THE SEAMLESS WEB by Stanley Burnshaw


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This is a brave and searching approach to the physiological nature of poetry, an unusually wide-ranging discussion of the biological and aesthetic claims of literature, a daring attempt at resolving the conflict between, what Professor Burnshaw calls, ""primal and civilized thinking."" In one sense, the matter is simple, or at least familiar, echoing Eliot's famous remark on the concrete sensuality of art: ""Racine or Donne looked into a good deal more than the heart. One must look into the cerebral cortex, the nervous system, and the digestive tracts."" The real poet, says Eliot, is ""more primitive, as well as more civilized, than his contemporaries,"" and, adds Burnshaw, he is ""one whose imagination can draw him towards the very depths of his creature nature--and his reader with him."" Here is the crux of the book. Working on a three-pronged front--""language-thinking,"" ""creature-knowledge,"" ""artexperience""--the author is fundamentally concerned, not only with who the poet is, or how the poem works, but also, and more importantly, with what poetry ""can do for the human creature,"" both in fulfilling the ""desire-needs"" of the poet, and those of his species. This is a difficult task, and only someone with Burnshaw's redoubtable erudition and equally commanding sensitivity (being a poet himself, his insights often have an intuitive rightness, even when cloudy), would seem a worthwhile contender. Naturally, Burnshaw's argument, densely interwoven with references from the humanities (Dante to Mallarme) and the sciences (Freud, Sherrington, Chomsky), more than occasionally overflows with its bulging ""resonances-reverberations,"" not infrequently innundating the thesis and the reader. Still, this is just in so adventurous an undertaking.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1969
Publisher: Braziller