William Empson November 11 1970

Box 35 Wabasso
November 11 1970

Mr. Empson! 

It has annoyed me, seriously , that I have been forced to put off, and off, from day to day, completing my response to your letter of August 25th. My difficulties in getting done what there is for me to get done are quite large; I ask you to excuse me this prolonging of my responding, now on the way towards being a three months of the matter. [To which I add, of the finishing ‘the letter’ excuse my not typing this for easy reading.]

I go to your citing of something written by Mr. Graves in 1922. I think I have already indicated (I am not pausing to look back to what I have already written to you) that I consider this citing of passages from pre-Survey times of writing of Mr. Graves an evasive performance (‘evasive’ is inadequate as a characterization – but, to get on with my commenting.)

You present, to substantiate your claim that your credit-giving acknowledged to be the basis of your Seven Types procedures was really a cover for indebtedness to turn from it to earlier dates’ evidence from writings of his of 1922 and 1926, by which time you had the advantage of observing, as you put  it, ‘the full process’. In this backing away from your behaviour of a credit-giver of 1930 into a story of how you were gathering together from the thinking of others’ background for your theory of ambiguity, you get back to thin pickings. In your dependence on the thinking of others, on external substance, for your proceedings, you have some resemblance to Mr. Graves. The rather cock-eyed identification of the perfumes as perfumes [Keats' St. Agnes' Eve - ed.] and as ambitions and the conflict of them with fate, etc., is a juvenile literalness as to perfumes amplified with the loosest sort of loading on of psychological analysis of the temper that was beginning to be current, and literarily current, at the time of the creation of this, by your reconstruction, archetype of your method. As to your ‘dazzle’ point [Webster, Duchess of Malfi - ed.] This display of ingenuity of interpretation of the intended suggestions of the word is matched in the stuff of many a standard students’ aid for Course X or P or A or Z in English. It is conventional interpretationlism of a kind you need not go to the ingenious Mr. Graves of 1922 for; you can find it (as he found it) in ancestral literary criticism in and outside of footnotes. Both his comments and yours on his, relating to the passage, are soft-minded, and not at all the point or of the thought-quality of the Survey exercise – not exemplificative of the kind of process of which that consists. (Just what that process is I shall record. You may not perceive the bearing of what I say on this self-justifying argumentation of yours, or on the uses to which you tried to put the process. But I shall have it on record, have the description made, for future amplification, at least. I should like it, indeed, for you to see what kind of web you have woven, and got yourself caught up in – and others, attracted by the sounds of self-congratulation coming from there. I mean this without any play, though I may seem to be speaking sharply. I’d like it if you demolished that web because I think it would be a good thing to have happen; I think you'd like it when it was done.)

Dazzle. There are not two processes of dazzling, nor does the word do duty for two emotions at once. First: we have, simply, here, an intransitive verb stating the undergoing of the eyes of an indistinctness of vision of the order caused by, or associable with, brightness shining into them. And that statement, a brevity by itself, in a line of three distinct brevities, stops there. Mr. Graves messes around with it to load it with a double connotation in order to swell the magnificence of the line, a connotation of a double emotion, also thus mucking up the meaning of ‘dazzle’ with tear-made blurriness, and also postulating an absurd possibility of a two-in-one instantaneity of eyes experiencing at once a vision-disturbing  for the shining and vision-disturbing tears-spurt. This is unworthy appreciation-of-poetry comment, clumsy fine-points pointing-out, crude literary sentimentality; I call it unworthy in respect to the line – the line deserves better. There are no complexities here needing elucidation. The three brevities are a clean dramatic sequence that any reader equal to the reading of the work can deal with responsively. Cover her face. Plain enough: he can’t endure looking more upon it. Mine eyes dazzle: Oh – beautiful. Only an explainer-spoiler could complicate this with a making the speaker ring in a reference to his grief, to share the moment of agonizing sense of her beauty. He is not mentioning the agony. – that’s Mr. Graves, who not only mentions it but lends it tears. She died young. Mr. Graves tampers with the clean sequence by paying back the carefully separated third element into a second – he has the line swallowing up itself. Webster keeps a decent emotionally solemn pace. The fact of her youthfulness does not enter into the movement until the last step. It is not an overflow from the second utterance-unit of the line, it is the next: it is not of utterance-unit 2, not of the thinking of it (the speaker is not just swimming around in emotions, his mind is at work, he is speaking, he is feeling at rational pace). The surge of consciousness ‘how young – and dead’ comes as the line’s finality.

Mr. Graves’ in the 1922 matter quoted has his mind on tricks of the poetic trade. Especially in the Webster line is this point of view irrelevant. The mood, the intent, the point of view, of the Survey method are radically different from that of interest in tricky managements. The concern of the passage there so fatefully attractive to you is not mechanistic management. I see that I cannot proceed longer to-day in writing to you. I shall go on at my earliest; and I shall come to an account of that passage, in its difference from such performances as you cite (after commenting on the 1926 quotation you presented); and perhaps you will see what you have mistaken for what.

I am, with a serious promise to take this further,

Laura (Riding) Jackson