Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002)

from the editor of The Critical Tradition's introduction to "The Elevation of  the Historicality of Understanding to the Status of Hermeneutical Principle ( in Truth and Method, 1960) 

Gadamer's philosophical field is usually called "hermeneutics," from the Greek god Hermes who was associated with hidden writings, codes and mysteries. Hermeneutics  is a study of how people make interpretations out of coded texts. The field dates back to late eighteen century when it was becoming clear that the most important text of all - the Judeo-Christian Bible- was a compilation of a number of sources by various authors who had quite disparate moral and literary intentions. It became quintessentially important to theologians, particularly Protestant theologians, to evaluate one interpretation or method of interpretation against another, in order to develop a sense of how and how far interpretation of texts could be trusted. Today, of course, hermeneutics  is a major issue in relation to secular literary as well and biblical texts: the question of whether it is possible to achieve an "objective" interpretation of a particular literary text, or to develop criteria by which one interpretation can be preferred to another.

Gadamer entered the debate over hermeneutics in reaction  to the post-Kantian hermeneutic theories associated with Friedrich Schleiermacher (1778-1841) and Wilhelm Dilthey (133-1911).  Schleiermacher argued that the interpreter's job is to place himself in the position of the author, to project himself into the author's subjectivity, and in that way try to understand not only the author's intended meaning but also meanings that may have not been present to the author's consciousness. Dilthey saw more clearly than Schleirermacher that historical change was involved in the problem of finding the author's meaning, that the reader had to seek out the mental structures authors create in accordance with the demands of their world-views, which are the world views of their age.. Both Schleiermacher and Dilthey argued that the business of the interpreter of texts is to clear his or her mind of the prejudices and the mental detritus of the present age, so as to be able to enter, with a clean mental state, the world of the author. For Gadamer, such a clean slate - the "reading-degree-zero" that Dilthey postulated - can never exist, because one's consciousness is defined by, and therefore cannot get outside of, the culture one inhabits. Objective truth is therefore impossible. When one exists in the world, one automatically perceives the world - and its texts  - through the "horizon" of meaning that the culture of the present moment provides. 

 Whereas Gadamer's metaphor of the "horizon" suggests the limit of vision imposed by one's physical position in space, he argues that our mental horizons are limited not by space but by our position in time.

The keys to interpretation, for Gadamer, are the very prejudices through which one reads. The English word prejudice has a pejorative cast, summoning up thoughts of a kangaroo court that judges and condemns before it has heard the facts. But the German word Gadamer uses Vorurteilungen, literary "fore-understandings," has nothing of this juridical flavor. Gadamer claims that without the fore-understanding our prejudices provide it would be impossible to achieve any effective-historical understanding of the past. For Gadamer, the voices of tradition and authority that can be barriers to scientific discovery are, in the human  science, a part of what constitutes us as historical beings living in a world of time.

As the result of our interaction with the text, we as readers not only come to understand the text better, we also come to understand ourselves better, in that we become more conscious of the historical place (horizon) from which we interpret. We use the tradition, and in using it we remake it as something new. Consequently, the "prejudices" or "fore-understandngs" through which we interpret texts of the past are not a fixed set of ideas but are themselves constituted and altered by our use of them.

All this seems to suggest a rigid division between the "human sciences", where truth is the product of an inevitably subjective interaction between the text and reader and the "hard sciences", which depend upon an objective scientific method, where the observer has no influence on what he or she observes. But phenomenological approaches to science, such as that of Thomas J. Kuhn, have suggested that the vaunted objectivity of science is only an enabling myth, and that something like Gadamer's notion of "fore-understandng" - in the shape of the "paradigms" that define scientific problems and the methodologies of the investigation - plays exactly the same role within scientific discovery that it does in historical or literary interpretation.

excerpts from the text:

When we try to understand a text, we do not try to recapture the author’s attitude of mind  but, if this is the terminology we are to use, we try to recapture the perspective within which he formed his views. But this means simply that we try to accept the objective validity of what he is saying. If we want to understand, we shall try to make his arguments even more cogent. This happens even in conversation, so how much truer is it of the understanding of what has been written down that we are moving in a dimension of meaning that is intelligible to itself and as such offer no reason for going back to the subjectivity of the author. It is the task of hermeneutics to clarify this miracle of understanding, which is not mysterious communion with souls, but a sharing of a common meaning. .  .

The task of hermeneutics has always been to establish agreement where it had failed to come about or been disturbed in some way. The history of hermeneutics can offer a confirmation of this if, for example, we think of Augustine, who sought to relate the Christian gospel to the old testament, or of  early protestantism, which faced the same problem or, finally, the age of enlightenment, when it was almost like a renunciation of agreement to seek to acquire “full understanding” of a text only by means  historical interpretation. It is something qualitatively new when romanticism and Schleiermacher ground a universal historical consciousness by no longer seeing the binding form of tradition, from which they come and in which they stand, as the firm foundation of all hermeneutical endeavor…

Time is no longer primarily a gulf to be bridged, because it separates, but  it  is actually the supportive ground of process in which the present is rooted. Hence temporal distance is not something that must be overcome . . . the important thing is to recognize the distance in time as positive and possibility of understanding. It is no a yawning abyss, but it is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition, in light of which all that is handed down presents itself to us. .  .

If we are trying to understand a historical phenomena from the historical distance that is characteristic of the our hermaneutical situation, we are always subject to the effects of effective-history*. It determines in advance both what seems to us worth inquiring about  and what will appear to be an object of investigation, and we more or less forget half of what was really there – in fact, we miss the whole truth of a phenomenon when we take its immediate appearance as the whole truth.

Understanding [which ] is, essentially, an effective-historical understanding.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Northrup Frye


“The Archetypes of Literature”, Kenyon Review (vol. 8, 1951)

‘ground plan of a systematic and comprehensive development of criticism’

In criticism, as in history, the divine is always treated as a human artifact. God for the critic, whether he finds it in Paradise Lost or the Bible, is a character in a human story; and for the critic all epiphanies are explained, not in terms of the riddle of a possessing god or devil, but as mental phenomena closely associated in their origin with dreams. This once established, it is then necessary to say that nothing in criticism or art compels the critic to take the attitude of ordinary waking consciousness towards the dream or the god. Art deals not with the real but with the conceivable; and criticism, though it will eventually have to have some theory of conceivability, can never be justified in trying to develop, much less assume, any theory of actuality. It is necessary to understand this before our next and final point can be made.

We have identified the central myth of literature, in its narrative aspect, with the quest-myth. Now if we wish to see this central myth as a pattern of meaning also, we have to start with the workings of the subconscious where the epiphany originates, in other words in the dream. The human cycle of waking and dreaming corresponds closely to the natural cycle of light and darkness, and it is perhaps in this correspondence that all imaginative life begins. The correspondence is largely an antithesis; it is in the daylight that man is really in the power of darkness, a prey to frustration and weakness; it is in the darkness of nature that the “libido” or the conquering heroic self awakes.

Hence art, which Plato called a dream for awakened minds, seems to have as its final cause the resolution of the antithesis, the mingling of the sun and the hero, the realizing of a world in which the inner desire and the outward circumstance coincide. This is the same goal, of course, that the attempt to combine human and natural power in ritual has. The social function of the arts, therefore, seems to be  closely connected with visualizing the goal of work in human life. So in terms of significance, the central myth of art must be the vision of the end of social effort, the innocent world of fulfilled desires, the free human society.

Once this is understood, the integral place of criticism among the other social sciences, in interpreting and systematizing the vision of the artist, will be easier to see. It is at this point that we can see how religious conceptions of the final cause of human effort are as relevant as any others to criticism . . .

Friday, December 29, 2017

Kenneth Burke

A reading from Kenneth Burke’s [1897-1993] Literature as Equipment for Living in The Critical Tradition

“Here I shall put down, as briefly as possible, a statement in behalf of what might be catalogued, with a fair degree of accuracy, as a sociological criticism of literature. Sociological criticism is certainly not new. I shall here try to suggest what partially new elements or emphasis I think should be added to this old approach And to make the ‘way in’ as easy as possible I shall begin with a discussion of proverbs- Step One.

Examine random specimens in The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs. You will note, I think, that there is no ‘pure’ literature here. Everything is “medicine.” Proverbs are designed for consolation or vengeance, for admonition or exhortation, for foretelling. Or they name typical, recurrent situations. That is, people find a certain social relationship recurring  so frequently  that they must “have a word for it”

The point of issue is not to find categories that “place” the proverbs once and for all. What I want is categories that suggest their active nature. Here is no “realism for its own sake.” Here is realism for promise, admonition, solace, vengeance, foretelling, instruction, charting, all for the direct bearing that such acts have upon matters of welfare.

Step two: Why not extend  such analysis of proverbs to encompass the whole field of literature? Could the most complex and sophisticated works of art legitimately be considered somewhat as “proverbs writ large?” Such leads, if held admissible, should help us to discover important facts about literary organization ( thus satisfying the requirements of technical criticism). And the kind of criticism  from this perspective should apply beyond literature to life in general (thus helping to take literature out of its separate bin and give it a place in the general “sociological” picture.)

The point of view  might be phrased this way: Proverbs are strategies for dealing with situations. In so far as situations are typical and recurrent in a given social structure, people develop names for them and strategies for handling them. Another name for strategies might be a called attitudes . . .

Looking a these definitions of strategy [ in the Concise Oxford, New English Dictionaries and Andre Cheron – ‘strategy signifies the maneuvers whose goal is attack and correct position’], I gain courage. For surely, the most highly alembicated and sophisticated work of art arising in complex civilizations, could be considered as designed to organize and command the army of one’s thoughts and images, and to so organize them that one “imposes upon the enemy the time and place and conditions for fighting preferred by oneself.” One seeks to “direct larger movements and operations’ in one’s campaign of living. One ‘maneuvers,’  and the ‘maneuvering is an ‘art”.

One tries to fight on his own terms, developing a strategy for imposing  the proper “time, place and conditions.” But one must also, to develop a full strategy, be realistic. One must size things up’ properly. One cannot accurately know how things will be, what is promising and what is menacing, unless he accurately knows how things are. So the wise strategist will not be content with the strategies of the merely self-gratifying sort. He will “keep his weather eye open’ He will not too eagerly “read into” a scene an attitude that is irrelevant to it. He won’t sit on the side of an active volcano and “see” it as a dormant plain.

Often, alas, he will . . .

 What would such sociological categories be like? They would consider works of art, I think, as strategies for selecting enemies and allies, for socializing losses, for warding off  evil eyes, for purification, propitiation, and de- sanctification, consolation, and vengeance, admonition and exhortation, implicit commands or instructions of one sort or another. Art forms like “tragedy” or “comedy” or “satire” would be treated as equipment for living, that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes. The typical ingredients of such forms would be sought. Their relation to typical situations would be stressed. Their comparative values would be considered, with the intention of formulating a “strategy of strategies”, the “over-all” strategy obtained by the inspection of the lot."

Edmund Wilson

The selection from Edmund Wilson’s writings in  The Critical Tradition is from Dickens: The Two Scrooges(1941)

Edmund Wilson  (1895-1972) was a literary journalist. The following remark on Dickens'  Little Dorrit represents his ‘bread and butter’:

Arthur Clennam, ruined by the failure of Merdle, finally goes to the Marshalsea (debtor’s prison) himself; and there at last he and little Dorrit arrive at an understanding. The implication is that, prison for prison, a simple incarceration is an excellent school of character compared to the dungeons of Puritan theology, of modern business, of money-ruled Society, or the poor people of Bleeding Heart Yard who are swindled and bled by all these.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


from Holderlin and the Essence of Poetry, 1936.

First of all it appeared that the field of action of poetry is language. Hence the essence of poetry must be understood through the essence of language. Afterwards it became clear that poetry is the inaugural naming of being and of the essence of all things – not just any speech, but that particular kind which for the first time brings into the open all that which we then discuss and deal with in everyday language. Hence poetry never takes language as the raw material ready to hand, rather it is poetry which first makes language possible. Poetry is the primitive language of an historical people. Therefore, in just the reverse manner, the essence of language must be understood through the essence of poetry.

Holderlin writes poetry about the essence of poetry – but not in the sense of a timelessly valid concept. This essence of poetry belongs to a determined time. But not in such away that it merely conforms to this time, as to one which is already in existence. It is that Holderlin, in the act of establishing the essence of poetry, first determines a  new time. It is the time of the gods that have fled and the god that is coming. It is the time of need, because it lies under a double lack and a double Not: the No-more of the gods that have fled and the Not-yet of the god that is coming. . .

Operating as a prophet the poet represents and interprets the signs of antiquity  for the people, according to Heidegger.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Virginia Woolf

[Austen-Bronte-Eliot] from A Rooms of One’s Own (1929)

“ . . . But one could perhaps go a little deeper in the question of novel-writing and the effect of sex on the novelist. If one shuts one’s eyes and thinks of the novel as a whole, it would seem to be a creation owing to a certain looking-glass likeness to life, though of course with simplifications and distortions innumerable. At any rate it is a structure leaving a shape on the mind’s eyes, built now in squares, now pagoda shaped, now throwing out wings and arcades, now solidly compact and domed like the Cathedral of Saint Sophia at Constantinople. This shape, I thought, thinking back over certain famous novels, starts in one the kind of emotion that is appropriate to it. But that emotion at once blends itself with others, for the “shape” is not made by the relation of stone to stone, but by the relation of human being to human being. Thus a novel starts in us all sorts forms antagonistic and opposed emotions.

The whole structure, it is obvious, thinking back on any famous novel, is one of infinite complexity, because it is made up of so many different judgments, of so many different kinds of emotion. It’s a wonder that any book  so composed holds together for more than a year or two, or can possibly mean to the English reader what it means for the Russian or the Chinese. But they do hold together occasionally very remarkably. And what holds them together in these rare instances of survival (I was thinking of War and Peace) is something that one calls integrity, though  it has nothing to do with paying one’s bills or behaving honorably in an emergency.

What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth. Yes,  one feels, ‘I should never have thought that this could be so; I have never known people behaving like that. But you have convinced me that so it is, so it happens.’ One holds every phrase, every scene to the light - for Nature seems, very oddly,  to have provided us with an inner light by which to judge of the novelist’s integrity or dis-integrity. Or perhaps it is rather Nature, in her most irrational mood, has traced in invisible ink on the walls of the mind a premonition which these great artists confirm; a sketch which only needs to be held to the fire of genius to become visible. When one so exposes it and sees it come to life one exclaims in rapture, ‘But this is what I have always felt and known and desired!” And one boils over with excitement, and, shutting the book even with a kind of reverence as if it were something very precious, a standby to return to as long as one lives, ‘one puts it back on the shelf’, I said, taking War and Peace and putting it back in its place.

. . .For the most part, of course, novel do come to grief somewhere. The imagination falters under the enormous strain. The insight is confused; it can no longer distinguish between the true and false; it has no longer the strength to go on with the vast labor that calls at every moment for the use of so many different faculties. But how would this effect by the sex of the novelist, I wondered, looking at Jane Eyre and the others. . . .

How impossible it must have been for them not to budge either to the right or to the left. What genius, what integrity it must have required in the face of all that criticism, in the midst of that purely patriarchal society, to hold fast to the thing as they saw it without shrinking. Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Bronte. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their cap. They wrote as woman write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonishments  of the eternal pedagogue – write this, think that. They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some to conscientious governess, adjuring them, like Egerton Brydges, to  be refined, dragging even into the criticism of poetry criticism of sex; admonishing them, if they would  be  good and win, as I suppose, some shiny prize, to keep within certain limits which the gentleman in question think suitable: “female novelists should only aspire to excellence by  courageously  acknowledging the limitations of their sex.” That puts the matter in a nutshell, and when I tell you, rather to your surprise, that this sentence was written not in August 1828 but in August 1929, you will agree, I think, that however delightful  it is to us now, it represents vast body of opinion –I am not going to stir those old pools,  I take only what chance is floated to my feet – that was far more vigorous and far more vocal a century ago. It would have needed a very stalwart young woman in 1828 to disregard all those snubs  and chidings and promises of prizes. One  must have been something of a firebrand to say to oneself, Oh, but they can’t buy literature too. Literature is open to everybody. I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass. Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

[But these were unimportant compared to the other difficulty which faced them (and I am still considering those early 19th century novelists) when they came to putting their thoughts on paper – that is that they  had no tradition behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. . .

The Androgynous Vision from A Room of One’s Own

Even so, the very first sentence I would write here, I said, crossing over to the writing table and taking up the page headed Woman and Fiction, is that it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for the woman to lay the least stress on  any grievance, to plead even with justice any cause; in any way speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly, as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place before the act of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated. The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. No wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn.  The writer, I thought, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in the darkness. He must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the pedals from a rose or watch swans float calmly down the river.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Mikhail Bakhtin

The readings of Mikhail Bakhtin ( (1885-1975) in The Critical Tradition are The Topic of the Speaking Person and Heteroglossia in the Novel from  from Discourse in the Novel.

“The topic of a speaking person has an enormous importance in everyday life. In real life we hear speech about speakers and their discourse at every step. We can go so far as to say that in real life people talk most of all about what others talk about – they transmit, recall, weigh and pass judgments on other people’s words, opinions, assertions, information; people are upset by others’ words, or agree with them, contest them, refer to them and so forth. Were we to ease- drop on snatches of raw dialogue in the street, in the crowd, in lines, in a foyer and so forth, we would hear how often the words ‘he says’, ‘people say’, ‘he said’.  .  .’ are repeated, and in the conversational hurly-burly of people in a crowd, everything often fuses into one big ‘he says . . . you say . . I say . . .” Reflect how enormous is the weight of ‘everybody says’ and ‘it is said’ in public opinion, public rumor, gossip, slander and so forth. One must also consider the psychological importance in our lives of what others say about us and the importance, for us, of understanding and interpreting these words of others  (living hermeneutics [aka  search for meaning]’).

The importance of this motif (of the speaking person) is in no way  diminished in the higher and better organized areas of everyday communication. Every conversation is full of transmissions and interpretations of other people’s words. A every step one meets ‘a quotation’ or a reference’ to something that a particular person said, a reference to ‘people say’ or ‘everybody says,’ to the words of the person one is talking with, or to one’s own previous words, to a newspaper, an official decree, a document, a book and so forth. The majority of our information and opinions is usually not communicated in a direct form as our own, but with reference to some indefinite and general source: ‘I heard,’ “It’s generally held that .  .  , ‘It’s thought that. . .’  Take one of the most widespread  occurrences in our everyday life, the conversations about  some official meeting: they are all constructed on the transmission, interpretation and evaluation of verbal performance, resolutions, the rejected and accepted corrections that are made to them. . .

The following must be kept in mind:  that the speech of another, once enclosed in a context, is – no matter how accurately transmitted- always subject to semantic change. The context embracing another’s words is responsible for its dialogizing background, whose influence is very great. Given to appropriate methods for framing, one may bring about fundamental change even in another’s utterance accurately quoted. Any sly and ill-disposed polemicist  knows very well which dialogizing backdrop he should bring to bear on the accurately quoted words of his opponent, in order to distort their sense. Another’s discourse, when introduced into a speech context, enters the speech that frames it not in a mechanical bond but in a chemical union on the semantic and expressive level; the degree of dialogized  influence, one on the other, can be enormous.

These ( the above and so forth) conversations about speaking persons and others’ words in everyday life do not go beyond the boundaries of the superficial aspects of discourse, the weight it carries in the specific situation; the deeper semantic and emotionally expressive levels of discourse do not enter the game.The topic of the speaking person takes on quite another significance in the ordinary ideological workings of our consciousness, in the process of assimilating our consciousness to the ideological  world. The ideological becoming of a human being, in this view, is the process of selectively assimilating the words of others."

Two sorts of discourses  dominate the  the assimilation of consciousness to the ideological world, in Bakhtin’s view: authoritative discourse and the internally persuasive discourse. Sometimes they are united but more frequently an individual’s becoming is characterized precisely by a-gap between these two categories: in the one, the authoritative  world (religious, political, moral; the word of the father, of adults and of teachers etc.) that does not know internal persuasiveness; in the other the internally persuasive word is denied all privilege, backed  up by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society(not by public opinion, nor by scholarly norms, nor by criticism), not even in the legal code. The struggle and dialogic  interrelationship of these categories of ideological discourse are what usually determine an individual ideological consciousness.

Bakhtin gives precedent to internally persuasive discourse “whose semantic structure is not finite, it is open; in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, the discourse is able to reveal ever newer ways to mean.”

"Within the arena of almost every utterance and intense interaction a struggle between one’s own and another’s word is being waged, a process in which they oppose or dialogically inter-animate each other. The utterance so conceived is a considerably more complex and dynamic organism than it appears when construed  simply as a thing that articulates the intention of the person uttering it, which is to see the utterance as a  as a direct, single-voiced vehicle for expression."

"All of this has been studied by psychology but not from the point of view of its verbal formulation in possible inner monologues of developing human beings, the monologue that last a whole life." ( and largely in response to the words of others, as others respond to his/her).

*  see this on the ‘weight’ of every day affairs:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

W.E.B. Du Bois

Readings by W.E.B.Du Bois in The Critical Tradition are On Double Consciousness from The Souls of Black Folks and Criteria of Negro Art.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is sort of a seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world – a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, - an American, a Negro; two souls, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

“If white civilization”, wrote Du Bois in The Superior Race, this vast Frankenstein monster- really served its makers; if it were their minister and not their master, god and king; if their machines gave us rest and leisure, instead of the drab uniformity of uninteresting drudgery; if their factories gave us gracious community of thought and feeling; beauty enshrined, free and joyous; if their work veiled them with tender sympathy at human distress and wide tolerance and understanding - then ,all hail White Imperial Industry. But it does not. It is a Beast! Its creators even do not understand it, cannot curb or guide it. They, themselves, are but hideous, groping higher Hands, doing their bit to oil the raging, devastating machinery which kills men to make cloth, prostitutes women and eats little children. Is this superiority?”

What has art  to do with the world? What has Beauty to do with Truth and Goodness – with the facts of the world and the right actions of men? “Nothing” the artists rush to answer. That somehow, somewhere eternal and perfect beauty sits above Truth And Right I can conceive, but here and now and in the world in which I work they are for me unseparated and inseparable.  I am but the humble disciple  of art who tells the truth and exposes evil; and seeks Beauty and for Beauty to set the world right.

But we- the American Negro- must not fail to realize that the Beauty of Truth and Freedom which shall some day be our heritage and the heritage of all civilized men is not yet in our hands. . . We are bound by all sorts of customs that have come down to use as second-hand soul clothes of white patrons. We are ashamed of sex and we lower our eyes when people will talk of it. Out religion holds us in superstition. Our worst side has been so shamelessly emphasized that we are denying we have or ever had a worst side.

We have, to be sure, a few recognized and successful Negro artists; but they are not all those fit to survive or even a good minority. They are but the remnants of that ability and genius among us whom the accidents of education and opportunity have raised on the tidal waves of chance. We black folks are not altogether peculiar in this. After all, in the world at large, it is only the accident, the remnant, that gets the chance to make the most of itself; but if this is true of the white world it is infinitely more true of the colored world. In all sorts of ways we are hemmed in and our new young artists have got to fight their way to freedom. Ultimately it is they would must judge themselves, build themselves up into that wide judgment, that universality of temper which is going to enable the artist to have his widest chance for freedom. We can afford the Truth. White folks cannot. When through art black folks compel recognition of their humanity then let the world discover if it will that their art is as new as it is old and old as new.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Carl Jung in the Critical Tradition

Readings in the The Critical Tradition by Carl Jung are On the Relation of Analytic  Psychology  to Poetry(1922) and The Principle Archetypes from Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of  the Self. (1951)

Jung inferred the existence of a ‘deep’ unconscious as a vital component of the self, different from the unconscious as he thought Freud conceived it. Freud’s unconscious was in a sense shallow, a haggling partner with the ego focused primarily on immediate, personal affairs: the everyday negotiations and typical attitudes about work, family ; the  sometimes narrow and often  turbulent streams of normal awareness [Psyche]. Freud’s unconscious may itself be in the dark about its own unconsciousness which is comprised of powerful urges embodied in primordial images and emotions forming into autonomous complexes that represent a splitting  of a portion of the psyche which then lives  outside the hierarchy of consciousness.

In Jung’s book  we can only speak of these vital forces (which he confusingly calls archetypes) symbolically, they are beyond the capacity of the intellect  to fully comprehend – one can only speak of their essential or absolute nature in hypothetical  sense. The motive powers of the streams of autonomous and semi autonomous complexes of the self are, in any ultimate sense, mysterious.

The triad ego/id/ super-ego, however, as  at least potentially an autonomous complex, does provide some clues as to how the vital forces comprising  the self, sometimes compromising the psyche, work. In psychoanalysis persistent patterns of symbolic representations occur and these are what Jung charted as archetypes. In  these readings the attention is on what Jung calls the animus (male) and the anima (female), which are analogous to the soul but only a part of it. Typically the animus is represented as Logosanima as Eros. It it is something to be said for Jung that  these female and male animating spirits were not gender exclusive.  Any individual, all individuals possess both. On the other hand, it seems obvious that whatever prescription Jung might have given to patients concerning both their inner and outer adjustments to the real world, they followed the conventions of his time and class, and are probably not unhelpful in the majority of cases today. At any rate, ‘the battle of the sexes’ is not anything new.

 Years ago I read his essay on marriage and it cleared up a lot of misapprehensions I was having  at the time though when a re-read it later- in calmer times- there was perhaps more that I put into the book than I took away.

 In Jung’s view  the artist has a special place  in the symbolic world of self. He can become a conduit for the primordial, archetypal forces of the collective spirits to find their revelatory and even evolutionary expression. This happens when the artist is completely taken over by the force and power of species impulses, almost as if it were out of his/her hands or being danced like a puppet on a string. But besides this mad rush of inward spirit- at whose service artists often destroy themselves- the primordial  powers of symbolic expression can infiltrate the work of an artist who has developed  powers of discernment and technique to a sufficient degree to embody them in his/her texts. The artist may not even be aware that the expression has been made, he may have not intended  what was said at all, it might be invisible at the time of  execution but then later, in the light of all that has come after, develop an astonishing significance. This idea is analogous if not empirically the same notion as what later came to be called, ‘the autonomy of the text.’ Works of art are not within themselves complete but always await a reader, a viewer and a listener to develop their full significance and power.

In some critical schools the autonomy of the text is carried to the point in its examination that the actual author of the text is more irrelevant than less even to the point of a near perfect nullity. To some extent Jung endorsed this position. For instance, though he did concede that psychopathology- biographical scandals, bizarre family histories, neurotic symptoms- could help explain the artist and his/her work-  but only as much as could discovered and said of any number of  professions- and everybody else- who are not artists- so it ends up as just so much warm titillation without explaining the art or the artist, and mostly just sending smoking screens across  on-coming messages from the beyond, degrading aesthetics.

It some sense Jung could be viewed as an early proponent of ‘new age religion’. Aspects of Jungian psychology tend to breed a kind of  cultish  following. Some of his notions of collective archetypes may have found favor among the National Socialists of his time, or at least, randomly perhaps, influence thinking here and there much like Nietzsche’s did. If I remember correctly Jung was among the group in psychoanalytic circles who tried to accommodate the Nazis so they could go on with their work, when Freud refused. This is not the place to make a judgment about that.  Jung lived, he wrote, take from his texts what we can.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Conflict by Arlette Farge

The judicial archives* brings us inside a world fitful with passions and disorder. Caught in its net, the city, its people and the women among them take on expressions that are exaggerated, even deformed, by the material that has captured them. Once we have explored the coerced nature of the intersection between speech and authority, we face the old question of how to handle the sources that have been fundamentally biased by their interaction with the criminal justice system. Why not choose to take a deliberately provocative position on this, and assert that society’s character manifests itself through its antagonisms and conflicts? It is more important to say this than ever, because today there is a tendency to doubt the centrality of conflict.

With the boom in the history of mentalites, which focused on daily life and the world of the senses, historians have enthusiastically developed previously neglected themes like private life, housing, dress, nutrition, sexuality, and maternity. In the wake of a burgeoning interest in anthropology, these themes flourished all the more because they broke the existing conventions, which had proved too rigid in their systems and ideologies. The singular and the intimate were able to break through where before the quantitative had reigned supreme. Where Marxist readings demanded rigid interpretive grids,. The historian fled to the unexplored territory of cultural habits, of states of being and ways of doing But an inconspicuous slippage began at the same time.. Having become too preoccupied with drawing away from the overloaded shores of Marxism, historians failed to notice that they often left behind the universe of conflicts and tensions, of struggles and relationships of power – the universe which is the backdrop onto which behaviors, practices, and emotions must be projected. It was not that historians ignored social differences, but that they did not choose to make them engines of their arguments. And was it not perhaps the continuing subdivision and separation of the objects of study that, bit by bit, created this widening gap?

When the history of mentalites proved to fragmented to be effective at recapturing the intensity of social relations , it was gradually displaced by a relatively classical event-based history, overlaid with a supposedly history of ideas. The great intellectual debate over popular culture has been replaced by a kind of tacit consensus around the notion of ‘shared cultures.” But few people are now asking how these processes of sharing actually operated, or saying that maybe it is time to return to the question of how this all worked. At the very least we can say such sharing was often quite unequal and rarely motivated by respect for others. In these processes, we can always glimpse one group’s desire for domination over another.

Discord and confrontation lie at the heart of police records. Why not make use of this fact, and create out of rupture and disquiet a grammar with which to read the ways existences were time and again made and unmade? It is not easy to separate the history of men and women from that social relations and antagonisms. Indeed, certain social groups only came into being through the experience of struggle. Similarly, confrontation of groups against groups, sex against sex, the people against elites, created moments that transformed the course of history and which must be analyzed. A history of relationships of power can also take into account sufferings and deceptions, illusions and hopes. History must be able to take charge of these matters, measure the poignant and reflect on the unnamable. Conflict is a space of creation, and what comes after it rarely resembles what came before it. Even when minimal or derisory, perhaps even ritualized, conflict is a rift that illuminates “elsewhere” and creates new “states of being.” The historian must not only narrate a conflict, but use it has the motor of her reflection, the source of her own narrative.

At times, the archive miniaturizes the historical object. While it provides an account of the size and spread of large social movements (strikes, riots, or incidents or begging or criminality), it isolates, like a microscope, the expression of individual passions. In the words recorded in these documents we hear public condemnations, denunciations, hatreds, and jealousies, each playing as much of a role in this theater of reality as love and concern for others. We cannot omit any of this darkness, this taste for destruction and death that inhabits mankind. We cannot push aside this “unsociable sociability of being” where trickery, deception, and the interest of some in the subservience of others are locked in ruthless struggle with the desire for liberty and harmony. As Claude Mettra has written, “Humanity’s tragedy lies in the fundamental discord of beings with their own flesh. To write history is to draw up a report on this discord.” The words in the archival documents pitch between outrage and forgiveness, and through these small lives we can hear the inaudible – sometimes ignoble- sound of humanity, and catch the insistent melody of attempted happiness and hard-won dignity.

The taste for the archive is rooted in these encounters with the silhouettes of the past, be they faltering or sublime. There is an obscure beauty in so many existences barely illuminated by words, in confrontations with each other, imprisoned by their own devices as much as they were undone by their era.

 *the 18th century pre-Revolutionary criminal records of the Prefecture of Paris, a court of the first instance and of the police of Paris: Archives Nationales  and Archives de la Bastille at the Arsenal and other collections

Saturday, December 16, 2017


The works of Freud presented in The Critical Tradition are excerpts from The Interpretation of Dreams [‘The Dream-Work”], papers entitled “Creative Writers and Daydreaming” and “Medusa’s Head and The Uncanny.

Freud hypothesizes the existence of an unconscious mind which has desires (perhaps drives) and a language of its own. It wants pleasure and power but can only get them in the world on a limited basis.  Society stands in the way, so to speak, though what the unconscious primarily encounters is its owner’s conscious mind which does its best to control the unconscious albeit with various kinds of repressions; refusals even to recognize what the unconscious desires since they are so disruptive if not downright ‘insane’. The unconscious is a kind of infantile being which barely comprehends the limits of the world as it exists and is in the thrall of primitive, largely undifferentiated desires associated with basic biological functions such as eating, defecation and other components psycho- sexual economy of feeling.

In “The Dream-work” Freud outlines  the relationship between the unconscious and conscious mind, the mechanisms of condensation and deflection which constitute the system of communication (repression and sublimation) that exists between them when it comes to the matter of interpreting the content of dreams. Dreams have a latent content the full particulars of which, Freud suggests, we will never fully know. It is easy to imagine, however, what happens when the infant’s inchoate psychic energies become detached from his/her original objects of desire and are set loose in a world of many possibilities or roads to go down. Attachments and aversions to particular objects or events tend to a certain arbitrariness or individuation which are difficult to disentangle and reveal even in a therapeutic situation, that is, with the assistance of formal analysis. Actually the only real clue to the latent content  of dreams is their manifest content ( how we remember and later analyze them) which already have transformed the latent content into a relatively acceptable form, except in the case of neurotics from who Freud was able to detect these very processes of denial, deferral and repression. One comes to understand ‘what’s there’ in latent content by what’s ‘not there’ in the manifest content. It’s not a question of discovery the uninhibited desires for pleasure and power in the unconscious, for Freud that’s a presupposition, but unwinding the  particular objects of these desires and how they are either being blocked or released, what incidents in the past or present are setting up the almost invariably unresolveable conflicts between the conscious and unconscious mind.

