The Condemned Playground: Essays: 1927-1944


The condemned playground signifies for me the literary scene of the 1930's, the period of ebullience, mediocrity, frivolity and talent during which I wrote most of these essays and my first two books. I also chose the title to refer in a More limited sense to that leafy tranquil cultivated spielrawn of Chelsea, where I worked and wandered. But there is another sense in which The Condemned Playground refers to Art itself; for Art is man's noblest attempt to preserve Imagination from Time, to make unbreakable toys of the mind, mudpies which endure; and yet even the masterpieces whose permanence grants them a mystical authority over us are doomed to decay: a word slithers into oblivion, then a phrase, then an idea. Le mot vieillit, as Valéry puts it, "devient très rare, devient opaque, change de forme ou de rôle. La syntaxe et les tours prennent de I'âge, étonnent et finissent par rebuter. Tout s'achève en Sorbonne."

This feeling of evanescence has always been with me as a critic; I feel I am fighting a rearguard action, for although each generation discovers anew the value of masterpieces, generations are never quite the same and ours are in fact coming to prefer the response induced by violent stimuli -- film, radio, press -- to the slow permeation of the personality by great literature. Like most critics I drifted into the profession through a lack of moral stamina: I wanted to be a poet, and to revive the epic; I wanted to write a novel about archaic Greece -- but my epic and my novel fell so short of the standards which my reading had set me that I despaired of them and, despairing, slipped into the interim habit of writing short-term articles about books. The habit grew and conquered: many years later, and almost too late, I set out to conquer it. That is how most of our critics are formed. Not that I despise criticism: I wish only that I had been a better critic -- for I think that the distinction between true criticism and creation, as Wilde pointed out in The Critic as Artist, is non-existent and that many a novelist who flatters himself that he is creative is hanging second-hand ideas on to lifeless . . .

Additional information

Includes content by:
  • Sainte-Beuve.
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1946


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