Last night I just glanced at Kent Johnson's malicious black book. I might write something about it, maybe on the essay blog. I'm represented, 'grammed, & I get off easy (whew!).
In two short lines, Catullus (sort of) compares me to Dante (oy vey...). But somebody else is playing Dante here. Many will find themselves awkwardly a-wriggle on a pin - in a special pen of Kent's devising.
Malice is a form of love, says Dante. Kent reminds me a little of those guys in high school who followed other people around, because they were just so enthralled, in love, fascinated with other people. So caught up in others' charisma that they came off as inadequate hangers-on themselves. (I'm remembering myself, here.)
But they weren't, really, inadequate. They were just experiencing love & awareness to a degree that overwhelmed their own capacity for role-playing (which is easy, on the other hand, for egotists).
Kent is actually in love with Poetry World and all that happens in it.
Mandelstam tried to grasp Dante's persona (though he was actually projecting himself). He called Dante a raznochinets, a deracinated populist intellectual - always ill at ease, awkward in society, not knowing how to conduct himself.
Shakespeare, hiding behind the curtain of his characters.
This book of Kent's sorts ironically (which I will have to think about) with his promotion of anonymity, Pessoa, heteronyms, the dissolution of the "author-function". Because here we have idiosyncratic "quick sketches" of writers, which meld together, and foreground, caricatures of quasi-public, literary personae - individuals, characters - with a judgement on their writing.
I know I shouldn't take the book too seriously, though. We are all still in high school, & Kent Johnson is still reading Rabelais.