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The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays (Nonpareil Book, 78) Paperback – October 30, 1997

4.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"There is no way to prepare yourself for reading Guy Davenport. You stand in awe before his knowledge of the archaic and his knowledge of the modern. Even more, you stand in awe of the connections he can make between the archaic and the modern; he makes the remote familiar and the familiar fundamental." --Los Angeles Times Book Review

"As a critic, Davenport shines as an intrepid appreciator, an ideal teacher. By preference, he likes to walk the reader through a painting or a poem, teasing out the meaning of odd details, making connections with history and other works of art. His must-have essay collections, The Geography of the Imagination and Every Force Evolves a Form, display his range: With a rainwater clarity, he can write about the naturalist Louis Agassiz or ancient poetry and thought…He can account for the importance of prehistoric cave art to early modernism or outline the achievements of Joyce and Pound. He can make you yearn to read or look again at neglected masters like the poets Charles Olsen and Louis Zukofsky and the painters Balthus and Charles Burchfield. He can send you out eagerly searching for C. M. Doughty's six-volume epic poem, The Dawn in Britain, and for the works of Ronald Johnson, Jonathan Williams and Paul Metcalf. In all this, his method is nothing other than the deep attentiveness engenderd by love: that and a firm faith in simply knowing things. He conveys, to adopt his own words about painter Paul Cadmus, 'a perfect balance of spirit and information." --Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

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"There is no way to prepare yourself for reading Guy Davenport. You stand in awe before his knowledge of the archaic and his knowledge of the modern. Even more, you stand in awe of the connections he can make between the archaic and the modern; he makes the remote familiar and the familiar fundamental." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review

"As a critic, Davenport shines as an intrepid appreciator, an ideal teacher. By preference, he likes to walk the reader through a painting or a poem, teasing out the meaning of odd details, making connections with history and other works of art. His must-have essay collections, The Geography of the Imagination and Every Force Evolves a Form, displays his range: With a rainwater clarity, he can write about the naturalistic Louis Aggassiz or ancient poetry and thought . . . He can account for the importance of prehistoric cave art to early modernism or outline the achievements of Joyce and Pound. He can make you yearn to read or look again at neglected masters like the poets Charles Olson and Louis Zukofsky and the painters Balthus and Charles Burchfield. He can send you out eagerly searching for C. M. Doughty's six-volume epic poem, The Dawn in Britain, and for the works of Ronald Johnson, Jonathan Williams and Paul Metcalf. In all this, his method is nothing other than the deep attentiveness engendered by love; that and a firm faith in simply knowing things. He conveys, to adopt his own words about painter Paul Cadmus, 'a perfect balance of spirit and information.'" -- Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"One of our most gifted and versatile men of letters." -- New York Times

"In these forty essays, spanning the length of a distinguished career, one of America's major literary critics elucidates and astonishing range of literary history with both wit and wisdom. Davenport's sharp eye and crystal prose unearth the mystery and magic of classical and contemporary literature." -- ALA Booklist

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Product Details

  • Series: Nonpareil Book, 78
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine; n Reprint edition (October 30, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567920802
  • ISBN-13: 978-1567920802
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Douglas Harper on October 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
Whether it's criticism, social commentary or his amazing historical fiction, Davenport has that knack for plunging an arm into the stream of time and pulling up luminous pebbles, then arranging them brilliantly.
This is mostly a collection of writings about writers, but don't let that deter you. When Davenport writes about writers, the result has the quality of a madman's mosaic, a Watts tower of literary observation.
"The Geography of the Imagination," which lends its title to this collection, relates the Dogon trickster legends of West Africa to Brer Rabbit, to an essay on furniture by Poe, to Oswald Spengler's "Decline of the West" (seen in terms of World War I and the first three stories in Joyce's "The Dubliners"), to the Persephone myth (and its realization in a bit of O. Henry sentiment). It ends with a close analysis of classical imagery in Grant Wood's painting, "American Gothic." Along the way, Davenport introduces, in cameo appearances, John Philip Sousa, Heraclitus, Amerigo Vespucci, the sack of Eleusis by the Visigoths, the idea of Germany, Thomas Jefferson's dinners, the discovery of binary stars, and the industrial revolution. The essay itself is not quite 12 pages long.
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While discussing Stanley Burnshaw's 'The Seamless Web', Guy Davenport summed up exactly how I felt after reading 'The Geography of the Imagination'. "It is like being in the room with a charmingly intelligent man who has found a big subject in several hundred books. He attacks the subject this way, that way, pointing out this astuteness and that perception, all the while taking down book after book and reading the relevant passage. Having heard him to the end, you are still a bit puzzled as to how you might condense it all for its coherence and thrust, but you are aware that it is an important discussion you've heard."

