Oct 26, 2007

What Once Was Missed

I recently ran across another book review in the New York Sun that I found thought-provoking and believe to be worth your time. It concerns a pamphlet that was apparently distributed to Columbia University students one evening a week ago about what various middle-aged Columbia authors and scholars wish they had read in their own college days. "What We Should Have Known" is the title of the pamphlet, published by n+1 magazine, of which I know nothing. The review is entitled “The Canon According to n+1”, written by Kate Taylor; it can be found at:


The short review gives you a lot to think about. Reportedly, the pamphlet is about regrets: what authors and scholars at Columbia bemoan not having read in their college days and which oft-forgotten books their students MUST pay attention to nowadays (that could be called the “+1” aspect of this canon). This is an especially constructive topic for those drawn to the writings and literary theories of Yvor Winters, since so much of his work and the work of those who still study him remain so obscure, are so very little publicized, and concern so many obscure literary artworks and artists. Moreover, there are so few Wintersians, or even what I have been calling “modern classicists,” that it is very difficult to find out not only about Winters’s strange discoveries, but about what other Wintersians find worth reading and what they, as classicists, might regret not having read sooner in their lives. A major purpose of this blog is to give people a way to find out what’s going on among people charmed by Winters’s ideas and where to turn to find out more about those who study him and how knowledge of and general agreement with Winters’s ideas changes what people read and how. If only there were a few more Wintersians out there, and a few of them were a little more talkative. It remains my hope, dim as it is after 14 months with little response to these posts, that this blog will bring them out and get them talking.

On the subject of the books I regret having missed in my early days in college, over the past few days I haven’t thought of many that I missed and regret having missed -- I read a lot of stuff from many nooks and crannies of the literary world back in those heady days. But now that I’ve given it some thought, I’ve decided that what I regret most is having not kept up the with Southern Review, Second Series in those years. The late Donald Stanford, LSU professor and great Wintersian scholar, was the co-editor, and his journal was the only major periodical keeping the study of Winters’s ideas alive in the years right before and immediately after his death in early 1968. I went to college in the years 1974 to 1978, and I regret that I was not reading the Southern Review in those days. But I will think more about this and perhaps offer some other regrets of this sort. I hope most of all that other readers of this blog with interests in modern classicism will come forward with some discussion on this topic, which I consider of the utmost importance. I am deeply interesting in hearing from other modern classicists with at least some affinity to Winters on the books they wish they had known about in their younger days. That’s a very worthwhile topic for discussion. The making of discoveries is one of the great pleasures of venturing out into shadowy territory, especially lands that are so little explored or even mentioned in our times, dominated as they are by multiculturalism, identity politics, postmodern writing, and the endlessly varied forms of Romanticism that continue to flourish.

Finally, on this general topic of forgotten works and obscure discoveries, I recently stumbled across a blog entitled “Outmoded Authors,” which has been having some fun giving readers a chance to revive interest in authors whose work has gone “out of fashion,” whatever that vague phrase might mean precisely. I can’t quite fathom the selection criteria being employed, since it seems that D.H. Lawrence, G.K. Chesterton, and a few others on the blog’s list are hardly outmoded authors in any of the several senses of that phrase of which I can conceive. The blog can be found at:


As you might realize, Winters was very interested in the revival of outmoded AND GREAT authors, as were Donald Stanford and others in the Wintersian movement. The discovery of great but forgotten or overlooked poems and novels is one of the chief pleasures of reading Winters. For example, he was one of the first critics to tout Edith Wharton as one of our finest novelists -- though she came to be considered a major novelist in last quarter of the 20th century because of the influence of other critics. Donald Stanford plugged the work of Caroline Gordon, wife of Allen Tate; she has written several exceptionally fine novels, but remains frustratingly obscure. I encourage Wintersians to write to this blog about overlooked or forgotten works, poems, novels, or plays, that adhere in some significant degree to some form of modern classicism, Wintersian or otherwise, which in itself, as you realize, is so outmoded that it was never “in mode” in my lifetime or in a dozen generations before mine. (As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I also hope to hear, quite simply, about the favorite or most important books of classicists.)

No comments: