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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.
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Monday, 13 January 2014
I have been reading two essays on literary criticism: 'Tradition' in criticism is handled by Rebecca West; and 'Experiment' by T. S. Eliot. They are a formidable pair! West skates brilliantly over literary criticism from Aristotle to the present day, and I agree in the main with her views. But I have discovered little that is new to me in her witty remarks. As for Eliot, he gives in my opinion too much attention to the past and too little to present and future criticism. His chief point seems to me to be that criticism is and will be influenced by the master-idea of evolution. Well, of course! On the whole, taking everything into account, these two essays have a more striking resemblance to stone than to bread. Of constructive criticism they contain very little.
I was led to think about a remark of Roger Fry's, one of the greatest critical minds of the age. He said: "We learn to see only so much as is needful for our purposes: but this is in fact very little, just enough to recognise and identify each object or person; that done they go into an entry in our mental catalogue and are no more really seen. In actual life the normal person really only reads the labels as it were on the objects around him, and troubles no further ... we were given our eyes to see things, not to look at them." I feel this as a profound insight, though obvious enough once pointed out. The difficulty is maintaining that state of heightened awareness that permits seeing as a matter of course.
Also see 'Interesting artistic experiences', November 24th., -
The core of the business of all imaginative literature is here. And the duty of the literary critic is to insist all the time that that imaginative literature is negligible which does nothing to make the reader see people, places and phenomena as freshly as though he had never set eyes on them before. But a first-class book must have something more even than this quality. It must give an effect of beauty. It must cause the reader to see beauty where he could not have seen it before. A work of art, whether poem, novel, play or picture, ought to make you think that you are seeing the thing portrayed for the first time in your life, and also seeing beauty, or new beauty, in it for the first time.
Additionally for January 13th., see 'Scrupulously clean' -
I outlined in the bath this morning an idea of a play about a man being offered a title and his wife insisting on his accepting it against his will. Spender told me that such a man had once asked him for advice in just such a problem, and he had advised the man to suppress his scruples and accept the title. Ross said that this would be a good idea for a play, and it is.