04 January 2014

Lovable Radicalism

I was just reading about a biography of the poet Basil Bunting. This was a review by Michael Hoffman who is also a poet and translator, successful, academic, approved of by institutions, and in this piece Hoffman says this of Bunting, that he

was born the son of a progressively minded doctor in Scotswood-on-Tyne. He was not a Quaker, but was educated at Quaker boarding schools. In 1918 he was sent to prison for being a conscientious objector; this seems to have involved a certain deliberateness, even wilfulness on Bunting’s part. Quite often, his life frays into uncertainty, competing versions, colourful mists of low factual density, ultimately the beguiling wraiths of myths, suitably embellished by himself or the other gifted embellishers among whom he mostly lived. (Take a bow, Ford Madox Ford, take two!) Pound tells the story (in Canto 74) of ‘Bunting/doing six months after that war was over/as pacifist tempted by chicken but declined to approve/of war.’ Burton agrees that the Sun-worthy ‘Pacifist Tempted by Chicken’ – when Bunting went on hunger strike, a freshly roasted chicken was said to have been brought to his cell on several successive days by his jailers – sounds a little too good to be true. On his release he enrolled in the newish London School of Economics, but left in 1922 without taking his degree. He was radical (the lovable politics of the Occupy movement), brilliant, but also ‘a great poseur’, feckless, improvident and prone to ‘nerve storms’: the type of individual who looks, if not to poetry, then to some other re-evaluative hierarchy to adjust his low standing, his perceived lack of usefulness, his reversed poles. A scalene peg. He was impatient with institutions, with convention, with medium-term thinking and planning...

Now, I don’t know what any of that really means, but it sounds disparaging to me. Occupy apparently is a politics of scalene pegs (folks who stake a claim for disparate angles?). But in this recitation of Bunting’s “perceived lack of usefulness” or his sense of poor fit, Hoffman offers poetry as alike to “some other re-evaluative hierarchy” as a kind of tool for one’s own social adjustment (a way to be “useful” or found useful, approved of, valued).

I suppose or assume that Hoffman fancies himself a poet very useful, hiearchically approved, and so is making a particular judgement about Bunting’s person and his politics and by extension the politics of Occupy.

And what to make of that “lovable”--condescension?

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