The Creative Element: A Study of Vision, Despair, and Orthodoxy among Some Modern Writers

The Creative Element: A Study of Vision, Despair, and Orthodoxy among Some Modern Writers

The Creative Element: A Study of Vision, Despair, and Orthodoxy among Some Modern Writers

The Creative Element: A Study of Vision, Despair, and Orthodoxy among Some Modern Writers

Excerpt

Over fifteen years ago I wrote a book called The Destructive Element. The general thesis of that discussion of Henry James and other writers (some of whom, like Yeats and Auden, are discussed in more detail in this volume) was that modem literature often reveals a consciousness of a destructive principle in modern society, even where this may seem least apparent.

Writing in the 1930's I thought of this destructiveness as social; a kind of political doom overtaking society. I wrote of a 'politicalmoral' theme in modern literature, and found this in every writer who was at all concerned with the moral decline of modern society.

There was a good deal of confusion in my analysis, although it may have been a significant confusion. Where I went wrong was in thinking that because I saw a political cause where the writers whom I was discussing saw a moral situation, their vision implied a political view. I was right to think that politics, in the deepest sense, is concerned with the moral condition of society, but wrong to think that the artist concerned with this condition need also be concerned with politics, even by implication. The point really is that a moral view of society can be stated without any concern for social action of any kind, whereas directly politics enters in, social action and taking sides are involved.

Thus I was right to point out that Henry James's vision goes deeper into social causes and shows more awareness of the destruction in the heart of the society he is describing than those critics thought who imagined him to be an aesthete and a social snob, only concerned with analyzing the sensibilities of individuals frequenting the best society and living in exquisite country houses.

But though James was concerned with social disease, and though his work is immersed in 'die destructive element', I was wrong to . . .

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