Today, I read a review in The Guardian of Ben Watson's "Art, Class and
Cleavage" which, according to the reviewer, Nicholas Lezard is "a mixture
of (proper) Marxism, outrage, poetry (he's a disciple of J H Prynne, which
probably means he went to Caius, Cambridge, and acounts for the grievous
misrepresentation of Christopher Ricks on p. 209), punk rock, Finnegans
Wake and Horace".
This sentence (!) to me exemplifies some of the aspects that
Peter Riley mentions in his contribution on 'the mess we are now in' (are
"we"?) 'because of the 1970s'. Lezard seems to display insider knowledge
of some kind of struggle for cultural hegemony that went on in the
confines of, as Raymond Williams puts it, Cambridge English (which memory
sharply reminds the reviewer of scholarly attribution: quote the page
number on which the slight occured). It seems clear who, in superficial
terms, won that small struggle for the mind of Lezard, at least. Prynne's
opinions could only be taken seriously by a former ghetto-inhabitant of
Caius, whereas Ricks (and by implication Geoffrey Hill) are by 'public
consensus' the normative standard. All this really has the old boy whiff
about it. No effort is made to articulate how Watson's writing itself
(which Lezard clearly admires) may be conditional him having read Prynne's
poetry, thus closing off the possibility of Prynne's poetry as a
publically accessible source of imaginative energy.
In other words, Peter, I don't think closed ciruits are always,
historically speaking, self-engineered.
Lezard is preoccupied with 'advertisement' or 'supermarketing' too,
and why the very form of Watson's book would resist it. He writes "And I
suspect that its madness is a matter not so much of self-advertisement, as
*anti*-self-advertisement; he does not want to become a cult, like
Baudrillard or Deleuze/Guattari."
The reviewer's remarkable claim is that Watson could become an
international cult intellectual, but *chooses* not to! It seems to vindicate
'self-ghettoisation' and 1970s rejoicing in the failure of not achieving
some form of public status (which Peter Riley finds so deeply enervating)
if only because a (Cambridge-educated?) journalist must invent the term
'anti-self-advertisement' as an accolade to what is perceived as a
profoundly authentic public gesture.
The crux of Peter Riley's argument, however, is of course, not what a good
choice all that 'wilful alienation' will turn out to be, but rather what
a bad choice it has turned out to be for a category of poets which
includes himself, 'the real lost generation of poets':
> Anyway, for me at least the 1970s laid the foundations of the mess we're
> in. It"s not a problem for young poets, who were raised in this splintered
> context and are able to make something of it; it's a lost hope which feeds
> on those now in their 40s and 50s, including "mainstream" poets, breeding
> pessimism, detachment, resentment and solipsistic yearnings.
As the lost generation is still alive, the weltanschauung their
experience has led them to, is surely no bar to continuing to write
(even greater) poetry? To compare careless 'young poets' to those 'poets
in their 40s and 50s' seems part of the youth/age conflict. Was this
conflict not the same one gone through by these very poets in the mid/late
1970s, when they were in their early 20s and 30s, and cannot their current
weltanschauung be described, quite simply, as 'sadder but wiser'? The
worst aspect of this is not: 'look how easy it's for them young ones' (as
if each generation does not shape and contend its own agenda of
difficulties), but that there is so much regret.