"Would you want an idea for a friend?"

This morning Charlotte Mandell reminds us of an interview Brad Morrow did with Robert Kelly back in 1987 and that is now available in the Conjunctions website’s archives. It is quite a treat — & here is one of the bits I liked specially:

MORROW: You must be aware of Pound’s dictum that all a writer’s thoughts can be gathered onto half a page, and the rest is simply exposition. Even if you don’t believe that’s an accurate theory, what would you put on your half page?

KELLY: I don’t think I—or anyone else—have half a page to fill up. Pound’s idea, which he may have gotten from T. E. Hulme, is funny, and therefore useful and memorable. And it’s in some way true. But its truth is a comment not on the nature of men or poetry, but on the nature of ideas: Ideas are trashy things. I wouldn’t want to have an idea. Would you want an idea for a friend? I think poetry is the activity of people with nothing to say. I would hate to read that Kelly has this idea or that. Ideas are for people who can’t do anything. Ideas are the pabulum of pseudo-intellectuals—

MORROW: Of course these are all ideas that you’re tossing out here.

KELLY: These are prejudices, these aren’t ideas.

MORROW: Define an idea.

KELLY: Idea in its strictest, purest sense preexists any formulation we could make. A man could never say an idea. A thought, it seems to me, is the corpse of dead thinking. Or the corpse of thinking. After you think you have a thought, just as after you live you have a corpse. “Thoughts of the great ones”—I think that’s pseudo-intellectual trash. Our society has been accumulating it ever since Emerson’s time as something to shore up against its ruin. Emerson himself was much wiser. Emerson every now and again would fall for his own thoughts instead of for his thinking. In his wonderful essay on the poet, he charts out perhaps for the first time anywhere an American tradition: that the nature of any artistic activity, if it’s valuable, is a journey and is of value only in so far as the journey is complete, that it goes somewhere, comes back and reports what it has found there. Art is the report of a place, not an idea about something. Nor attitude peddling. We live in a time when thoughts and ideas are treated as commodities. When Pound talks about the half sheet of paper, I think what he’s really doing is complaining, like many Western half-educated intellectuals. “My ideas aren’t treated with respect! Nobody’s buying my artifact!”

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