BMCR 1991.04.02

Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, 3rd series, 1.1 (Winter 1990)

Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, 3rd series, 1.1 (Winter 1990). Trustees of Boston University. Subscription: $35 per year (Institution); $19 per year (Individual); $12 per year (Student).

This is now the third revival of Arion. The journal began in Austin, as a publication of the Dean of the Graduate School, University of Texas, in the Spring of 1962, and continued there through the Winter of 1970 (actually that Winter issue was published in 1972) as vols. 1-9, no. 4. It moved, along with John Silber and some of the Texas Classics faculty to Boston University, where it appeared as the New Series, beginning in the Spring of 1973 and lasting until the Spring of 1976 as NS v. 1-3, no. 4. During these periods it was a quarterly. The editorial from the first issue is instructive: The editorial statement noted that the study of classics was endangered by two groups. Those who engaged in scholarship (here called “philology”) and by those engaged in criticism (belle-lettrists). No longer are classicists involved in the Common Pursuit (the editor’s capitals). 1 What the new journal was seeking was the creation of a “tertium quid” between scholarship and criticism, taking into account the developments in criticism in the twentieth century, and extending the study of classics to all areas of modern cultural life. As the editor put it, “to define precisely what lies at this center is not our purpose here: whether it is called applied scholarship or general cultural criticism…” Although the editor objects to the criticism of the appreciative kind, no examples are offered, and the animus is directed to philologists who are exemplified by Denys Page (Regius Professor of Greek, Cambridge—the editor is careful to include his title). Professor Page who “can publish editions of Aeschylus and Sappho, in which he can show us that he has little understanding of the role of metaphor in poetry or the nature of poetic speech.” Two examples of this horror are referred to in a footnote: Page’s note in his edition of Aeschylus Agamemnon to line 58 where Page is unaware of the notions of tenor and vehicle in metaphor; and his dismissal (in Sappho and Alcaeus) of the comparison of Anactoria to a military host. I must observe that Sappho and Alcaeus, published in 1955, is still the only book in English that offers a full study and commentary on the extant fragments. It may be, as someone suggested to me, that as so often a bad book preempts the field, but surely it says something about our discipline that three and a half decades have passed and no one has taken up the challenge. Looking back at this editorial statement today first with the eye of a text critic (aka philologist), I note that the phrase “Common Pursuit” comes from T.S. Eliot’s essay, “The Function of Criticism,” written in 1923, and used as the title of a book by F.R. Leavis in 1952. 2 The same notion of the “common pursuit” pervades a much longer essay by Carne-Ross that in a sense serves as the editorial opening the new series of Arion [NS 1 (Spring 1973): 7-66]. Carne-Ross’s essay, however, unlike its predecessor, is predicated on the new situation in intellectual life in the United States, that the university is the only place where literature and the humanities are studied and appreciated. The mention of Leavis and the common pursuit makes me realize how much Arion, at least in its first two manifestations, reflected some of the aims and ideals of Leavis’ journal Scrutiny. Indeed one of the constant contributors to Arion in its early years was H. A. Mason, whose work appeared in Scrutiny already in the 1930s. In a retrospective collection of essays and reviews (The Importance of Scrutiny, NY: George W. Stewart, 1948), the editor, Eric Bentley, offers remarks in his preface that sound much like the editorials mentioned above, “…[P]rofessionals are chiefly either scholars who write solely on the background of literature or belle trists who skate—often very dexterously—over its surface. The professor who delivers a daily literary lecture and the ‘critic’ who writes a weekly literary article are usually people who have learned to master the occasion by avoiding the subject” (xx). Leavis’ doctrine, he continues (xxii) assumes “that literature means something, that the meaning or content is bound up with style or form, and may therefore be discovered by the trained sensibility.”

The editorial statement of Arion 3rd Series [1.1 (Winter 1990): 5-8] wishes the journal to continue to represent the same tertium quid but acknowledges that the two poles are vanishing: philology is dead or dying (“One must be hesitant about attacking people who do know some Latin or Greek at a time when so few know any at all” [6]), and postmodern criticism is hermetic (“We will not be coerced into conforming … to the ‘new’ metaphysic and ideological absolutism of contemporary theory” [6]).

