"Upon the Slippery Place";
or, In the Shit:
Geoffrey Hill's Writing and the
Failures of Postmodern Memory
R. K. Meiners
In this essay I wish to discuss the writing of Geoffrey Hill in contexts where his writing has not usually been placed.It is going to require using some different perspectives from those ordinarily brought to his work and perhaps some questionable decorum. The strain on decorum begins with the title, but what bothers me more than its rudeness is that the restraints of a short essay give little opportunity to look closely at Hill's best poems or to trace the development of his work.But others have done much of that work, 1 and I have elsewhere written about Hill, 2 so on this occasion I will move into a different sort of argument.
Of all the problems Hill's work presents the reader, I think the greatest is the question of "'the sublime' in the old sense." That phrase is appropriated from the first quatrain of Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, within a text ambiguously inscribed " E. P. Ode Pour L'Election de Son Sepulchre," in order to remind the subsequent reader of some of the ironic and complex ways that older ideals of art trouble the eponymous Mauberley's efforts.Those "older ideals" trouble modernism generally, but Pound remains for the English tradition such a decisive and intractable case of the difficulties of making it new that he is particularly relevant.He is relevant to no one more than to Hill, who has returned repeatedly to Pound's return upon "the tradition," seeing there the emblematic moment of modernist destabilization