Perry Anderson

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yes sorry i'm doing a lot of cutting to the chase on my side of the argument (always easier when you've read nearly none of the authors under discussion): i think all i'm doing actually is trying to throw a wrinkle of complexity and reservation into this specific judgment of yours (re lethem's first description of miriam):

It seems to me that in reality, we don't draw this kind of symbolic conclusion from an item of clothing someone wears. And the fact that we wouldn't do it in life makes it risky for the novelist to do it - it's his imposition on the action - without getting anything valuable in return.

So it may well be risky for this novelist at this moment in this book: in the sense of "getting nothing valuable in return" and in the sense of annoying well disposed reader mr p fox late of this fandom. (And no one on that thread has stepped in to defend the description at issue…) But there are other kinds of novels where there is a useful return -- my claim is that this return functions at the level of overarching belief systems, mostly, either the author's or those of the world being sketched (or both), rather than locally and empirically. There will sometimes be good reason to raise the stakes, even if there isn't here -- it's not just a matter or good or bad taste.

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 10:15 (one year ago) link

the (to me) rather laboured section at the start of pt 2 is PA talking through the relative popularity of the two authors less in units sold than in reception theory terms i guess (books about and industry surrounding; translations of etc). his argument that proust is proto-pop bcz proto-pomo is both snide and flimsy

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 10:20 (one year ago) link

everyone (not the "people", the other better everyone) agrees genuinely is the move that underpins it, and any extended discussion threatens to bog down in a quasi-political argument abt who "the people" actually ever are

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 10:22 (one year ago) link

re previous post about JL:

I don't think I can judge these claims, for my part, without seeing another example, ie: of an instance where you think an author does this successfully.

Again for me a relatively extreme example of the aesthetic would be Rushdie, which for me would ring alarm bells about it as a tendency.

I think that 'belief systems' are sometimes relevant but also that authors (like JL in that case) can fall into an 'aesthetic' that doesn't really have much belief attached to it - maybe an 'attitude' or 'stance' in the external, posing sense, more than a belief.

the pinefox, Thursday, 23 August 2018 10:25 (one year ago) link

PA seems to be suspicious about Proust being popularized because popularizable. (PoMo, I think, would just be a spin-off of that -- he doesn't actually think Proust is aesthetically PoMo himself, surely.)

I quite like the way that, as this discussion reminds me, PA's discussion is so entertainingly rangy and manifold in theme and approach.

the pinefox, Thursday, 23 August 2018 10:26 (one year ago) link

nice tart letter* also in the current lrb on anderson being wrong abt balzac:

(one of the things going on here, i suspect, is that PA has read and reread powell quite a lot bcz he enjoys doing so -- but has read the various other Vast Oeuvres** bcz as a High-Level Savant he felt he Ought To Have: it's not that he has nothing valuable to say as a consequence, he is a learned and an intelligent reader, but that there's just a trace of duty-based ressentiment to the critique?)

*(from a prof specialising in balzac*** and proust)
**(some of them, half-finished red chamber klaxon is that you i feel beating soundless but imperative on my mind's ear?)
***(i have actually read some balzac! old goriot aka pere goriot)

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 13:18 (one year ago) link

Christopher Prendergast is also the editor of the newer translation of Proust (and the one I read).

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 23 August 2018 13:32 (one year ago) link

btw i am reading all these posts as if everyone itt rhymes proust with frowst, the only correct way to say it

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 13:37 (one year ago) link

Was Powell a popular author in his day, amongst "the people"? The alleged soapiness of A Dance had lead me to think so, while Proust is pretty much shorthand for stuff only effete intellectuals read.

― Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 23 August 2018 Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

I see there was an adaptation of Dance.. for TV in 1997 (four parts). Anyone here watch it?

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 23 August 2018 13:45 (one year ago) link

yes, I've seen it. Simon Russell Beale is excellent as Widmerpool from youth to bloviating Lord and there are lots of other familiar faces, but it doesn't get anywhere near capturing the scope of the novels, and it's all a bit Downton Abbey

Neil S, Thursday, 23 August 2018 13:47 (one year ago) link

Also two different radio adaptations (neither of which I've heard)

Ward Fowler, Thursday, 23 August 2018 13:52 (one year ago) link

yes i watched some of the TV version, i wasn't very taken by it: four parts is the opposite of soap, it totally needs to be tackled reina del sur-style IMO: can i really be the only person watching LA REINA DEL SUR?

as does recherche, with a very boyish kate del castillo as albertine

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 14:07 (one year ago) link

every time i think of engaging with powell i can feel an #istandwithwidmerpool position rising, a bubble of challops frozen into the glaciated mammoth like a dormant pliocene megavirus

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 14:10 (one year ago) link

Anderson must be commissioned to do LA REINA DEL SUR next.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 23 August 2018 14:19 (one year ago) link

as you say he is good on the global south, what can possibly go wrong

mark s, Thursday, 23 August 2018 14:22 (one year ago) link

The judge in Dublin who ran the trial in which Samuel Beckett was a witness in the 1930s called Proust 'Mr Prowst'. This is supposed to be one of the things that made SB despair of Ireland and never want to return.

the pinefox, Thursday, 23 August 2018 17:10 (one year ago) link

What was the trial about?

jmm, Thursday, 23 August 2018 17:14 (one year ago) link

Mentioned this on the pub last night and was just scrolling thru now - two left-wingers and their love for a reactionary (in this case Naipaul):

xyzzzz__, Friday, 24 August 2018 12:39 (one year ago) link

Thanks for sharing, I'd like to give that a read as well this weekend.

I've been thinking more of the "painful admiration" one of them cites and the ambivalence of that relation between a left-wing/progressive reader/critic and a reactionary author (Tariq Ali also wrote an obit of Naipaul - it appears they were friendly?).

It struck me as curious that - with some notable exceptions - this appears to be much more common in English literature than in other countries/regions/traditions? There's Naipaul and Powell, but also the love of Waugh, Larkin, Amis, Kipling, etc. I had assumed it was perhaps in large part due to "high Tory" culture and its reproduction in the cultural institutions/universities in the UK?

I finished the Anderson essay last night and was disappointed he hadn't gone a bit further in exploring this peculiarity of English culture but this afternoon happened to remember he dedicated a typically lengthy essay on more or less this question 50 years ago (!).

It's paywalled on their site, but I believe can be found elsewhere online (or in his book English Questions)

Federico Boswarlos, Friday, 24 August 2018 18:05 (one year ago) link

I was also left unsatisfied by the second part of the essay, I feel like quite a bit was left unresolved. That said, it does make me want to read Powell (as well as The Dream of the Red Chamber and Malcolm Bowie on Proust), so there is that.

Federico Boswarlos, Friday, 24 August 2018 18:09 (one year ago) link

Good to be reminded of n+1. I should read more of it. Like this excellent reply from Wood:

the pinefox, Friday, 24 August 2018 18:27 (one year ago) link

Wouldn't we need to know more about how other countries, et al, handle it before we could say England was distinctive?

Or: Flaubert is in some ways reactionary. He's revered in France (by liberals and leftists, by Barthes, et al). So such traditions perhaps have their own versions of this?

the pinefox, Friday, 24 August 2018 18:29 (one year ago) link

In Germany, one or two of the big modern names have been on the left - Brecht, Grass, Wolf? - which does present a different scenario.

the pinefox, Friday, 24 August 2018 18:30 (one year ago) link

Yes, that's true but I always was under the impression in these other countries/literary traditions that they were more of an exceptional character?

I'll admit, I haven't fully thought this through at length, but I have had trouble coming up with other analogous examples where capital R reactionary authors are still held in the same esteem from other countries (there's Flaubert, Celine in France; Heidegger in the Continental Philosophy tradition). I definitely acknowledge more familiarity with Anglo-American literature than others, but still...! That said, I may be totally missing some obvious examples.

Federico Boswarlos, Friday, 24 August 2018 18:50 (one year ago) link

I would have thought that in France for instance, it could be shown that half the canon was conservative or reactionary in some way. It's an old canard that Marx loved Balzac 'despite' his royalism.

The difference you're pointing to, I think, is not about the historic canon but a more recent field - say, post-WWII. That would be a clearer, because more limited point of comparison.

Then there's also a difference between 'fascist modernism' and 'conservative English', ie / eg: between Pound and Larkin - very different sets of reactions and audiences involved.

the pinefox, Saturday, 25 August 2018 17:25 (one year ago) link

I had assumed it was perhaps in large part due to "high Tory" culture and its reproduction in the cultural institutions/universities in the UK?

I would say that that hasn't been reproduced much in universities (and to an extent elsewhere in the UK) since, say, the 1980s -- English Studies is very much a post-New-Left formation in which the default is liberal or left. In fact in a way, people like Larkin and Powell are *not* that respected in universities, and PA may be writing against that to a degree.

Whether other nations have remained more conservative, or been similar, etc, I don't know - but there have been very conservative (critical) traditions in France / Germany. My understanding is that Barthes and Derrida for instance were writing against much more rigid formations than existed in the UK, which partly explains why they didn't entirely fit our frameworks.

the pinefox, Saturday, 25 August 2018 17:29 (one year ago) link

Yes, those are totally fair points and I prob should have made a distinction b/w fascist and conservative reactionaries which, together with their audiences, are very different from one another.