But the most striking difference between now and then, and which again shows the way in which the dead hand of the university now presses down on literary study is seen in the “Advice to Prospective Contributors” in the original and the third series. In the first issue of the original series, there are some 6 brief suggestions, of which two are noteworthy:

The third series offers: “We assume, in our contributors, a marked preference for primary literature and a command of the secondary literature so easy that it does not need displaying. (Endnotes, where required at all, should be brief—and readable).” In fact, I already noted, in a talk given at the 100th anniversary meeting of the APA in 1969, that by then Arion had succumbed to the practice of extensive annotation. 4 It is symptomatic of our times that Most’s and Rosand’s pieces which started life as lectures and Golder’s which sounds like a reworked lecture all required this apparatus.

The third series states: “Greek and Latin should be translated. Longer passages from modern languages also need to be translated.” The new version presupposes more pedantry and more ignorance on the part of its readers, who may not need a trot for the classical texts, but certainly cannot be expected to read French, German, or Italian.

Finally, the program statement of Arion in 1962 began “Arion is a journal of imaginative criticism of the classics.” The third series begins its program statement with: “Criticism. Work that fuses learning and imagination will distinguish the new Arion.” There is not a professor or graduate student who could regard the new statement as exceptionable. The former statement is revolutionary; behind the latter, we can hear the piping notes of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.”

