Monday, January 4, 2016

The Egoist, January 1916

Something's come between Dora Marsden and the editorial contribution this week--perhaps her ill health? Whatever the reason, we get a rare treat in a full editorial from Harriet Shaw Weaver, usually silent, at this point the force behind what actually gets published in The Egoist. Weaver's essay should probably be required reading in the standard Intro to Theory courses in graduate schools, because it is a theory of theories in the humanities. Weaver's essay doesn't contain as many mind-bending twists as a Marsden piece, but it is a sophisticated look at the way theories come to dominate readers, who rely on their favorite theories to interpret all things, regardless of whether the theory is applicable or not. 

After arguing that theories are properly means to an end, but often become "pets or hobbies" instead, Weaver shows how the indeterminacy of language combines with rhetorical power to tend to channel people to the theories they already know: "And since the weapons of the warfare of beliefs are language, the shifting meanings of words, the fluidity and mistiness of connotation of abstract terms give the protector of any favoured theory his chance... Without consciously going such lengths, the propagandist nevertheless becomes skilful at so manipulating words and phrases as to confuse the issue, and he actually measures his success by his ability finally to create a dilemma from which the only apparent way of escape is by adoption of his theory" (2). Weaver moves from this to a keenly-observed point: the very revelatory power of a theory can lead to it creating obscurity later, as the ease which a theory solves problems can lead to it being applied where it is inappropriate, or even can lead to it being applied to prove contradictory points. 

Weaver uses the above to draw a distinction between The Egoist and its contemporary journals, which are more shaded by political programs and theories: "THE EGOIST is wedded to no belief from which it is unwilling to be divorced." That alone makes it superior to the likes of The New Age. I've added this essay to my syllabus for the class I'm teaching next quarter, and placed it early. There's a lot packed into these two pages, but Shaw's lucid writing makes this accessible enough for a 200 level course, I think (and hope). 

Quick Notes:

Leigh Henry is back to contributing essays on music, albeit from his prison camp in Germany. This week he reviews the Fantasiste poets, and is full of high praise for them. 

John Cournos reviews Fyodor Sologub, and a few satirical stories by Sologub appear in the issue.

Richard Aldington reviews book reviewers very negatively, but delightfully for me bases his criticism on the fact that the public only likes things that are one hundred years old, using Keats as his example of an unpopular poet who is now too popular a century later. 

H.D. contributes "The Cliff Temple." 

F.S. Flint reviews Amy Lowell's translation, Six French Poets. Mostly kindly. 

R.B. Kerr writes in recommending that we read Mother Earth, the journal edited by Emma Goldman. I found a digitization here, maybe I'll take a look at it soon. 

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