Enjoyment of Literature


Magicians have never been able to control their angels or their demons until they discovered their names. The origin of all literature lies here. A word is a magic incantation by which the self exercises power--first over itself and then over other selves and then, for all we know, over the powers of nature.

After commanding and creating life, the next thing that words have to do is to criticize it. Many attempts have been made to codify, to catalogue, to differentiate the various forms taken by the vast mass of literature now accessible through our recent progress in printing and publication. We hear of the literature of knowledge and the literature of power; we hear of the literature of interpretation and the literature of escape; but when the whole thing is reduced to its essence it is hard to see how Matthew Arnold's dictum that good literature of any kind must be a criticism of life can be improved on.

In a very definite sense even a book like Grimm Fairy Tales is such a criticism, playing upon the fantastic mysteries of luck; while on the other horizon you get Hegel Logic, playing upon the fantastic mysteries of reason. Not the airiest lyric, not the most humorous comedy, not the most thrilling tale of adventure, but on its own particular level and in its own peculiar vein, offers some commentary, creates some mood, stirs up some speculation . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1938


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