UPDATE:  Guy Davenport? Who’s Guy Davenport?

So I have to know about this guy before I understand Phelps’s lead. Great. But, yeah, thanks for that, Bill.

No, I’m just being a jerk. Discovery is painful: there’s a top-level American literary thinker, he came up with a term people like to use, and I never heard of the guy or the term. What do I do with my time?

You’ll see that Bill also went to the trouble of digging up a relevant Phelps quote (on form, see here for another view), and that Noah is roused to give the quote a smack. Well, ok. To me the quote sounds like a Monty Python routine, but whatever.

Bill, since you’re being gracious, I will impose upon you with another question. You define “imagination’s geography” as:


the bounds of what’s imaginable, with a sense that certain imaginings, depending on where in the mind they’re from, come with different rules of use.


Can you give examples for the above — that is of an imagining, the part of the mind it’s from, the rules of use that apply to the imagining, and the consequences that arise when the rules are ignored and when they’re followed?

That sounds kind of long, I guess. But you know, whatever you want to do.
Now the original post:

Thanks. I posted here about my need for a plain-English translation of Donald Phelps’s Seuss/Sendaka article. Bill Randall and Jon Hastings posted in Comments, and now I have two plain-english summaries to be getting on with. They posted damn solidly too. You can check out the full versions here


Noah comments that Phelps’s whole argument is a specious “high art/low art distinction.” But I’m not nearly at that level; right now my project is finding my feet.

Here’s a big deal: because of the Comments by Bill, Jon, and others, I now know that Donald Phelps does not consider Dr. Seuss quaint. Reading the essay had not made this point clear to me, which will show you how much I took away from it. The thing is, offhand, “quaint” is one of the words I’d apply to Seuss.

Bill Randall fluidly sums up the Phelps piece as he sees it:

“Form entails a sense of the imagination’s geography and its component laws.” Seuss breaks those laws; Sendak doesn’t.??For Phelps, form is art; specifically, it’s the form embodied in any individual work of art. He calls it “judicious awareness of locality.”

The Marx Brothers’ late works violated the vaudeville form that defined them; Seuss likewise failed for abandoning the integrity of his stories in favor of commodity. Phelps faults him for ditching the terms of the story for an awareness of the audience as consumers.
The quaint/cozy opening sets up the tone of reminisce– this one’s more prosaic than usual– and contrasts modern consumer tastes with gentler, older tastes. (Seuss is more revered by modern taste than Sendak …)

Note that I dropped some big parts of Bill’s post. What I hope is that the quotes here make up a rough version of Phelps’s argument, something that can take me from one end of the piece to the other. Even if it’s wrong, it may get me through.   

Bill, another question before I go back to the essay. What is “the imagination’s geography”? It appears to be core to the subject of Phelps’s piece, and I don’t know what it is.

Jon Hastings addresses the aggressive strangeness question. His thinking appears to be similar to Layla’s and he expresses it well:


… edginess” means that the creator is working at or beyond the boundaries of conventions: it’s a challenge to the audience’s expectations. Challenge is aggressive.


Again, note that I’m dropping bits you may want to read. On competitive strangeness, Jon says this:

Edginess is competetive in that, in any dynamic, living genre, the boundaries of the conventions are always moving.

Thanks, Jon. Here’s a follow-up: What’s the competition between? What’s an edgy cartoon competing with?