Thursday, December 8, 2011

"displaying signs of triviality"

The surface of "The Book of Ephraim" is so engaging, page by page, that we might be excused for spending most of our time last night on it. To be sure, from time to time, we'd make heroic efforts of plunging to the depths, but somehow like the unsuccessful philosopher "cheerfulness was always breaking in." There is a passage, however, from Helen Vendler's review of Divine Comedies (in which "Ephraim" first appeared) that I meant to read last night and failing to will quote now:

By taking conversation—from lovers' exchange of vows to friends' sentences in intimacy—as the highest form of human expression (in contrast to the rhapsode's hymns, the orator's harangues, or the initiate's hermetic colloquies with the divine) Merrill becomes susceptible to charges of frivolity, at least from readers with a taste only for the solemn. But this espousal of the conversational as the ultimate in linguistic achievement is a moral choice, one which locates value in the human and everyday rather than in the transcendent.

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