ALMS FOR OBLIVION by Edward Dahlberg


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Esquire recently called critic Edward Dahlberg one of the Beat Saints; the inhabitant of an underground reputation groundworked from the '20's, he is most lauded ""out-of-office"" literary wards; his jeremiads against the ""in-people""- Eliot, Pound, Graves- are notoriously savage and silly; he is a ""real character"" and like all such he has alternately been hauled off as a crank or held up as a genius. But his prose, however you look at it, is tremendous; larded with Classical and Biblical references, spilling over with silver-tongued words (""atrabilious"", ""gibbous"", ""helebore""), glutted with gold-minted phrases (Coleridge's ""lazy, fat-witted ear"", Kant's ""olympian rash""), its style- whatever the debt to Browne, Johnson or Lawrence- is now like no other living writer's, and the collection of seventeen random essays here shows him at top foaming form, from niftily nasty recollections of Bohemia and New Masses days to frowningly friendly remarks about Crane, Dreiser, Anderson, McAlmon, Tate and Bourne, along with a few forays through Aztec civilization. The underlying doom-song, present in all his writings, is the perversion of American literature from Mather onwards: it is mother-wrong, not father-right. Dahlberg as denouncer is rather like rson Welles, trying on beards and buckskin, upstaging everybody, having his head and enjoying it. What the dry, demanding Oxbridge boys could do to him! But he's a curious, cavalier delight.

Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota