A Key to Modern British Poetry

By Lawrence Durrell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE LIMITS OF CRITICISM

Out of these tensions a unique literature has arisen, abnormally difficult to assess, irresistibly fascinating to study. Will it prove to be merely the record of unco-ordinated efforts? Not unless we expect a conventional progress along academic lines, easily divisible into types and schools. Instead of such conformity we shall find guesses, adventures, experiments which seem at first to be irresponsible, but gradually acquire a common spirit of discovery peculiar to the age. . . . That is why the study of twentieth-century literature is inseparable from the study of ideas.

H. V. ROUTH

English Literature and Ideas in the Twentieth Century

IT would not be fair to embark upon a series of lectures concerned with modern poetry without first trying to indicate a few of the major limitations of critical method. That they are not always obvious to those who talk about literature is clear from the habits of so many lecturers who tend to discuss literature in terms of itself so to speak instead of in terms of the age which produced it. Now if we are to consider poetry as something self-contained, something which cannot be referred to other departments of human thought, we will be doing it a disservice as critics, for literature is only one facet of the prism which we call culture. All the arts and sciences are simply different dialects of the same language, all contributing towards an attitude to life. What is this 'culture'? I take this word to mean the sum, at any given time, of all the efforts man is 'making to interpret the universe about him. Ideas from the various departments of thought cross-fertilize each other, and it is sometimes a good idea to discuss one kind

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