Monday, May 07, 2018

a curious juxtaposition at LitHub: Ursula K LeGuin claming dictators are always afraid of poets even though dictators such as Stalin and Mao actually were poets, if not poets praised by academics

...
 
UKL: After all, dictators are always afraid of poets. This seems kind of weird to a lot of Americans to whom  poets  are  not  political  beings,  but  it  doesn’t seem a bit weird in South America or in any dictatorship, really.
 
***
 
Ah, but famously sometimes dictators and despots ARE poets, if not always poets recognized by the clergy of canonized writers 
 
  
and sometimes, in the case of Edmund Spenser, the despotic person of letters can be a brilliant and influential poet.
 
 
 
Whether Bannon's role in the US leaving the Paris accords makes him at the same level as a Mao or a Stalin seems like an assertion made a little too readily. That poets can be despots doesn't seem that hard to grant within the Western tradition if we take the authorial ascriptions to David for any number of Psalms at face value. He was a poet and a musician yet also, to put it bluntly, a tyrant, since kings and regional warlords are despots and tyrants more or less as a matter of practicality.  Sure, there's the ideal of the enlightened despot that suggests so very many despots were not enlightened ... but it would seem by the 21st century only a fool would seriously say that dictators are always afraid of poets.  That's as foolish as insisting that all real poets are afraid of working real jobs in the real world.  William Carlos Williams famously worked as a doctor, Wallace Stevens had an office job, T. S. Eliot did, too. 
 
It just seems that so lionized a writer should know better than to say something as stupid as that dictators are always afraid of poets. 
 
Arts funding getting gutted would seem like it's bad enough a threat as it is without this sort of inane bromide.  It's a shame, really. 
 
I admire a few poets (Donne, Levertov, Stevens, Frost, Cummings, Eliot and a few others).  I'm not against poetry at all ... but I do find the self veneration and self-congratulation of vocational artists and writers more than faintly aggravating.  I feel that art would be a thing to take more seriously if artists didn't take it and themselves quite as seriously as some of them do.

1 comment:

Cal of Chelcice said...

It reminds me of two anecdotes. One is a history professor I know who has a quote from Khrushchev on their door, which says something like "Watch the historians, they can't be trusted". The other was in a conversation when I rebuked a guy for putting air-quotes around Sociologists when he talked about promoting racial hierarchic theories. In both cases, there's a sense that academics are the good guys, fighting tyrannies (like USSR), and if they're not, it's a no-true-scotsman fallacy. And there's this unproven idea about universities that they are bastions of freedom for knowledge somehow generates virtues.

But, of course, this requires the rejection of the Socratic thesis that only if people knew would they then be good. But that's clearly not true, for people all the time will suppress, ignore, or closeout knowledge that doesn't fit. They know enough to know they don't care. I'm not some anti-intellectualist or think everything can be learned autodidact-style. I'm also against romanticizing some notion of tradition or folkways, I'm not too keen on Burke, though I need to read more of him. But there has to be another way forward for education that doesn't involve this self-congratulatory drivel from a chattering class that thinks itself some righteous persecuted minority.