In these writing Freud wants to suggest that through psycho-analysis  the manifest contents of dreams can have the effect of transforming the latent content of dreams though to what extent he is uncertain. He has simply observed in his patients that this could be the case, that patients become aware of the conflicts that occur within themselves; that they are better able to deal constructively with their everyday affairs, something we might call today ‘reconciliation’. Freud hardly states this hypothesis of ‘reconciliation’ in a direct fashion (at least in these papers) and his reluctance to do so is reflected in his highly digressive expositional style, in keeping with his notion, born of experience, that psycho-analysis is always an ongoing business, the ‘dialogue’ ( albeit with several partners in the conversation including the diverse and sometimes contradictory and always evolving manifest content as well as formations such as the superego) is never ‘finished’.

Freud’s most telling statement in ”The Uncanny”  is that, indeed, he would not be surprised to hear that psychoanalysis, which is concerned with the laying bare of of the hidden forces of the psyche (which seem nevertheless all too familiar) has itself become uncanny to many people for just that reason. “ In one case”, he writes, “after I had succeeded – though none to rapidly- in effecting a cure in a girl who had been invalid for many years, I myself heard this view  expressed by the patient’s mother long after her recovery.”

Although Freud initially received an enthusiastic reception in America and some seminal figures in the field of psychiatry such as Karl Menninger took up the banner of psychoanalysis in opposition to behaviorism, most  practicing  psychologists  today reject it out of hand in favor of what they call the cognitive approach. They like to deal with what their patients know and say directly, not as clues to the unknown and intractable so-called Id.  It is easier to form a rationale for their practice on that basis. Cures can be assigned when patients start knowing and saying differently to the extent that their inner conflicts and non-conforming behavior seem less pronounced and some modicum of happiness can be declared.

On the other hand, Freud’s influence on Literary Criticism/ Aesthetics  was as profound as any theory could possibly be. Although his hypothesis of the existence of an unconscious mind was by no means original, his systematic, humanistic approach to its contents and language opened a virtual Pandora’s box that many others in a huge variety of ways have been exploring ever since.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Henry James & Oscar Wilde

in The Critical Tradition edited by David H. Richter from ‘The Art of Fiction” by Henry  James (1884):

“It goes without saying that you will not write a good novel unless you possess a sense of reality; but it will be difficult to give you a recipe  for calling that sense into being. Humanity is immense, and reality has a myriad forms; the most one can affirm is that some of the flowers of fiction have the odor of it and others have not; as for telling you in advance how your nosegay should be composed, that is another affair. It is equally excellent and inconclusive to say one must write from experience; to our supposititious aspirant such a declaration might savor of mockery. What kind of experience is intended and where does it end? Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind; and when the mind is imaginative – much more when it happens to be that of a man of genius – it takes itself to the faintest hints of life, it converts the very pulses of the air into revelations…

The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implications of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life in general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it -  this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience, and they occur in country and town, and in the most differing stages of education. If experience constitutes impressions, it may be said that impressions are experience, just as they are the very air we breathe. Therefore, I should certainly say to the novice, “Write from experience and experience only”, I should feel that this a rather tantalizing monition if I were not careful immediately to add,” Try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost!”. . .

A novel is a living thing. All one and continuous, like any other organism and in proportion as it lives it will be found. Many people speak of it as a factitious, artificial form, a product of ingenuity, the business of which is to alter and arrange the things that surround us, to translate them into conventional, traditional molds. This, however, is a view of the matter which carries  us but a very short way, condemns the art to an eternal repetition  of a few familiar clichés, cuts short its development, and leads us straight up to a dead wall. Catching the very note and trick, the strange, irregular rhythm of life, that is the attempt whose strenuous force keeps fiction on her feet. In proportion as in what she offers us we see life without rearrangement do we feel that we are touching the truth; in proportion as we see it with rearrangement we feel we are being put off with a substitute, a compromise and convention.”

For Henry James the moral purpose of fiction is free discussion. He puts it like this:

“In the English novel (by which I mean the American as well), more than any other, there is a traditional difference between that which people know and that which they agree to admit they know, that which they see and that which they speak of, that which they feel to be a part of life  and that which they allow to enter into literature. The essence of moral energy is to survey the whole field.”

from ‘The Decay of Lying” (1889) by Oscar Wilde
A Dialogue

 Vivian[ reading from his manuscript]: ‘ We need not say anything about the poets, for they, with the unfortunate exception of Mr. Wordsworth, have been really faithful to their high mission, and are universally recognized as being absolutely unreliable. But in the works of Herodotus, who, in spite of the shallow and ungenerous attempts of modern scioloists to verify his history, may justly be called the ‘Father of Lies’; in the published speeches of Cicero and the biographies of Suetonius; in Tacitus at his best; in Pliny’s Natural History; in Hanno’s Periplus; in all the early chronicles; in the Lives of the Saints; in Froissart and Sir Thomas Mallory; in the travels of Marco Polo; in Olaus Magnus, and Aldrovandus, and Conrad Lycosthenes, with his magnificent Prodigiorum et Ostentorum Chronicon; in the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini; in the memoirs of Casanova; in Defoe’s History of the Plague; in Boswell’s Life of Johnson; in Napoleons dispatches, and in the works of our own Carlyle, whose French Revolution is one of the most fascinating historical novels ever written, facts are either kept in their proper subordinate opposition, or else entirely excluded on the general ground of dullness.

Now, everything is changed. Facts are not merely finding a footing-place in history, but they are usurping the domain of Fancy, and have invaded the kingdom of Romance. Their chilling touch is on everything. They are vulgarizing mankind. The crude commercialism of America, its materializing spirit, its indifference to the poetical side of things, and its lack of imagination and of high unattainable ideals, are entirely due to that country having adopted for its national hero a man, who according to his own confession, was incapable of telling a lie, and it is not too much to say that the story of George Washington has done more harm, and in a shorter period of time, than any other moral tale in the whole of literature.’

Cyril: My dear boy!

Vivian: I assure you it is the case, and the amusing part of the whole thing is that the story of the cherry tree is an absolute myth. However you must not think that I am too despondent about the artistic future either of Americas or our own country. Listen to this:-

' That some change will take place before this century has drawn to its close we have no doubt whatsoever. Bored by the tedious and improving conversation of those who have neither the wit to exaggerate nor the genius to romance, tired of the intelligent person whose reminiscences are always based on memory, whose statements are invariably limited by probability, who is at any time liable to be corroborated by them merest Philistine who happens to be present, Society sooner or later must return to its lost leader, the cultured and fascinating liar.  Who he was who first, without ever gone out to the rude chase, told the wondering cavemen at sunset how he had dragged the Megatherium from the purple darkness of its jasper cave, or slain the Mammoth in single combat and brought back it gilded tusks, we cannot tell, and not one of or modern anthropologists, for all their much-boasted science, has had the ordinary courage to tell us. Whatever his name or race, he certainly was the true founder of social intercourse. For the aim of every liar is simply to charm, to delight, to give pleasure. He is the very basis of civilized society and without him a dinner party, even at the mansions of the great, is as dull as a lecture at the Royal Society, or a debate at the Incorporated Authors, or one of Punch’s farcical comedies.

