Recent reading: the mishmash in our heads

"Covering a strike in the cotton mills, when I was an extreme advocate for the working class, I slept in the house of a Portuguese laborer; above his bed was a tryptich, on one panel was the Virgin Mary, on the other Shirley Temple, and in the middle Karl Marx. Crane had no inclination, as he averred, to 'sum up the universe in one impressive pellet.'"
--Edward Dahlberg on Hart Crane, in Silvers, Robert B., and Barbara Epstein, eds. The Company They Kept. Writers on Unforgettable Friendships. New York: New York Review Books, 2006.

Dahlberg's appreciation of Crane is at once merciless ("heroic bathos...pages of bedlamite shrieks... a syntactical zany") and admiring:

"But then who can be the surd adder after these fleshed locutions: 'Gongs in white surplices, beshrouded wails...' Or not pity the spirit, thirty years old, only thirty-five months from his Caribbean winding-sheet: '… snow submerges an iron year.'"

And what do you suppose a "surd adder" might be? A voiceless garden snake? Or a computer program that "adds" a "surd" (as I infer from a Google search for the phrase)? The latter seems unlikely, since Dahlberg wrote this piece in 1966. I just don't know what he meant, but that is my problem, not his. Dahlberg sees his job as not to communicate but to express his truth, too sublime for ordinary language. Or ordinary readers. Fleshed locutions indeed.

Upshot: Both are worth reading, Hart Crane for the vivid images calling on all the senses, Edward Dahlberg for his cranky, witty, and deeply cultured -- bottomless, sometimes -- references.