The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays (Nonpareil Book, 78): 10 (Nonpareil Books, 10)

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The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays (Nonpareil Book, 78): 10 (Nonpareil Books, 10)

The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays (Nonpareil Book, 78): 10 (Nonpareil Books, 10)

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Accordingly, a rumination on cave painting is also a reflection on Pablo Picasso; a musing on the 19th-century art critic John Ruskin is also a meditation on labyrinths…. To defend their then-and still-maligned master Davenport and Kenner had to vividly and concretely communicate his entire intellectual lineage, his often obscure sources and inspirations, his unsuspected sponsorship of Things We Know; to explicate Pound they required a prose that with its combinatory compression, genius for collage, and imagistic piquancy prepared readers for the summa of civilization we are assured is to be found in The Cantos. There is no doubt that his restlessly polymathic stories, essays and stories-cum-essays are an acquired taste (albeit one that everyone should strive to acquire). Partly because of his focus (the modernists, and particularly Pound) and partly because of his writing style, Davenport’s work reminds me somewhat of that of Hugh Kenner.

He brings a sort of geological perspective to literature, a sense (in John McPhee’s phrase) of “deep time” that you don’t often find in American letters. He's especially enamored of homegrown and largely self-educated American oddballs (the above three standing out as remarkable examples, along with Pound, Whitman, Melville, etc.He conveys, to adopt his own words about painter Paul Cadmus, 'a perfect balance of spirit and information. It doesn't matter, because there are plenty of other connections that ring true, and the point isn't so much whether the artists were aware of it as that, with the trained eye (or guided, as I was by the author), it's possible to recognize and appreciate the subtleties permeating their art. How strange [Pound’s] condemnation of usury sounded to a world that had forgotten the rage of Ruskin against the shrinking of all values into the shilling, the passionate voices of Fourier, Thoreau, and Marx that men were becoming the slaves of factories and machines. His essays, too, are born of a longing for freedom, but androgyny is less their substance than their style. Their hair was curled with irons heated in an open fire, then oiled, then shoved into a bonnet it would tire a horse to wear.

His correspondence with Hugh Kenner, another of modernism’s torchbearers, was published in 2018 as “ Questioning Minds,” two volumes that add up to 2,000 pages.The same man who enjoyed explicating the most arcane allusions in Pound’s impenetrabilia also observed, earnestly and beautifully, ‘Two lives we lead: in the world and in our minds. Originally published in 1981 and reissued this winter, it is “not so much a book as a library,” as Davenport wrote of a friend’s monograph.

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