Saturday, September 28, 2019


Bad Intellectual Form

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972), A Prelude: Landscapes, Characters and Conversations from the Earlier Years of My Life (London: W.H. Allen, 1967), pp. 120-121 (Gauss = Christian Gauss; bracketed words in original):
Gauss (asked about his little collie's name): "Baudelaire." [Gauss had not, however, named him. He had been left with the Gausses by the Jesse Lynch Williamses.]


"Yes: it's a fact."

"Will he answer to any line from the great poet?"

"Oh, he barks at those."

"You should dye his hair green."

"Yes, he ought to have that."

"But he seems to be a perfectly normal dog."

"No, he's not a normal dog: he likes to listen to French lectures."

When someone [in Dante class] translated "Never was a man fitter than he was for the guillotine." (gelantino. I.XXXII.60) Baudelaire emerged from under Gauss's desk, looking rather pained.

Gauss: "He'll stand for almost anything, but that's too much.—Ain't that some anechronism? Awful—awful—hawrrible—a scan-dal!—lt isn't that I object to your not knowing these things, gentlemen: I don't care; but I'm sorreh that you haven't the intellectual curiositeh to look them up!—It's bad intellectual form; it's awfulleh bad form; it's like going around with your face unwashed.—Ah, well! it's the University's fault, I suppose, as much as yours.—Mr. Clarkson, translet!"
For 'gelantino', read 'gelatina':
                                 e tutta la Caina
potrai cercare, e non troverai ombra
degna più d'esser fitta in gelatina. Inf. XXXII, 58-60

                                    and all Caina
you may search and not find a shade
more fit to be fixed in ice.
Charles Singleton's note:
fitta in gelatina: It is difficult to judge the semantic flavor of the phrase, but it seems ironical and derisive (as it certainly would be in modern parlance). See a similarly ironic use of "broad" in Inf. VII, 53 and of "la gelata" in Inf. XXXIII, 91. "Gelatina" could be construed as "cold consommé" or the whole phrase simply, as Rossi suggests, as "set in (or on) ice" or "placed in the cooler."
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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