Ashbery, but not Grice, was a teacher for many years, including at Brooklyn
College, Harvard and Bard. Nancy Mitford would agree that dropping "college"
from "Brooklyn college" quite does NOT do -- "Since Brooklyn is so _big_!".
Grice taught at Harvard if delivering the William James lectures on
conversational implicature (One of his exames, "Every nice girl loves a
sailor") can be deemed 'taught'.
Starting at boarding school, when a classmate submitted his work (without his
knowledge) to Poetry magazine, Ashbery enjoyed a long and productive career, so
fully accumulating words in his mind that he once told the AP that he rarely
revised a poem once he wrote it down. By 'rarely' Ashbery EXPLICATES that he
sometimes did. Oddly, when Grice wrote (hand-wrote) "Meaning" he hardly thought
about publishing ("unless you count delivering the thing to the Oxford
Philosophical Socieety a sort of 'publishing' alla Witters and St. Augustine.")
Strawson was aggravated and had his wife type the thing. Then, Strawson
submitted the thing to The Philosophical Review and signed, "H. P. Grice, St.
John's". The thing was accepted (+> for publication). Then Strawson
approached Grice: -- Strawson: You thing, "Meaning," got accepted for
publication in "The Philosophical Review. -- Grice: But I never submitted it.
Strawson disimplicated all for Grice, and Grice, reluctanctly agreed to have
the thing published -- it gave him nightmares after that. Especially when Max
Black started to criticise it. B. J. Harrison, too. And he joked about it:
"Grice's analysis of meaning comes second in the philosophical tradition to
act-utilitarianism as being victim of counter-examples."
This gave Wilson the idea to entitle his essay for "Nous": "Grice on meaning:
the ultimate counterxample" -- where he quotes from Grice. When Wilson showed
Grice the alleged counterexample in an APA conference -- that Grice confuses
between perlocution and illocution -- Grice smugly replied, "I MIGHT be
mistaken -- but surely I'm never CONFUSED." The implicature being, "except when
I drink." The implicature being "alcoholic beverages."
More than 30 Ashbery volumes have now been published, including poetry,
essays, translations and a novel, "A Nest of Ninnies," co-written with poet
James Schuyler. "The implicature being is that it takes two to discourse about
Ashbery's masterpiece was likely the title poem of "Self-Portrait in a Convex
Mirror," a densely written epic about art, time and consciousness that was
inspired by a 16th century Italian painting of the same name. "Only in
Italian," Ashbery explicates to the ignoramus!
In 400-plus lines, Ashbery shifted from a critique of Parmigianino's painting
to a meditation on the besieged 20th century mind.
"I thought the implicature was clever."
And it was!
I feel the carousel starting slowly
And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
Photographs of friends, the window and the trees
Merging on all sides, everywhere I look
And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
Why it should all boil down to one
Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, while Grice was born in Harborne.
"If I had been born in Rochester," Grice once said, "I possibly have liked
Dickens, but I don't."
Grice is punning on Rochester (New World) and Rochester (Old World).
Ashbery remembered himself -- "as Grice would put it in "Personal Identity" --
as a lonely child, haunted by the early death of his younger brother, Richard.
Oddly, Grice was haunted by his younger brother, Derek, but only because Derek
played the cello "so bad I couldn't sleep when he rehearsed."
Ashbery grew up on an apple farm in the nearby village of Sodus, where it
snowed often enough to help inspire his first poem, "The Battle," a fantasy
about a fight between bunnies and snowflakes.
"I won't tell you who wins," he says to the THE TIMES journalist. Implicating
that THE TIMES journalists never understand!
Ashbery would claim to be so satisfied with the poem and so intimidated by the
praise of loved ones that he did not write another until boarding school, the
Deerfield, when his work was published in the school paper.
"I used to call it "Dearfield," for fun.
"It's amazing how praise can block a poet -- especially when coming from your
Grice disagreed: "I love praise, even faint!" Grice is punning on the
implicature of 'damn by faint praise," credited to a critic of Shakespeare.
Meanwhile, Ashbery took painting lessons and found new meaning in Life, the
An article about a surrealist exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art -- "or MoMA
if you must!" he explicates -- so impressed him that he kept rereading it for
years. "It was more interesting that the actual exhibit!"
