Priest, Beast or Feast?

(Another couple of paragraphs found among last month’s notes.)

Critics tend to the priestly; writers to the beastly. A happy few prefer the feastly, but many will, unchallenged, revert to stereotypes as though to membership of outmoded castes – one trying to encompass and explain the cosmos; the other recounting how they hunted, gathered, or gave birth to the experience of said cosmos.

At certain points members of one group are called on or call on themselves to perform the task or usurp the status of the other. Critic-writers promptly substitute a complete theoretical model for mere aesthetic consistency; writer-critics are lured from their default egotism into actual magus-like narcissism, and from the exploratory or expository into otiose preciosity.

A few figures – Coleridge, Rilke, Auden; Montaigne, Nietszche, Benjamin – gather at the table (be it high, kitchen or captain’s) or indeed street-food stall of crossover, able to do, in some sense they’ve had to devise themselves (and thereby creating a new, more convivial category) both.

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About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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