Sunday, October 4, 2009

Steady Job

Some intriguing remarks on literary professionalism from "The Art of Poetry: Marianne Moore," the 1960 Paris Review interview with Donald Hall:

Interviewer: I was intrigued when you wrote that ‘America has in Wallace Stevens at least one artist whom professionalism will not demolish.’ What sort of literary professionalism did you have in mind? And do you find this a feature of America still?

"Moore: Yes. I think that writers sometimes lose their verve and their pugnacity, and he never would.

“That question I am so often asked: ‘What work can I find that will enable me to spend my whole time writing?’ Charles Ives, the composer, says, ‘You cannot set art off in a corner and hope for it to have vitality, reality and substance. The fabric weaves itself whole. My work in music helped my business and my work in business helped my music.’ I am like Charles Ives. Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller would not agree with me.

Interviewer: But how does professionalism make a writer lose his nerve and pugnacity?

Moore: I suppose money has something to do with it and being regarded as a pundit. Wallace Stevens was really very much annoyed at being catalogued, categorized, and compelled to be scientific about what he was doing — to give satisfaction, to answer the teachers. He wouldn’t do that. He was independent.

“I think the same of William Carlos Williams. I think he wouldn’t make so much of the great American language if he were judicious about everything. And that is the beauty of it — he is willing to be reckless, and if you can’t be that, what’s the point of the whole thing?”

— Reprinted in Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Charles Tomlinson, 44-45