At Harvard (where Grice lectured on implicature), Ashbery read W.H. Auden and
Marianne Moore and met fellow poet and longtime comrade, Kenneth Koch, along
with Wilbur, Donald Hall, Robert Bly, Frank O'Hara and Robert Creeley. "I
hardly rowed." O. T. O. H., Grice spent most of his time at Oxford -- as a
_tuttee_ -- playing cricket!
Ashbery would be grouped with O'Hara and Koch as part of the avant-garde "New
York Poets" movement, although Ashbery believed what they really had in common
was living in New York. "Which is ok as far as Venn goes."
Ashbery is referring to Grice's set-theoretical approach to the above
implicature. "The "New York poets" live in New York” -- is, for Grice
'analytic' -- "and I would add 'a priori' if this were not redundant." For
Strawson it ain't, since Strawson fought with Grice over the conceptual
analysis of the 'analytic a posteriori.' Vide their joint "In defence of a
dogma" -- that of analyticity, of course. Footnote to page 32.
Ashbery's first volume, "Some Trees," was a relatively conventional collection,
with a preface from Auden and the praise of O'Hara, who likened Ashbery to
Wallace Stevens, and Grice. "Ashbery manages to implicate, by 'some trees,'
that he is not interested in ALL of them. But then who would?" But later,
Ashbery unleashed "The Tennis Court Oath," poems so abstract that critic John
Simon accused him of crafting verse without "sensibility, sensuality or
sentences." Grice read the poems and inspired him to coin "quasi-sentence," to
describe some of Ashbery's verses -- or "lines," as Grice preferred. But then
Grice had been educated at Clifton reading Virgil's Aeneid, where many 'lines'
are quasi-sentences, too!
Incidentally Simon is punning on Austen when clashing 'sensibility' not with
'sense' but with 'sensUALITY'! Provocative! Ashbery later told the AP that
parts of the volume "were written in a period of almost desperation" and
because he was living in France at the time, he had fallen "out of touch with
my vernacular speech, which is really the kind of fountainhead of my poetry."
Grice disagrees: "I would believe Ashbery's explanation had I found ONE LINE in
"The Tennis Court Oath" in French, but I didn't!"
Ashbery wrote a letter to Grice:
I actually went through a period after 'The Tennis Court Oath' wondering
whether I was really going to go on writing poetry, since nobody seemed
interested in it. And then I must have said to myself, 'Well, this is what I
enjoy. I might as well go on doing it, since I'm not going to get the same
pleasure anywhere else. I hope this explains why I still used English when
writing the poems you reviewed in France.
Ashbery's collection, "Rivers and Mountains," was a National Book Award
finalist that helped restore his standing and "Self-Portrait in a Convex
Mirror" raised him to the pantheon. Grice reviewed "Rivers and Mountains."
"It is a good example of 'implicature'. Strictly, when I suggested to Ashbery
that he entitled the thing, "Mountains and Rivers," he disimplicated me for two
Ashbery was given an honorary National Book Award for lifetime achievement and
he declared he was "quite pleased" with his "status in the world of writers."
-- "Although he never knew what the implicatures of 'writer' were," Grice
comments. "A writer writes," Grice finds analytic. "But surely that cannot be
Ashbery's implicature here!"
Ashbery's style ranged from rhyming couplets to haiku to blank verse, and his
interests were as vast as his gifts for expressing them. He wrote of love,
music, movies, the seasons, the city and the country, and was surely the
greatest poet ever to compose a hymn to President Warren Harding." "Oddly, it
was not difficult for me to find words that rhymed with the -ing of "Harding,"
even if Grice later criticised me for using too many 'feminine' rhymes --
whatever Grice meant by that!"
Ashbery became very sensitive to reputation. "How to Continue" was an elegy,
party turned tragic: "a gale (that) came and said/it is time to take all of you
away." Grice never understood it!
Reflecting on his work, Ashbery boasts about "strutted opinion doomed to wilt
in oblivion," but acknowledged that "I grew/To feel I was beyond criticism,
until I flew/Those few paces from the best."
In his poem "In a Wonderful Place," published in the collection "Planisphere,"
Ashbery offered a brief, bittersweet look back.
I spent years exhausting my good works
on the public, all for seconds
Time to shut down colored alphabets
flutter in the fresh breeze of autumn. It
draws like a rout. Or a treat.