a fellow Appreciationist. 

The beginning of “On the Bulk of Ben”:

He was a heavy man.  Everyone felt it, and he said so himself, heavily.  What other lover, in the course of recommending himself to his mistress, ever took occasion to remind her of his mountain belly and rocky face?  Earth and the earthy are always close at hand in Jonson’s work…  The impulses of the gut and groin, if generally subject to some limit of correction, are given voice throughout his work to a degree unparalleled. (482)

From “Getting the Point,” on Candide:

Our hero is, of course, indestructible.  Like one of those toy soldiers with a lead weight in his round foot, he pops upright no matter how many times he is knocked down. (177, 2nd edition)

A bit on The Egoist:

The characteristic action of Meredith’s style is a sting – a small, unobtrusive puncture is made, a bit of acid is silently injected – and only after a while does a large, itchy red patch appear to remind us of something actively at work which our complacencies don’t gladly tolerate. (557)

To aspire to the insights and quality of Adams’ writing, without his training, concentration, languages, or intelligence, is a sufficiently foolish idea, one that should keep me busy for a while.

* The second edition of Jonson’s plays, not edited by Adams, has been, why be polite, ruined by faddish nonsense.

** Not that obscurity, reverence, and jargon don’t have their place.

No comments:

Post a Comment