Sunday, November 06, 2016

Immortality and Revolution

TLS Aug 19 and 16 2016

from Hal Jensen's review of H. J. Jackson's Those Who Write for Immortality:

At the end of his third collection of Odes, right at the "back" of the bookroll, Horace placed a poem which, for 2,500 years, has remained the locus classicus of poetry's unique powers: "exegi monumentum aere perennius" (I have completed a monument more lasting than bronze - although every word requires a scholar's note). More durable than bronze, higher than the pyramids, immune to time and the elements. Horace's poetry guarantees that he will not wholly die ("non omnis moriar").

How quick we all were to buy into that one. How quick to forget what we found at the back of Horace's next bookroll, the Epistles, which appeared in 20 BC, just three years after the Odes. Here, the concluding poem is addressed to the very book (liber) in our hands. It warns of the realities of public life: once out in the world, there is no coming back; you'll be dumped on a shelf when the next big thing comes along; your pristine (pumiced) look will be soiled by grubby fingers; if the moths don't get you, you'll end up in some poky outpost being used to teach kids their elementary lessons.

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Her main finding is that merit is far from being the primary determinant of long-term literary fame; it is just one among many contributing factors. What counts, above all, is the ability to attract multiple varying audiences. Jackson divides this feature into celebrity, popularity, critical appeal and influence: get all four, like Wordsworth, and hit the jackpot.

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from Maria Golia's review of Rachel Aspden's Generation Revolution: On the front line between tradition and change in the Middle East:

People are willing to relinquish freedoms and uphold paternalist tradition not least because doing so has, for generations, enabled their survival and cultural continuity, where culture itself is the vehicle for reiterating and reinforcing tradition. The degree to which their leaders' actions to ensure stability and security have lately only generated greater fear, injustice and violence, here as elsewhere, remain unacknowledged. Only by holding these mechanisms to the light with close questioning can society begin to break with them.

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