Thrilled to our boots at Bad Press to read Rich Owens’ enthusiastic review of Sam Solomon’s Life of Riley, thinking about the lyric as a space of multiplicity. Bye bye, Ophelia. Get thee to a binary. Etc.
Thinking about Samuel Solomon’s Life of Riley (Bad Press 2012) while reading through Yeats’s “Introduction,” the 1937 prefatory note composed for an edition of his complete works that never appeared, I found myself struck by the following claim: “A poet is justified not by the expression of himself, but by the public he finds or creates; a public made by others ready to his hand if he is a mere popular poet, but a new public, a new form of life, if he is a man of genius.” Beyond calling out the extraordinary belatedness of recent critiques of self-expression at all times linked with an irrepressibly bourgeois desire to recuperate genius as an operative concept, this statement from Yeats is fascinating for its attention to the formation of publics. But rather than imagining a public as a social formation that one participates in building with others, we are offered here one of two options: if we are “mere” poets, we can move blindly along with an uninspired herd; or, if we are artists of genius, we can single-handedly construct a new form of life like some sort of megalomaniacal one-size-fits-all vision of good living. There are unquestionably other possibilities, i.e. aligning oneself with a broader, more lateralized collective effort to construct a “form of life,” or ways of feeling and grasping, capable of meeting the confluence of demands disposed in the present. Solomon’s Life of Riley angles toward such an alignment, each of the poems grounded in a strategic deference that subordinates the narrativized self to a more collective endeavor without surrendering, and arguably by way of, an otherwise self-indulgent lyric excess.