I drank twenty ounces of water today in one slurp after a walk to the library in the 100-degree weather. I needed City air conditioning to bolster my research on Helen Vendler, Controversial Literary Critic.
Yesterday I posed a question concerning artists and God's ear--do we poets have a divine Talleyrand helping open diplomatic channels or special angels trumpeting our needs? Vendler thinks not.
Having read my post, two poets, socially networked, duked it out. Female-pro-Vendler; male-against. Leigh was enthusiastic about Ms. Vendler's appreciation of prosody; Jason found her limited. "Conservative hack" is what he wrote.
I'd wondered if Ms. Vendler hadn't been cowed by the academy, given the entrenched maleness of the Ivies in the late forties and early fifties. I found an interview on an NEH site.
Yes, a male academic told her point blank she wasn't welcome in Harvard graduate studies. Her childhood was high culture, no surprise, and I didn't get the feeling she ever rebelled--not against the culture, but the psychic knee jerk against mother and father and Mother and Father. She was raised Catholic. No word on her husband or son.
For whatever reasons, she accepted the received form of Who Is Worthwhile in Contemporary Literature. It's as though she chose to review only Oscar nominees instead of going risky and searching out art house. That is not necessarily her fault. She didn't have a teacher to show her the freaky.
She's no Elaine Showalter, über feminist, when it comes to daring. I mentally note Read More Showalter. A freshman comp. class I taught a few years ago was delighted with Showalter's essay on homoeroticism in Jekyll/Hyde.
I don't know that Vendler claims to be more than she is, well read and interested in poetry. She is absolutely a pioneer and each generation of freaky women should be grateful. I know I am.