It is probably not fair to consider the contents of the first issue as necessarily indicative of how the journal will appear later on. The articles were obviously solicited, which gives the issue the air of a Festschrift, for which contributors commonly supply something they had lying around in the bottom drawer (what the Germans call Schubladenmaterial). I have noted with a double asterisk pieces by the current editors. **Herbert Golder, “Sophocles’ Ajax…” This essay is a good solid reading of the play. It is one of many such available, and is on the level of a lecture to an undergraduate audience, or like a talk on Gilbert Highet’s old radio show. Most of it could have been written by a good graduate student in comparative literature who knew how to pick up the testimonia from someone’s preface (the bit from Libanius at the end, despite the fancy endnote is clearly not original, nor treated critically for what it was worth; the reference to Phrynichus should have been cut—too cute). **Glenn Most: “Canon Fathers…” (the author rather ham-handedly emphasizes the pun). When a paper begins with a French quotation untranslated I know I’m supposed to be impressed. When the aphorism quoted is banal and trite, I’m less so, especially when I’m treated in text and notes to a display of irrelevant learning about how much French Most knows. Once we get by this, there is a lively and speedy romp through various views of the canon over the centuries. Here and there we find the odd point that might lead to further analysis. But the whole betrays its origin as a lecture and as a “Festschrift” kind of piece. Yet I must grant that Most has an agreeable style, and it must have been a pleasure to hear this lecture, as is always true of a performance by him. We are encouraged to think about the questions raised and to go with the pursuit, as uncommon as the paths that Most directs us to may be. Along these lines, Most’s observation that canons are a social construct leads me to ask if Most’s restriction (like that of others who write on the subject these days) of canons to literary texts is sufficient. Surely there is a historical canon as well, which privileges Alexander over Tiglath-pilezer IV (indeed Greece over the ancient Near East, in spite of our discipline being called “Altertumswissenschaft”) and a scientific canon which refuses to privilege Arabian mathematics and science. One could, I suppose, argue that the historical canon is dependent on the literary one, but to say that in the case of science would be to betray the scientific illiteracy of most classicists. One might also note here the complete absence of Greek scientific texts from the canon. **David Rosand: “Ekphrasis…” This is the first of a series of discussions in this issue of matters concerned in one way or another with rhetoric. Like Most’s, this essay began as a university lecture. It is more about Renaissance painting than about ekphrasis, and the classical material is not well known to the author. Since he has taken the trouble to include many endnotes, it is a shame that he seems totally unaware of the work done on ancient ekphrasis beyond the brief encyclopedia article of Glanville Downey. The essay is misplaced in this journal, and clearly belongs in a more technical periodical. If Professor Rosand is interested in learning how to write about painting for a learned but not professional audience, he might look at Roger Shattuck, “Art and Ideas: Art at First Sight,” Salmagundi 89-89 (Fall 1990-Winter 1991) 37-46. (I might note in passing that Shattuck was one of the founding fathers of the original Arion.) **D.S. Carne-Ross: “Jocasta’s Divine Head…” This is a sad piece to read in the 90s. Carne-Ross seems to be redoing what he has done for years, in the same scrutinizing Poundean vein he has always mined. Lots of name-dropping, some scattered explication of texts chosen from hither and yon, with a cavalier carelessness about sources (in note 23 he cites John Hollander’s Vision and Resonance, but idly ends the citation with “p. ?” and adds “This sentence undoubtedly occurs somewhere in Hollander’s book, but to my regret I cannot run it down.” Since in another note he indicates that he’s a friend of Hollander’s, I wonder that he couldn’t telephone from Boston to New Haven to find out.) It is a shame that collegial pietas should have led the editor to include this. On the other hand, I should note that the old-fashioned quality of this essay may appeal to many readers, as it did to Roger Kimball (TLS, March 8, 1991, 25). **Anne Carson: “‘Just for the Thrill…'”. An article that starts with an irrelevant citation of a song of Ray Charles, and in the same paragraph includes a sentence that goes “That the corpus of ancient lyric verse represents an open force field of mimetic energies becomes immediately clear to anyone who scrutinizes examples of its texts with appropriate care,” just isn’t worth reading. I remembered a story told about Stephen Orgel who, when confronted with a student paper, containing that sort of writing, quit reading, set a double line in the margin, and wrote “struck out here.” It’s really too bad, because I liked Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet, but Carson may have let the good reviews of that go to her head. Kimball is even more harsh on this piece (loc. cit.). Daniel Selden: “Classics and Contemporary Criticism.” This is a talk delivered at a Columbia College graduation some six years ago and is dedicated to Norman O. Brown. It suggests in a quick and breezy way that the problems Arion addressed in its first issue still remain. Selden blames them on the history of classical scholarship since the Enlightenment, which he seems to have boned up from a couple of articles by R. Steven Turner. He ends up with a complete misunderstanding of the positions of Hermann and Boeckh (not hard to do if you aren’t trained in the German tradition). Predictably, for the late nineteenth century, we have the usual suspects lined up together: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud. This is followed by the expected Foucault and Lacan citations. To Selden’s credit, he took the trouble to look at the lectures on rhetoric by Nietzsche that Sander Gilman recently translated. He did not, however, take the trouble to read anything else from the Nachlass of Nietzsche’s stay in Basel (available in the Musarion edition, if not yet in the edition now in progress). He seems to end up by saying that the program set out by the editors of this journal is an impossibility, and maybe we should all go back to reading “ancient texts.” The piece is extensively annotated and seems typical of the sort of article that the early Arion wanted to avoid. It suggests that Horace was right about the nature of studies when he said in an ancient text, naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. The translations that follow from Alcman, Horace, Propertius are the sort of imitations that Lowell taught us how to do and to appreciate. It is hardly worth noting the mistranslations in such ephemera. I only muse to ask why is only poetry translated these days? Surely it would be worth someone’s while to offer us a speech of Thucydides or even a letter of Cicero now and again. But then you couldn’t be so self-indulgent as these attempts. The book reviews involve a lot of intertextuality. **Stanley Rosen reviews Ferrari’s Listening to the Cicadas; Lowell Edmonds reviews Stanley Rosen’s The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry; Brian Vickers reviews two books on “Christian rhetoric”; R. Bracht Branham reviews inter alia Brian Vicker’s In Defence of Rhetoric. Charles Segal reviews **Bernard Knox’s recent book of essays. Charles Segal appears in every new journal like the mandatory bottle of champagne that is smacked against the bow of every new ship, a talisman of good fortune. Autolycus I, a letter from Ted Turner’s father to him when the young man decided to study classics, must have seemed funny to J.P. Sullivan (who supplied it), probably because it is the sort of view of Americans that the English still love so much, even after years enjoying our shores and our hospitality. I only wonder at the knowledge of German of the editor who tells us that this section is “a collection of revealing quotations from the Literatur” (8). There is a piece of advice to contributors in the third series that did not appear in the first, “to ensure anonymity in the review process, the author’s name should appear only on the cover page, and nowhere else in the body of the article or the footnotes (self-references should be camouflaged).” Roger Kimball properly observes, “…for a journal which seeks to declare its independence from current academic fashions, engaging in the process of peer reviews is to submit the contents of the magazine to the very set of opinions it is attempting to criticize…For a journal like Arion to succeed in its important aim, it needs to be shaped by a single critical intelligence, not a committee, and certainly not the prevailing ethos of the ‘profession.'” Alas, Mr. Kimball, I must tell you, “Mistah Gildersleeve, he dead.” Notes 1. To understand the editorial statement in Vol. 1. No. 1 (Spring 1962): 3-7, it may be useful to offer its intellectual context. I set out the following books of the period to remind some and enlighten others on where Arion and its editors were, in today’s parlance, coming from:

Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Middletown, CN: Wesleyan UP, 1959. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques. Paris 1955; (American version 1961); selections published in Encounter 16 (Feb.-April 1961). Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon P, 1956. New York Review of Books, Special issue: Vol. 1.1 Feb. 25, 1963. Scrutiny (Cambridge, England) 1.1 (May 1932)-19.4 (Oct. 1953).

An overview of the situation in classical studies in England and the United States from 1939 to 1965 appears in Niall Rudd’s introduction to his selections of essays and reviews from Arion Ser. 1, 1-6, Essays on Classical Literature Selected from Arion, Cambridge and New York: Heffer and Barnes & Noble Books, 1972, vii-xvii. 2. Leavis quotes the Eliot passage in his preface, and adds, “‘The common pursuit of true judgment’: that is how the critic should see his business, and what it should be for him. His perceptions and judgments are his, or they are nothing; but, whether or not he has consciously addressed himself to co-operative labour, they are inevitably collaborative. Collaboration makes take the form of disagreement, and one is grateful to the critic whom one has found worth disagreeing with” ( The Common Pursuit, London: Chatto & Windus, 1962, v). 3. Steve Nimis may have had such advice in mind when he wrote “Fussnoten: Das Fundament der Wissenschaft,”Arethusa 17 (1984) 105-134. 4. In the current issue, Golder’s article of 23 pages has 22 endnotes in smaller type taking up another 2 1/3 pages; Most’s a long opening note half a page (in smaller type), and for 24 pages of text 35 endnotes in 2 pages of smaller type; Rosand’s 23 pages need 48 endnotes in smaller type taking 5 1/2 pages. Indeed, Anne Carson’s article is the only one without endnotes. 5. It is curious that of the six articles 2/3 of them have scholarly “jokes” in their titles, followed by a colon after which there is scholarly jargon. This is a trend to note and to shun. It is a nasty practice that article writers are now taking over from authors of books. Indeed five of the eight books reviewed in this issue use this device. The worst is probably Listening to the Cicadas, but Rhetorics of Reason and Desire comes in a close second. I suppose the editors of BMCR might offer a suitable reward to someone who could guess the subjects addressed by these books without having seen the sub-titles. I myself would have guessed the first to be some translations of Anacreontea; the second a self-help book like Co-Dependent No More.

Brown, Norman O. Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Middletown, CN: Wesleyan UP, 1959.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques. Paris 1955; (American version 1961); selections published in Encounter 16 (Feb.-April 1961).

Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon P, 1956.

New York Review of Books, Special issue: Vol. 1.1 Feb. 25, 1963.

Scrutiny (Cambridge, England) 1.1 (May 1932)-19.4 (Oct. 1953).