Wednesday, February 08, 2012


"This defensiveness, in contrast to the defiance of Callimachus and Catullus, is due, of course, to specifically Augustan pressures." (J.P. Sullivan)

Sullivan calls it "the grand refusal". It is a theme that is found in various forms, in Callimachus, in Horace, and of course Propertius: the theme of refusing to write an epic poem full of what Pound translated as "Martian generalities" and "Roman reputations". The specific refusal, even, to write the tale of how the Emperor is a descendant of the noble Trojans.

Which should remind us of Palinurus who, under a particular "pressure of reality", refused to, let us say, participate in an epic poem.

In Sicily Æneas celebrates the arrival with elaborate games. In these—although they include various sailing contests—Palinurus himself does not join and lets the other pilots fight them out. One can imagine him brooding over the storm and his leader's conduct while the noisy sport proceeds around him. Finally, to prevent the men leaving, the women set fire to the ships and four are destroyed. (Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, p. 130)

Later, Connolly will suggest that Palinurus's falling into the sea was not "as accidental as Æneas supposed" (p. 132). Which, finally, should remind us of Tony Tost's "I Am Not the Pilot". Whether or not it is, authentically "flarf", let's leave aside. This poem, like other Google-sculpted works, seems to be a performative refusal or a refusal performed: the refusal to even write a poem. Not under the current (ca. 2003) pressures.

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