Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Poetic Reason in Thomas Mann"

Essay excerpt by Vernon Venable, appearing in The Virginia Quarterly Review (Winter 1938):

But the feeling of mystery which characterizes authentic poetic response is not, I believe, merely this feeling of freedom of reference. The problem is less simple; it is probably not a technical one at all. Poor poets fail to conjure up mystery even with methodical mystification, yet it often flourishes in classical poetry in the full light of logical reference from symbol to meaning. I suspect that mystere is to be sought rather in the aspect of experience comprehended in a poem than in the form of its elaboration. At this level there is essential, not artificial, mystery, deriving, perhaps, from the nature of experience itself. Both the nuance of private feeling, the "immediate experience" of the symbolistes, and Mr. Mann's "infinity" where, "in a matter of eternal contraries," harmony lies—both of these are, in the last analysis, quite un-understandable, and hence, unsusceptible of totally adequate communication. At the level of mystere, the mediated experience is no less valid a poetic object than the immediate one.

These, however, are properly questions for aesthetics rather than for literary criticism. Here I have been concerned less with the latent content of poetry, with its mystery, than with that other quality which is often forgotten today but which Mr. Mann has so richly remembered—the quality of lucidness, of intelligibility, by whose virtue the incommunicable seems, at least, to be communicated.

[Reading this excerpt in isolation might give one the impression Venable is evaluating Mann as a poet. Whereas, he is actually writing about the poetics of Mann as novelist.]

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