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This report is taken from PN Review 183, Volume 35 Number 1, September - October 2008.

Letter from Belgrade James Sutherland-Smith

A hundred years or more after its zenith of both dottiness and influence we don't practise the symbolist habit of scrying a poem for its hidden cosmic significance. This could be due to scepticism about whether divine or magical forces control the universe. Alternatively, it may be due to the current opinion that language can never denote exactly and therefore even the smallest linguistic sign is open to interpretation or negotiation, given the transactional nature of discourse. In consequence, some poet-critics have got into the lazy habit of labelling language as treacherous or corrupt. These armchair Baudelaires never bother to indicate what honourable language might be or what pure language is: the noise angels might make, perhaps? That is, the ones who have yet to fall. A useful indication of what honourable language might consist of seems to underlie Laura (Riding) Jackson's discussion of metaphor in PNR 180 although the weight of her implication seems be downwards to unalloyed denotation. In passing, in the service of linguistic dishonour and debauchery I must observe that Jackson's principles make the pace of her prose as remarkable and inexorable as the movement of a tree sloth.

As the residue of symbolist practice left nowadays is a tendency to believe in far-fetched conspiracies, I suspect that a few of my closest acquaintances will believe that my absence from Belgrade precisely during the two days when it seemed old Belgrade was in the hands of the mob and embassies ...


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