A history of the imagination in our time

Guy Davenport has died. His essays and criticism stand on their own as works of art, reading them makes one a more perceptive and better reader (if not a better human being). His translations of Greek are exhilarating, and reconnect the modern with the ancient mind (as does his fiction set in the ancient world). Davenport's criticism repeatedly illuminated and connected authors in surprising ways, as in this essay where he detects the influence of a Wilkie Collins story on a story by Kafka. He elevated authors that conventional opinion underappreciated or misunderstood (Ruskin, O. Henry, Agassiz - so many). His own stylistically unique fiction was underappreciated and misunderstood by conventional opinion. I believe some of his short stories rank among the best of the last century, and I think, unless literature ceases to matter, Davenport will be one of the few recent authors influential and revered a century hence.

Comments

  1. Liked his greek translation very much. Thanks for the intro, had never heard of him. Will dutifully check him out now...

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  2. You're welcome. That translation appears in Davenport's "7 Greeks". His introduction to that book alone is amazing in how much knowledge it condenses. Typically of Davenport's writing, so much in it makes one sit up and take notice, such as his description of the archaic Greeks:

    "They decorated their houses and ships like Florentines and Japanese; they wrote poems like Englishmen of the court of Henry, Elizabeth and James. They dressed like Samurai; all was bronze, terra cota, painted marble, dyed wool, and banquets. Of the Arcadian Greece of Winckelmann and Walter Pater they were as ignorant as we of the ebony cities of Yoruba and Benin. The scholar poets of the Renaissance, Ambrogio Poliziano and Christopher Marlowe, whose vision of antiquity we have inherited, would have rejected as indecorous this seventh-century world half oriental, half Viking."

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