Guy Davenport, 1927-2005

Sitting just a few feet from me on a bookshelf is a copy of The Geography of the Imagination by Guy Davenport, a remarkably insightful collection of literary essays. I was introduced to Davenport’s writing through his friend, Hugh Kenner, whom I knew briefly at Johns Hopkins. Recently, I had enjoyed his eccentric book reviews in Harpers, so I was saddened to just learn that he died a little over two months ago.

Guy Matt Schudel in the Washington Post:

Guy Davenport, 77, an erudite author, poet and critic whose subtle and demanding works won him a loyal literary following, died Jan. 4 of lung cancer at a hospital in Lexington, Ky., where he lived.

Mr. Davenport, who taught at the University of Kentucky for nearly three decades, was a man of wide learning who freely dropped references to ancient cave paintings, classical poetry and 18th-century French philosophy throughout his work. His essays and short stories were often written in a distinctive, original style.

More here.  And there is a longer article in The New Criterion:

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Guy Davenport, poet, novelist, book illustrator, essayist nonpareil, raconteur indefatigable, master of humane inquiry. Guy was entirely sui generis, an autodidact of the old school who managed to sample Duke, Merton College at Oxford, and Harvard University (Ph.D. on Ezra Pound) with no visible deformation. He taught for decades: at the University of Washington in St. Louis, at Haverford College, and at the University of Kentucky from 1963 until 1991 when a MacArthur “genius” award (for once they got it right) set him free, free at last. Yet if Guy was in, he most certainly was not of, the academy. A less academic personality is difficult to imagine. Indeed, although Guy was a gentle, accommodating soul, someone whose unextinguishable curiosity generally left him amused rather than indignant at the spectacle of human foibles, he made an exception for the arid, the pedantic, the politically correct, in short, for the academic—the one term, so far as we can recall, that was for him invariably a term of diminishment, a term of contempt.

More here.  And in case you are interested, Guy Davenport had written the obituary of Hugh Kenner when he died two years ago, also in The New Criterion:

HughHis command of any subject was such that he could lecture without notes or script. He usually had a folder of blank pages, or letters from friends, that he pretended to be reading from, to assure audiences that he’d written out what he was saying. When he gave the Alexander Lectures at Toronto and was asked for the manuscript, so that they could be printed, he had to say, “Well, there isn’t one.”

Nor did he own a comb. His hair over the years became Einsteinisch. Being very hard of hearing, he repeated carefully what interlocutors said to him, to make certain he’d heard correctly. He therefore did most of the talking in a conversation. He once talked for three days at my house, when he was planning The Stoic Comedians. Part of his discourse was a recitation of Beckett’s unpublished novel Mercier et Camier that he’d memorized.

More here.