Also, yes it doesn't seem to be something that has continued among younger generations - at least, I think most younger(ish) conservative/reactionary writers in the English speaking world seem to be, to use an Andersonism, "of little moment." Perhaps in the UK itself, this is in part due to or reflects the waning influence of high Tory culture over the course of the second half of the 20th century? I'll admit to being a bit out of my depth here - not being English and observing from abroad - so should probably stop making these somewhat sweeping generalizing speculations :)

Federico Boswarlos, Saturday, 25 August 2018 19:39 (one year ago) link

Where are you now Federico?

I agree about the waning of high Con culture. In a way this connects to the cultural change often described by old-time ilx poster Robin Carmody.

the pinefox, Sunday, 26 August 2018 07:10 (one year ago) link

Australia's most respected poet, Les Murray, is a tedious reactionary in his politics. (My contribution from a tiny country nobody cares about)

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Sunday, 26 August 2018 23:50 (one year ago) link

I'm in Toronto where - curious if this is also the case in Australia - we've inherited some legacy of high Con culture too (though not nearly as strong).

To go back to PA's essay, I'm surprised they didn't inspire a larger response in the Letters pages. The journalist/critic Jeet Heer managed to have a successful Twitter poll on it, though.

Anthony Powell is:

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) August 17, 2018

Federico Boswarlos, Monday, 27 August 2018 15:09 (one year ago) link

I know the poll is presumably a light-hearted jape, but its two options are not really alternatives.

Is Anthony Powell:

a) inferior to Samuel Beckett,
b) superior to Doris Lessing?

Think carefully before you answer.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 28 August 2018 11:05 (one year ago) link

do i have to read any of their books tho

mark s, Tuesday, 28 August 2018 11:09 (one year ago) link

re letters: Yes, just one response so far in the LRB? Which made an OK point about retrospective insight into a body of work but was itself ultimately unconvincing. I mean this is literally laughable:

"Without the relation to Balzac, Proust’s project is both unintelligible and, to some extent, pointless."

We might as well all write in, one per issue, saying things like:

"We have forgotten Flaubert. He remains, of course, the master - and Proust's"

"Well and good. But the true wellspring of the Proustian ethos is, of course, Stendhal"

"That Proust is fundamentally unreadable without an expert knowledge of the Goncourts used to be well understood. No longer, to judge from the recent pages of the London Review"

the pinefox, Tuesday, 28 August 2018 11:11 (one year ago) link

this entire exercise is perry dodging the 91 balzac novels he knows he ought to have read (bcz marx) but hasn't

mark s, Tuesday, 28 August 2018 11:16 (one year ago) link

two weeks pass...

My game plan: read a million words of Powell, a million words of Proust, then some biographies & criticism. Eventually compose 8 or 9 tweets refuting Perry Anderson's views of both. Never say I don't work for you people.

— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) September 15, 2018

mark s, Saturday, 15 September 2018 22:37 (one year ago) link

jeet go on ilx

mark s, Saturday, 15 September 2018 22:37 (one year ago) link

two months pass...

ugh jeet he did a series on tweets on how Powell/that generation of writers had a 'thing' for Thatcher.

I revive with this New Yorker write-up on Spurling's biog, which made me think that oh of course Anderson doesn't even make an attempt at reviewing it.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 29 November 2018 22:29 (one year ago) link

two months pass...

The teratology of the contemporary political imagination – plentiful enough: Trump, Le Pen, Salvini, Orbán, Kaczyński, ogres galore – has acquired a new monster.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 31 January 2019 00:05 (one year ago) link

Guess who's back?

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 31 January 2019 00:05 (one year ago) link

actually didn't know about the meaning of this word at all.

the pinefox, Thursday, 31 January 2019 10:39 (one year ago) link

Thanks for pulling that out PF. I can see how he comes off as pompous with his wider vocabulary, but in this instance it does the job.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 2 February 2019 18:10 (one year ago) link

Finished this tonight. It's not my idea of a very good PA essay.

The Lula material is partly reheated, simply in that he's written at length on Lula before (but not about his trial, successors, etc). He comes out as quite partisan for Lula's PT / workers' party - that's one of the things that most interests me about the essay. PA still has an ability to be very impressed by certain people, like the analyst he compares to Marx, and Lula himself.

But then the treatment of Bolsonaro: we get the standard PA problem that he hates 'bien pensants' more than anyone else, and is more keen to take swipes at them than to make any serious criticism of the political Right - in this case, by the sound of it, far Right. This particular strain of contrarianism is tired. The things that Bolsonaro has said and done, as I understand it so far, are worrying and dangerous towards several groups of people. PA makes light of most of this.

the pinefox, Friday, 8 February 2019 00:00 (one year ago) link

two months pass...

smh at everyone not knowing what teratology means, do you not read stephen jay gould ppl, everyone familiar* with the paling corpses of birth-dead monsters in 19th century pickle jars knows this word

*i mean like from books shut up

mark s, Wednesday, 17 April 2019 11:04 (eleven months ago) link

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