Soundtrack: Fleetwood Mac–Tusk

(Yvor) Winterlude

It’s freakin’ cold ’round these parts tonight–I know, I know, that’s life in Montreal… but you never get used to -40C-wid-tha-win’chill!

Among many other things, I’ve been exploring the world according to Peiratikos tonight–and it looks pretty good to me! Steven and Rose have been kind enough to let us in on their conversation re: Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and the Borgesian creation of self through narrative. Along the way, they make some interesting points about “geek pride” and the “beast (not Hank McCoy) of absence at the center of the labyrinth”. Now, I haven’t read the NXM, but I want to! As regular readers of this blog know, I’m completely ignorant when it comes to comics post-1991, but Morrison is my favourite active comics writer (thanks to Animal Man and “Ghosts of Stone) and I’m interested to see what he’s up to (I did read a lot of The Invisibles in the mid-90s, but it never really grabbed me, despite all of the Shelley and Byron stuff, which you’d think I’d love!) Maybe I’ll “buy the trades” with my eagerly anticipated birthday money!

Anyway–for the purposes of my upcoming dissertation, the X-Men–and mutants in general–are radical Protestant sectaries, manifesting the diverse attitudes toward the “unregenerate” that brought Anne Hutchinson & her “conventicle” into conflict with their opponents (such as John Winthrop)–with poor John Cotton caught in the crossfire…

As far as “the creation of the self through narrative” goes–well, yes, I agree that this is what we tend to do–but, as a critic and as a novelist, I’m on record as being a lot more suspicious of this act than you folks at Peiratikos. You know–there are eight billion stories on the scorched earth, and it’s my duty to explode as many of ’em as I can!

I’ve also been reading a lot of Yvor Winters lately, thanks to Aaron Haspel, but–and maybe this isn’t a surprise to you Aaron–I’m really not diggin’ the man. He’s interesting, of course, and there’s no doubting that he’s on a mission, but that doesn’t mean he’s got much of a leg to stand on (when he declares that Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, etc. actually debased the quality of English poetry) or that he even knows what he’s talking about (as, for instance, when he makes blitheringly idiotic statements re:Calvinist theology & predestination). Yes, I’ve been reading Maule’s Curse. As always, I judge my American literary critics upon their ability to understand Nathaniel Hawthorne–and, more particularly, The Blithedale Romance (you know: the greatest prose work ever written). Unfortunately, this strands Winters way below the critical Mendoza line. It’s not like he’s the only one, of course. The only writers who’ve even come close to doing a decent job on Blithedale are Evan Carton, Thomas R. Mitchell and Sacvan Bercovitch. By this measure, even Perry Miller falls short, although, in his case, it’s because he was too busy obsessing on Jonathan Edwards (and there are few more compelling subjects than Edwards…)

Anyway, Winters is in such a hurry to get to his “obscurantist roast” that we’re fortunate to get this much on Blithedale:

In The Blithedale Romance, Hawthorne began as a novelist, but lost himself toward the close in an unsuccessful effort to achieve allegory…

Um. No. Here’s what really happened:

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance dramatizes a self-conscious narrator’s failure to withstand the rigors of an encounter with the “sympathetic sublime”. Miles Coverdale is a poet of solipsistic tendencies whose interest in social experimentation derives more from his desire to forge genuine human relationships than from any great hope of “reclaiming the world” (although he does tend to conflate the two). His account begins on the night before his departure for the country, at which time he expresses an eagerness to meet Zenobia, a prominent local figure about whom he has heard much, but never seen; and when the meeting occurs, he is not disappointed—in fact, he is overwhelmed. However, Coverdale’s case is not destined to be a simple one of abject submission to a stronger personality, for, still reeling from Zenobia’s first impact, he witnesses her absorption into a complicated relationship with the egotistical Hollingsworth and the self-abnegating Priscilla. On the threshold of his “awakening” to the world, Coverdale collapses into a feverish state, requiring two weeks’ convalescence, during which time the “knot of dreamers”, formed before his eyes, tightens into an impenetrable object of fascination. The drive to demystify this trinity energizes the sluggish Coverdale, although each revelation leaves him equidistant from the noumenal “core” of the relationship, whilst moving the prying narrator into a closer alignment with his “enemy”—the impresario Westervelt. Finally, Zenobia’s suicide does Coverdale’s work for him, untying the “knot” and bringing him face to face with the initial destabilizing force in isolation (though certainly not “in itself”). However, the poet’s reason fails to reassert itself in this extremity, and Coverdale plunges into the vortex of attachments that have transfixed him for so long. He “turns the affair into a ballad”, which ends in a ghostly “tableau vivant”—from which he is permanently excluded.

