It struck me recently that there is a direct correlation, perhaps even an ideal relationship, between the state of my thumos and my wish list of books. At times it seems nothing I intend to read will cleave the frozen sea, so I cut and slash to its bare essentials. Fiction particularly slides, is intentionally forgotten, often as the voices of human affairs and their intertextual associations become too striking.
One must read something—where else can we escape ourselves—and this time it is D J Enright that lent me his axe, in the form of his genuinely witty and extremely intelligent The Alluring Problem: An Essay on Irony. It may sound a little like a dull undergraduate seminar, but is an oblique form of literary criticism masquerading as a study of irony as style in literature. It is a capricious amalgam that includes some illuminating writing on Proust and Freud, without getting bogged down in academic theorising. We are in safer hands with critics of Enright’s time as they were invariably better read and it is a joy to follow their untethered intellect as it capers back and forth across the literary ages. Somewhat comforted and revived by Enright, I tracked down his trilogy, memoir and commonplace books: Interplay, Play Resumed and Injury Time, and also a couple of the recent volumes of Auden’s Complete Works, prose from the 50s and 60s.
It is to Enright’s gently sardonic musings that I credit the expansion of my wish list of fiction, laying aside the aridness of combing news and social media for the latest play of politics in which each side understands neither the other or itself. As Winnie reflects in Happy Days, ‘One loses one’s classics’ so after breaking away reluctantly from another reading of Dante, I’ve turned to Luis de Góngora, “the Spanish Homer,” and his two-thousand line poem The Solitudes, translated by Edith Grossman. It is beautiful, quite difficult, and shall be my companion for some days to come.