Nor will he be welcomed by society alone. Art, breaking from the prison-house of realism, will run to greet him, and will kiss his false, beautiful lips, knowing that he alone is in possession of the great secret of all her manifestations, the secret that Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style; while Life –tired of repeating herself for the benefit of Mr. Herbert Spencer, scientific historians, and the compilers of statistics in general, will follow meekly after him, and try to produce, in her own simple and untutored way, some of the marvels of which he talks.’

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Nietzsche Excavated

Excavations of The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, On Truth and Life in an Extra-Moral Sense & Twilight of the Idols, edits in The Critical Tradition by David H. Richter

Nietzsche writes that

The Greeks were keenly aware of the terrors and horrors of existence; in order to be able to live at all they had to place before them the shining fantasy of the Olympians. Their tremendous distrust of the titanic forces of nature: Moira, mercilessly enthroned beyond the knowable world; the vulture which fed upon the great philanthropist Prometheus; the terrible lot drawn by wise Oedipus; the curse of the house of Atreus which brought Orestes to murder his mother: that whole Panic philosophy, in short, with its mystic examples, by which the gloomy Etruscans perished, the Greeks conquered – or at least hid from view – again and again by means of this artificial Olympus. In order to live at all the Greeks had to construct  the Olympian hierarchy of joy by slow degrees from the original titanic hierarchy of terror, as roses are seen to break from a thorny thicket.

We ourselves are the very stuff of such illusions, unfolding in time, space, and causality – what we label “empiric reality”-  conjuring  a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms; in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically heightened, transferred, and embellished, and which after long usage, seemed fixed, canonical, and binding to a people. Truths that are illusions that we have forgotten are just that; metaphors that have become worn out and being considered only as metal, no longer as coins. 

We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for thus far we have heard only the obligation that society imposes in order to exist. To be truthful just means using the customary metaphors; that is, in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to a fixed convention, as a herd, in a style binding upon all. Now man forgets, of course, that this is how things stand for him.. Unconsciously and after centuries of getting into the habit of it, he thus lies and arrives, through just this unconsciousness, this very obliviousness, at his sense of the truth.

Only by forgetting the primitive world of metaphor, only by hardening and stiffening the primal mass of images that gust in fervid fluency from the original wealth of human fantasy, only by means of an unconquerable faith that this sun, this window, this table is a truth in itself, in short, only by forgetting himself as subject, that is, as an artistically creative subject,does man live with any tranquility, security and constancy. If he could escape the prison walls of his faith for only an instant, it would be over at once for  his “self-assurance.”

The intellect, that master of deception is free as long as it can deceive without doing harm, relieved from the slave duty it otherwise performs, it thus celebrates its Saturnalia. It is never more profuse, rich, and proud, more nimble and daring; with creative pleasure it makes a muddle of metaphors and shifts the boundary stones of abstractions so that, for example, it calls the stream a moving path  that carries man where he would otherwise walk. Now it has cast off the token of servitude thus far engaged in cheerless activity, attempting to show a poor individual the ways and means of the existence he craves, like a servant who goes out to pillage and loot for his master, it now has become master and may wipe away the expression of want from its features. Whatever it now does no longer bears the mark of distortion, as before, but that of disguise. It copies human life but takes it to be something good and seems quite content with it. That enormous scaffold and framework of concepts to which the needy man clings for dear life is merely a stage and plaything for the boldest feats of a liberated intellect; and when it smashes, jumbles, and ironically reassembles this framework, pairing what is most foreign and separating what is closest, it reveals that it has no need for such makeshifts of need and that it will no longer be guided by concepts, but by intuitions.

There is no regular path which leads from these intuitions into the land of ghostly schemata, the land of abstractions. No word exists for them, man is speechless in their sight or else he talks only in a great many forbidden metaphors and unheard-of phrasings so that by smashing and mocking the old conceptual barriers he might at least creatively approximate the impression of intuition in its mighty presence.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Critics Corner 8: Mathew Arnold

The two works of Mathew Arnold [1822-1888) considered here are "The Functions of Criticism at the Present Time" [1864] and "The Study of Poetry" [1880].

I read Culture and Anarchy out of my mother's library years ago. I have little doubt that my 19th century  bourgeois ancestors considered him a wonderful authority or at least an ally  in the great liberal project of expanding the benefits of public education in both England and America (Arnold was an inspector of schools).  Some of Arnold's thoughts on criticism ought to be weighed in light of the fierce sectarianism and party partisanship which characterized the fight to establish public education in the United  Kingdom.

"It is of  the last importance (meaning the first) that English criticism should clearly discern what rule for its course, in order to avail itself of the field now opening to it, and to produce fruit for the future.The rule may be summed up in one word, - disinterestedness. And how is criticism to show disinterestedness? By keeping aloof from practice, by resolutely following the law of its own nature, which is to be a free play of the mind on all subjects it touches; by steadily refusing to lend itself to any of those ulterior, political, practical considerations about ideas which plenty of people will be sure to attach to them, which perhaps ought often to be attached to them, which in this country at any rate are certain to be attached to them quite sufficiently, but which criticism  really has nothing to do with. Its business is, as I have said, simply to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas."

The statement clearly reflects the notion of an Ivory Tower, or a specifically academic mission ( as it is sometimes said about some question: "It is an academic one so don't get  too excited'). Perhaps more so than the ontological 'disinterestedness' of the 'Kantian" sense. To get public education you have to assure people that what goes on there will be 'neutral' to some effective degree, not just a vehicle for promoting the views of, as we say today, 'special interests'. Of course even now, more than a hundred years after the Education Acts, 'the public' always suspects that some political agenda in being pursued in schools, or, even contrarily express the thought that 'academic pressure' in itself is a bad thing, imposing  undue 'emotional burdens' on the spontaneous currents of their children's development.

  The example he gives of Edmund Burke gets closer than Kant to what Arnold had on his mind.

"Burke is so great  because, almost alone in England, he brings thought to bear upon politics, he saturates politics with thought; it is his accident that his ideas were at the service of an epoch of concentration, not an epoch of expansion; it is his characteristic that he so lived by ideas, and had such a source of them welling up within him, that he could float, even in an epoch of concentration and English Tory politics, with them. It does not hurt him that Dr. Price and the Liberals were enraged with him; it does not even hurt him that George the Third and the Tories were enchanted with him. His greatness is that he lived in a world which neither English Liberalism nor English Toryism is apt to enter, - the world of ideas, not the world of catchwords and party habits. So far is it being from really true of him that he 'to party gave up what was meant for mankind," that at the very end of his fierce struggle with the French Revolution, after all his invective against its false pretensions, hollowness, and madness, with his sincere conviction of its mischievousness, he can close with a memorandum on the best means of combating it, some of the last pages he ever wrote, the "Thoughts on French Affairs in December 1791, -with these striking words :

The evil is stated, in my opinion, as it exists. The remedy must be where power, wisdom, and information, I hope, are more united with good intentions than they can be with me. I have done with the subject, I believe, forever. Itu has given me many anxious moments for the last two years. If a great change is made in human affairs, the minds of men will be fitted to it; the general opinion and feelings will draw that way. Every fear, every hope will forward it; and then they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs, will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself, than the mere designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate.

