The Importance of Scrutiny: Selections from Scrutiny: a Quarterly Review, 1932-1948

The Importance of Scrutiny: Selections from Scrutiny: a Quarterly Review, 1932-1948

The Importance of Scrutiny: Selections from Scrutiny: a Quarterly Review, 1932-1948

The Importance of Scrutiny: Selections from Scrutiny: a Quarterly Review, 1932-1948

Excerpt

Each generation of original writers, we are told, has to create the taste by which it is understood. Certainly, one can see that a new critical method has grown up alongside modern literature, a method that is now entering even the colleges and affecting the educational system. The New Criticism, John Crowe Ransom has called it. Among its most celebrated products--most celebrated among literary people in America at least--are Seven Types of Ambiguity byWilliam Empson, and The Double Agent byR. P. Blackmur . But the method has been carried to numbers that these books will never reach by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren in their freshman text-book, Understanding Poetry.

Now, it is good to know Understanding Poetry, and it is better to know Empson and Blackmur, but I am worried by American ignorance of a writer who may in the long run prove more significant, F. R. Leavis, editor of the quarterly review, Scrutiny.

The New Criticism stems from such books as T. S. Eliot The Sacred Wood (1920) and J. Middleton Murry The Problem of Style (1925). One could even trace it further back. Eliot and Murry are linked with the previous age, especially through the writer whom Eliot called "the critical consciousness of a generation," Rémy de Gourmont. From him comes the very title of Murry's book and many direct quotations in Eliot's. If we look back at La Culture des Idées and Le Problème du Style, we soon find--among much that is obvious or merely modish--the few things that were grist to the mill of Murry and Eliot. Perhaps, indeed, the few things are one thing, one word--sensibility. In view of what Scrutiny would later have to say about technique and pedagogy, it is interesting that Gourmont wrote on style largely to refute a contemporary pedagogue who had produced a treatise L'art écrire enseigné en vingt leçons. Gourmont said that style cannot be transmitted at all (let alone in twenty lessons) because it is the expression of the stylist's own sensibility. Here are some of his dicta, which . . .

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