Thursday, May 14, 2009

A chrestomathy for Reginald Shepherd.


Our modern culture, with its acceptance if not worship of fracture, recreates itself through predictable metaphors. Archipelago remains a key word in the Science of Evolution, Diaspora a major word within the Social Sciences. In Science Fiction, the glittering word is chrestomathy.

A chrestomathy of Ray Bradbury.
A chrestomathy of Samuel R Delany.


Reginald’s Shepherds Orpheus in the Bronx includes a “formal hommage” to Delany. In method and content, “Shadows and Light Moving on Water” returns to Delany’s essays, “Shadows” and “Shadow and Ash”. It is an experiment in a new mode…


Page 132 explains the boundaries of the words chrestomathy. Greek: “Useful”+”To learn”. A “selection of passages” gathered to help learning. The term implies a scattering of thoughts and a gathering together. That view of criticism grows out of Pound at the turn of the last century: “I gather the limbs of Osiris”. (TO BE RETURNED TO). Chrestomathy implies a different view of critical methodology: a sort of connected looseness. Chrestomathy allows spaces to exist, does not aim for a total, totalitarian and comprehensive criticism. In a way, a chrestomathy says “Here is my way, what I have learnt”. The body has holes…I recover what I can from experience to bring spirit to life. The Afterlife of the text!


The most interesting criticism is that which show its holes. The least interesting is that which hides its workings and merely relies on expert statements for validation. A chrestomathy asks that the reader validate the notes…think them through; not surprising, then, that Reginald Shepherd would take this route. It is criticism as process.


“A selection of passages”. That phrase (quoted by Reginald Shepherd) must have resonated for him for The Master of Chrestomathy in the field of poetics is Duncan…his open poem of life created through his fear of closure and death…is PASSAGES, “Tribal Memories” to “Whose”. The lover is always in love with death. Isis and Osiris unite in the Afterlife, a place in which Truth and Justice are images of criticism. (Not Beauty?)


13. “A primary question in all Delany’s work: does one impose form on experience or does one recognise form in and coax form out of experience?” As Reginald Shepherd writes, criticism is formed out of experience…of life…of reading.


Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, Andrew, for introducing me to the term, chrestomathy. It does speak to the spirit of the age. It makes me see better what I am doing, but also yearn to be something different.

Eshuneutics said...

Hi, Jee, yes, I can see why you would like this word: might like it even more as this post progresses. Perhaps.