This  is what I call living by ideas; when one side of the question has long had your earnest support, when all your feelings are engaged, when you hear all around you no language but one, when your party talks this language like a steam engine and can imagine no other, - still be able to think, still to be irresistibly carried, if so be it, by the current of thought to the opposite side of the question, and, like Balaam, to be unable to speak anything but what the Lord has put into your mouth. I know nothing more striking, and  must add that I know nothing more un-English."

For all that, in the rest of the essay, Arnold overstates the distance between the normal course of practical affairs and free play of the mind.

"What then is the duty of criticism here? To take the practical point of view, to applaud the liberal movement and all its works- the British College of Health or its New Road religions of the future, - for their general utility's sake? By no means; but to be perpetually dissatisfied with these works, while they perpetually  fall short of a high and perfect ideal.  . . I have wished, above all, to the attitude which criticism should adopt towards everything; on its right tone and temper of mind. . . I am bound by my own disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world."

These are just general statement more suggestive than definitive of the functions of criticism. He sets himself up as a kind of arbiter of 'true criticism, tone, temper, play of mind and proper interest.' without putting his fingers too close on it.  But for all that, as early as 1864, Arnold forms in his mind the idea of a European Union:

"After all, the criticism I am really concerned with, the criticism which alone can help us most for the future, the criticism which, when so much stress is laid on the importance of criticism which, throughout Europe, is at the present day meant, when so much stress is laid on the importance of criticism and the critical spirit, is a criticism which regards Europe as being, for intellectual and spiritual purposes, one great confederation, bound to joint action and working to a common result. . ."  That is, I suppose, a more advanced  confederation than what already existed in Arnold's day with respect to banks, large commercial enterprises and student exchanges.

In "The Study of Poetry"  Arnold writes, repeating himself on numerous occasions without adding much analytic clarity:

"In reading poetry, a sense for the best, the really excellent, and of the strength and joy to be drawn from it should be present in our minds and should govern out estimate of what we read. But this real estimate , the only true one, is liable to be superseded, if we are not watchful, by two other kinds of estimate, the historical estimate and the personal estimate. . .  natural fallacies (as he calls them.)"

What the real estimate might be, however, Arnold admits that "It is much better simply to have recourse to concrete examples." On the historical estimate  he thinks the albeit lively and accomplished critic M. Charles d'Hericault, editor of Clement Merot, goes too far when he says that "the cloud of glory playing round a classic is a mist as dangerous to the future of a literature as it is intolerable for history. It hinders us from seeing more than a single point, the culminating and exceptional point; the summary, fictitious and arbitrary, of a thought and of a work. It substitutes a halo for a physiognomy, it puts a statue where there once was a man, and, hiding from us all trace of labor, the attempts, the weaknesses, the failures, it claims not study but veneration; it does not show us how the thing is done, it imposes upon us a model. Above all, for the historian this creation of classical personages is inadmissible; for it withdraws the poet from his time, from his proper life, it breaks historical relationships, it blinds criticism by conventional admiration, and renders the investigation of literary origins unacceptable. It gives us a human personage no longer, but a God seated immovable amidst His perfect work, like Jupiter on Olympus; and it will hardly be possible for a young student, to whom such work is exhibited at such a distance from him, to believe that it did not issue ready made from that divine head."

"There can be no more useful help for discovering what poetry belongs to the class of the truly excellent, and can therefore do us the most good, than to have always in one's mind lines and expressions of the great masters," Arnold concludes his rebuttal.

Critics Corner 7: Hegel & Marx

Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831) is not an author I would read with the expectation getting much pleasure. The passage presented in The Critical Tradition, an excerpt from 'Introduction to the Philosophy of Art", however, performs an interesting trick. Conventionally the word 'concrete' suggests a substantial material presence. Hegel turns that signification on its head; 'concrete' has its address in the responses of the soul, as an appeal to the hearts and minds of men, participating in the essence of the World Spirit as a unity of the universal and particular. The concrete in Hegel's sense is the genuine and real, not like poured cement.

"Only beyond the immediacy of sense and external objects is genuine reality to be found. Truly real is but the fundamental essence and the underlying substance of nature and of the spirit, and the universal element in nature and in spirit is precisely what art accentuates and makes visible. This essence of reality appears also in the common outer and inner world, but it appears it the form of a chaos of contingencies, distorted by the immediateness of sense perception, and by the capriciousness and conditions, events ,characters, etc. Art frees the true meaning of appearances from the show and deception of this bad and transient world, and invests it with a higher reality and more genuine being than the things of ordinary life."

Hegel is more interested in the motions and, indeed, the progress of the World Spirit- what's 'concrete', true and genuine about life- than what role art plays in expressing it. The categories to which he assigns various artistic productions -Symbolic, Classical and Romantic - are more or less drawn arbitrarily on the basis of his own taste, prejudice or incomplete knowledge of the societies and cultures(contemporary or historical) from which his exemplars are selected. He establishes a hierarchy of high and low stages, the  civilized and primitive, of the 'self-unfolding idea of beauty."

The unfolding of the idea of beauty occurs  in transcendentally dialectical fashion, summarized by the triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. An aspect of life becomes a thesis when it is abstracted from the background of nature and made into an absolute. Each absolute calls into being its Other [why? how so? we might ask], the antithesis, which it negates and which in turn negates it. At length the conflict is mediated by a higher transcendental being (idea) that can resolve the negations and contradictions.

Perhaps a passage like this is better understood if one substitutes 'a skeptical attitude' or 'sneaking suspicion" for 'negation.' Of course that all this struggle goes on in the world of ideas, as a matter of Spirit, and it seems even as a matter of Pre-Destiny, is preposterous, as Marx recognized- 'turning Hegel on his head'- as the saw goes- but did not succeed in adding all that much more clarity to the situation.

Both Hegel and Marx posited man's alienation from the world and himself, in the Romantic literary tradition. Hegel was like : "Don't worry, be happy, everything is on course". Marx was like "be very worried", you are more of a puppet than you realize, fight back". Hegel believed that human progress was a spiritual achievement. Marx believed it was a material achievement.

" In direct contrast to German philosophy, which descends from heaven to earth, we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real active men, and on the basis of their real-life process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life process (productive force). The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound on material premises."

Marx was excited by this idea, much in the same way Hegel was excited by his. They both proceeded to add more weight to their 'carts' than they could reasonably bear.

"Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. . ." and so on. You can tell by the way he keeps repeating such bald statements that he has not quite grasped the complex interactions that take place between the productive forces of men and their consciousness, though his passionate engagement with the fate of the working class men of his day is excuse enough.

I doubt that either Hegel or Marx will fail to appear in the remaining 1,600 pages of the book of which these notes give an account.