I’m almost done with the newest bibliography for the obsessed with books.   “Elevated Erudition” includes the Classics, philosophy, and myths, anonymous gems of literature, and so forth.  Its title might be a bit snobbish, but that’s far from the intent.   Some of us want to read on our own, and can’t afford to be constantly in school.  

Even so, some of the work, like for instance Kant’s heavier philosophies, I would never tackle alone.   That and calculus were like Waterloo for me.  With Kant, I was lucky to have a great teacher, Wellington’s best aide; with calculus, I was somewhere near Napoleon’s backside.  If you ever come here for a bibliography of mathematics, you will come in vain. 

I have to ask myself: why this seemingly-obsessive effort?  First, it’s been a nice review of things I’ve read before.  I’ve been taking little dips into the books and remembering great passages as I go along.  Second, I love books in general: particular editions for their beauty, funkability, or utility.  I love small beautiful books like the Everyman Pocket Poets new; art books sufficiently large to really show the works within; scuffed browned copies of Modern Library or well-illustrated children’s books bought used and with other people’s names in them.  Norton Critical Editions have great backgrounders, but some have more background than content.  Library of America makes a beautiful series–beautiful paper, oh!  But sometimes a too-beautiful book is not the best choice.  For instance, when I read philosophy, I have to make margin notes.  I’m not scribbling all over a LOA.  And to only read Whitman in the library would be contrary to nature: you have to carry him around until he becomes shabby from being tossed into the pickup truck, the picnic basket, the backpack.  If you read Leaves of Grass in the gilt edition, you might not do that, and miss something important.

Translations
Also, as for publishing these bibliographies, it reminds me how hard it is to get the edition that’s readable or right.  This is particularly true with translations.  For me, that is the occasional limit of The Modern Library–sometimes the translator is not the best one.  And what is the best translation: umm.  One example:  Thucydides was translated by Thomas Hobbes, and that gives one a little of both Hobbes and Thucydides, in terms of studying political science.  Then Thucydides and Hobbes were both gone over by the great Greek translator, David Grene.  And it’s very readable.  That’s the great translation, as far as I’m concerned.   But it’s not always so easy to decide (and that was my third pass at the right Thucydides, too). 

Verse can be translated for meaning, for rhyme schemes, or for the sense of the words.  Sometimes I’ve had to choose, and it’s not always easy.  Easy ones for me to discount include verse that has been translated into prose (which usually makes it boring even as it makes it easy).  I detest a translation that has rendered everything but the racy parts.  This is frustrating: I don’t share his/her language skills or sensibilities.  Similarly, I detest the translations where all the references have been dumbed down for moral purity.  This approach pretty much ensures that students will be bored with Sophocles, Aristophanes, Francis Villon, and Chaucer for the rest of their life. 

And then there is Ezra Pound–literature’s Schliemann–who tried to bring cultures and works into English that had not been translated before.  In his quest to make them relevant and timely, he forswore most of the academic rules of translation, making each work at once a translation and his own.  Because of his contributions and his attitudes, he has been one of the academy’s thorny thickets ever since.  So, with his translations, you either read for enjoyment alone, or because you are a Pound scholar, or, you want to say something nasty about his translations with respect to your own.

But to return to my own pleasures with this project:
On the inside cover of a very shabby schoolbook on Ezra Pound, Kenner’s The Pound Era, I found an inscription from ten years or more ago: “this book is a part of my soul.”  It’s past time to re-read that book, I would say–and would I have plunked it on my bedstand had I not typed these bibliographies?

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