Monday, July 13, 2015

A concluding truck for belated pubs

So H. L. Mencken thinks English teachers are dumb? Take this, H. L. Mencken:

Transumption is the trope of a trope, or technically the metonymy of a metonymy. That is, it tends to be a figure that substitutes an aspect of a previous figure for that figure. Imagistically, transumption from Milton through the Romantics to the present tends to manifest itself in terms of earliness substituting for lateness, and more often than not to be the figure that concludes poems. Translated into psychoanalytic terms, transumption is either the psychic defense of introjection (identification) or of projection (refusal of identity), just as metaphor translates into the defense of sublimation, or hyperbole into that of repression. The advantage of transumption as a concluding trope for belated poems is that it achieves a kind of fresh priority or earliness, but always at the expense of the present or living moment.
I first came across this passage (from an essay on the poet Geoffrey Hill) as an undergraduate in 1977. It has stuck in my mind ever since as an example of what might be called unfriendly opacity. (On at least one occasion it was a great hit read aloud in tipsy company.) I like legitimate difficulty in poetry and prose. This passage though seems meant to produce an academic version of shock and awe. A master is speaking. And he need not offer a single example.

There are parts of academic life I will never miss.

[My Mac’s Dictation did a fine job with this passage: “a concluding truck for belated pubs.” Regarding difficulty: say, John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.”]