In his blog post today, Ron Silliman offers up some wonderful insights about writing, only to go off the rails when he boards his favorite train of thought, which concerns (of course) his tribe (small, evolved, super-intelligent, “outsiders” all) vs. the imagined Other Tribe (vast, beetle-browed, witless, “insiders” all). Yes, he lectures his imagined beginning writer, “Anyone – anyone! – who argues that either Dickinson or Whitman leads you to the School of Quietude (tho they won’t call it that) is a fraud.” If we remember that “School of Quietude” means nothing more than poets Captain Ron and his friends don’t like (I provided a partial list of poets Silliman has identified as SoQ members in an earlier post), we can see who the real fraud is. No no, he argues, “Dickinson & Whitman will lead you to very different parts of the post-avant spectrum.” Note the pretense of ownership: Em & Walt belong to us!—although he’s right, of course, that lots of so-called post-avant writers have roots in the work of those two American geniuses.
It’s the miser’s desire to keep Em & Walt in his pocket that makes Silliman’s claims so creepy. The person he brings most to mind is Charles Kinbote, the anti-hero of Nabokov’s great novel Pale Fire, whose attempt at elucidating a fragmentary poem by a famous poet, his neighbor John Shade, produces in Kinbote a fever-dream in which every part of the poem refers to him. It’s sad and comic at once. In the case of Silliman, you want somehow to comfort him in his delusion. There’s an impulse to whisper, “It’s okay, Ron,” patting his obsessive little head, its hot high brow sprinkled with bright and shiny jewels of sweat….