Guy Davenport

by Henry on January 5, 2005

Via Matt Cheney at the Mumpsimus, I learn that Guy Davenport has died. By coincidence, I’ve mentioned Davenport three times on this blog in the last week; he was one of the finest cultural and literary critics of our time. His essays cumulate into a long allusive conversation; digressive, enlightening, quietly humorous. You could warm your hands at them. He had a gift for finding the detail, the miniature axis on which the world turned for Kafka, for Gerard Manley Hopkins, for Picasso, for Louis Agassiz. From his essay, “On Reading” (collected in The Hunter Gracchus):

Students often tell me that an author was ruined for them by a high-school English class; we all know what they mean. Shakespeare was almost closed to me by the world’s dullest teacher, and there are many writers whom I would probably enjoy reading except that they were recommended to me by suspect enthusiasts. I wish I knew how to rectify these aversions. I tell bright students, in conference, how I had to find certain authors on my own who were ruined for me by bad teachers or inept critics. Scott, Kipling, Wells will do to illustrate that only an idiot will take a critic’s word without seeing for oneself. I think I learned quite early that the judgments of my teachers were probably a report of their ignorance. In truth, my education was a systematic misleading. Ruskin was dismissed as a dull, preacherly old fart who wrote purple prose. In a decent society the teacher who led me to believe this would be tried, found guilty, and hanged by the thumbs while being pelted with old eggs and cabbage stalks.

On this count, as on many others, Davenport was gloriously, radiantly, exuberantly innocent. He inspired you to read new books, and re-read old ones differently. He’ll be sorely missed.

{ 10 comments }

1

joel turnipseed 01.05.05 at 6:27 pm

Oh, this is sad. To have lost Kenner and Davenport in same year (diff. calendar) is tough. Said and Sontag will be missed, of course, but Kenner/Davenport a special–almost secret–gang for me.

It makes you feel like, now: “I REALLY need to get to work.”

2

joel turnipseed 01.05.05 at 6:34 pm

3

Dargie 01.05.05 at 7:10 pm

I first discovered Davenport in 1974 with “Tatlin” and have admired his work ever since. I would look forward to every new book. Now, sadly, there will be no more. What a loss.

4

Anderson 01.05.05 at 11:06 pm

One of the few critics who really knew how to read. A great loss.

5

Doug 01.06.05 at 9:17 pm

Life just became a bit grayer. I met Prof. Davenport several times & always profited from our conversations. I was just re-reading from “Every Force Evolves a Form” last night & thinking about contacting him again.
Damn.

6

wufnik 01.07.05 at 12:36 am

Along with Henry Miller (the essays, not the fiction) and George Steiner, Davenport has had the most influence on my thinking and reading of anyone I have encountered the past several decades. Not that I have done a damn thing with any of this insight. But still…which makes this loss even harder. And Joel is right–to lose both Kenner and Davenport within a year is a bummer.

7

McBride 01.07.05 at 8:26 pm

The encylopedia WikiPedia has a fine summary of his life…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Davenport

8

beryl boxe 01.12.05 at 12:33 am

A very powerful intellect and sensibility. A great loss.

I understand there is forthcoming an perceptive book of crit on GD’s work by A. Furlani, essays from which may be found online. Hope it stimulates the readership so richly warranted–

9

Beryl Boxe 01.12.05 at 12:34 am

A very powerful intellect and sensibility. A great loss.

I understand there is forthcoming an perceptive book of crit on GD’s work by A. Furlani, essays from which may be found online. Hope it stimulates the readership so richly warranted–

10

Jane Wodening 01.12.05 at 4:24 pm

It must have been almost forty years ago that we brought our five small children along visiting Guy. I was proud of their good behavior. When nap-time came, I was prepared to tuck them all in in a row on the floor but Guy said they must nap on his bed. And we had a fine adult hour as they all slept quietly on Guy’s bed.

Then next morning, he called us in great delight — when he had crawled into bed that night, he found a wet spot; he was very excited; it had brought back to him his childhood in a way that was so real, so inspiring, he could hardly sleep because of the delight in the memories it brought to him.

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