From the Shelf
AS OF last week, Harvard lacked a local outlet for literary criticism--with the remotely possible exception of Advocate book reviews. A community where competent critical writing at least equals the amount and quality of fiction and poetry produced, requires some vehicle for publishing outstanding criticism--especially since it already prints a number of fiction and poetry magazines.
The first issue of Bogus introduces itself as a journal to fill this need. Under the editorship of Peter Gabel '68, Bogus is a well-conceived and well-executed prototype for a Harvard literary review.
With 90 pages for four extended pieces of criticism and two poems, Bogus can treat its material with a thoroughness unmatched by existing publications. Despite the small number of selections this issue presents a broad range of subjects and approaches.
Albert Gelpi, assistant professor of English, contributes a chapter from his upcoming book on American poetry--a significant essay which discusses Edgar Allan Poe with a sensitivity and respect that he rarely receives. Authoritatively documented but still highly readable and clear, Gelpi's writing carries the same enthusiastic conviction that characterizes his English lectures. At times he risks oversimplification for the sake of a point, as when he dismisses Emerson's ambiguity in the ending of "Uriel" as untypical. Nevertheless, the essay delineates the fundamental esthetic polarity (between Poe's and Emerson's poetics) through which Gelpi approaches all American poetry and which--when phrased as compellingly as in the following example--justifies even a restricted reading of Emerson: If for Emerson the poet was a Dionysian god, voicing instinctively the organic order of Nature under the spell of the divine frenzy, the poet was for Poe an Apollonian god extending his masterful hand over the confusion of nature through the shaping acts of language.
STEPHEN DEYOUNG explains "the sterility of modern English letters and society" by examining G. B. Shaw's Heartbreak House as symptomatic of a strain of "social ignorance and aloofness" in English literature since World War I. With an incisive and lively style, DeYoung's fast-moving argument is more speculative than conclusive, but convincing just the same. In contrast, Jacob Egan '68 does a longer, deeper, more confined analysis in a Dickens study, "Reification and the Rhetoric of Nature in Bleak House"--the longest piece in Bogus. The texture is as academic as the title, and requires thesis-grading frame of mind.
Peter Lubin indicates that he's a precocious graduate student in Comparative Literature by his parody of the "fictions" of Jorge Luis Borges. His title, "A Vindication of Ephraim Blueprint," echoes Borges' "An Examination of Herbert Quain." Lubin comes close to sustaining the self-conscious tone of pseudo-pedantry which gives Borges' work its peculiar charm. But the difficulty of parodying a parodist is evident in the moments when the piece descends into nonsense and uncomfortable undergraduate humor. Although seemingly sympathetic, the parody uses the penetrating method of Borges' own arcane inventiveness to become the closest thing to unfavorable comment on the Argentine yet printed.
THE two poems, slipped in to compliment the critical articles, are partly responsible for Bogus' high quality. "California Plush" by graduate student Frank Bidart just misses being one of those six-page identity crisis -California -Cambridge poems; but Bidart's sincere, practically apologetic awkwardness saves it from banality. John L'Heureux seems a more accomplished poet. His "Three Awful Picnics" manipulates a playfully surreal death (of a man whose "head split open like a rotten cantaloupe and seven birds flew out") through three discordant, animated perspectives.
Bogus obviously hasn't defined its future with first issue. A set of four different essays could, for instance, give the review an entirely different cast. Subsequent issues may stake out a particular part of the vaguely defined "literary criticism" terrain for Bogus' concentration. It could emphasize outstanding undergraduate essays in literary history (like Egan's and DeYoung's); print more prestigious "professional" work (like that of Gelpi and L'Heureux); or review contemporary literary concerns, as Lubin's parody does. Any of these categories could define a separate review. To expect one journal to handle all adequately is, perhaps, too much to ask. Bogus is valuable even though the "long-standing need" is for more than a single semi-annual publication.
With the exception of a few typographical and technical oversights--especially damaging to the effect of Bidart's poem and the Borges parody--Bogus' small-review format is clean and dignified, putting an attractive face on an impressive first effort that deserves to be continued and expanded.