The 'coherence and thrust' is quite plain - the problem is that 'The Geography of the Imagination' begins just shy of where my education ends, and then shoots upward, stratospherically, from there. Whereas I thought I knew something about the humanities and their historical perspective, I was astonished at how limited my fractional knowledge really was, and how ably Mr. Davenport exposed my boundaries by linking modern, often unappreciated, masterworks to the classical past in ways I would never have seen unassisted.

That's the thrust - modern literature and poetry and art and even music and architecture peeled back layer by layer to uncover their links to antiquity - and how those allusions to the past skip over the present's community conscious like a flat rock across a shallow creek. I may see something in these works that resonates, but I don't know why, or else only dimly recognize the references.
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Format: Paperback
Guy Davenport once commented humorously that he had eleven readers. He was certainly a genius and definitely unconventional. While he loved literature, evidently food meant nothing to him --- he would often dine on fried Oscar Mayer bologna and Campbell's soup.

The aspect which I find most puzzling is clearly on view in "Geography" -- his strong taste for incomprehensible writers, or at least "extremely unconventional writers." Olson?? Pound's Cantos? and he moves without hesitation to a philosopher widely viewed as extremely eccentric and hard to understand: Wittgenstein. To put it in another way, if YOU can't make head or tail of someone, you're likely to find that someone on Davenport's list of favorites.

But when he flies closer to earth ("closer to the understanding of mere mortals") he has some of his best moments, in my opinion. His chapter on Whitman is really excellent, although you may find his insistence that the internal combustion engine has made life dull a bit of a stretcher. His essay on "Hobbitry" is excellent, and he even manages to say something interesting about Joyce Kilmer's "Trees!"

If you have an interest in 20th-century literature, you should take a look at this book. You will almost definitely learn from it, even at moments when you are shaking your head in disagreement. Not to be overlooked, Guy Davenport was a true American original.
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Format: Paperback
You want epithets of Persephone? We got 'em!

Guy Davenport, bless his venerable socks, though grounded in the humanities, ranges widely and writes plainly. Or did - this collection dates from 1981. Of Guy the man we learn little - but sense much. A pastoralist who abhors the internal combustion engine*, he is pleased to declare 'Thank God the universities let contemporary literature alone in those days!' His vast breadth of reference is refracted through modernism's backward gaze - it's shocking to come upon a reference to a Mars probe (where it will naturally find 'nothing.. but desolation'); this is rarefied terrain where that rough beast popular culture is unlikely to be caught slouching, bar the odd brush with Tarzan, Ally Oop, Andy Gump, assorted cowboys - including Gene Autry's lesser-known sidekick Smiley Burnette - and Ben and Me, Walt Disney's first two-reel short

I'm wary of unsubstantiated assertion after an overdose of Edward Dahlberg. '[W]e scarcely understand Europeans when they speak of the passion they find in [Poe's] poetry' (p9). It's more that non-Anglophone Europeans (French, Russian) scarcely understand Poe (he's 'accessible' is all); Davenport was right first time - it's doggerel. But then, on the female figure in Grant Wood's celebrated American Gothic (your very own Mona Lisa): 'Martin Luther put her a step behind her husband; John Knox squared her shoulders; the stock-market crash of 1929 put that look in her eyes.' Magnifique! But then we get something like the following: 'Nature phasing out the brontosaurus was adjusting a totality of ecological design; the fall of Alexander's empire was tragedy.
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