Of course, there’s a lot more where that outburst came from, if anyone’s interested! Does anyone in the blogosphere care about Hawthorne?

Winters also errs catastrophically when he rates Moby Dick above Pierre, or the Ambiguities–and Yvor himself could learn a lot from Plotinus Plinlimmon.

Don’t forget the Comic Treadmill–we’re getting to the exciting part of the Infinity Inc. run (the introduction of Mr. Bones & Helix)–and H is all fired up!

Okay–time to read me some Confederation poets! The class actually looks very good. The professor is sharp (and very much interested in bringing Transcendentalism into the mix, which is a relief). I’ve staked out Archibald Lampman as my quarry this semester–we’ll see what comes of it!

Good night friends!



  1. “Does anyone in the blogosphere care about Hawthorne?”

    Well, I’ve honestly never read any of his work, but due the enthusiasm of both your good self and my friend Joanne, I have picked up a couple of his novels which I will be reading shortly. I didn’t pick up Blithedale Romance because we didn’t have it in stock, basically, but I’ll tell you what I think about the man when I’ve actually cracked open one of his novels. Both you and my afformentioned friend have made his work sound very interesting, so I’m looking forward to the experience, and, in a way, I think this shows that I’ve been finding your Hawthorne stuff pretty engaging, despite of my ignorance…

  2. Well, of course you knew I cared, because you’ve read my site often and recommended it.

    Of course, I might be too old to matter by today’s standards, but I still consider his short stories among America’s greatest literature and his insights into human nature seem as remarkable as eve.

  3. Loren,

    Of course, the short stories are incredible too!

    I like to re-read the whole of Mosses From An Old Manse (now available in a nice–and cheap!–Modern Library paperback) every year. “Young Goodman Brown” is just the tip of the iceberg (and it deserves its’ reputation wholeheartedly)–lately, I’ve been focusing more upon “The Old Manse”, “The Christmas Banquet”, “Monsieur du Miroir” and “Birds and Bud Voices”…

    Have you read Blithedale Loren?


  4. I can’t recall if I’ve read Blithedale Romance or not, Dave, though I’ll probably have to find it and (re)read it after reading your comments. If I read it, it certainly didn’t leave me with the strong impression that it left you with.

    Maybe because Melville’s Moby Dick would occupy that spot for me. Moby Dick seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for people like Bush who try to destroy “evil” only to become “evil” in the process because they’re blinded by their hatred and self-delusions.

    If I read it, it was in college and that was a long time ago and many books back. I know I had a copy of it floating around for years before I purged it with a whole group of yellowed paperbacks.

    All of Hawthorne’s short stories are available on line, and I downloaded several of them that friends and I agreed to read, but unfortunately only Diane and I actually ended up reading them (the ones we commented on at my web site).

    I taught “Young Goodman Brown” so often it’s the one story I wouldn’t return to, I’m afraid.


  5. Loren,

    Moby Dick is indeed a fine novel/romance/one-of-a-kind prose work… I still find Pierre even more compelling though! Obviously, when we’re dealing with achievements of this order, there’s a lot of room for differences of opinion…

    And while we’re on that subject… it occurs to me, just now, that I’ve been unnecessarily shrill in my rantings about Blithedale, but that’s only because I’m really hoping to goad the entire world into reading it! I do consider it the greatest novel ever written, but really, I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea… However, even if you hate it, I’m convinced that that hate would be valuable to you somehow!

    By the way everyone–if you’re interested in Loren’s impressions of Hawthorne (and they’re well worth your time), check out this entry on “Young Goodman Brown” (your last word on that one Loren?) and this one on “The Birthmark”–which some of you might know as a crucial element of Paul Auster’s Book of Illusions


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