Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

By Mark Schorer; Gordon McKenzie et al. | Go to book overview

The fate of Henry James has been that of other primary writers within the American tradition. Each of these had stormed some battlement without a following sequence of writers.

The prolific energies that create an entire literature were lacking in this long period, though a widely flung pattern had been created which had freshness and even magnificence.


HERBERT READ: Surrealism and the Romantic Principle*

JUNE, 1936. After a winter long drawn out into bitterness and petulance, a month of torrid heat, of sudden efflorescence, of clarifying storms. In this same month the International Surrealist Exhibition broke over London, electrifying the dry intellectual atmosphere, stirring our sluggish minds to wonder, enchantment and derision. The press, unable to appreciate the significance of a movement of such unfamiliar features, prepared an armoury of mockery, sneers and insults. The duller desiccated weeklies, no less impelled to anticipate the event, commissioned their polyglot gossips, their blasé globe-trotters, their old-boy-scouts, to adopt their usual pose of I know all, don't be taken in, there's nothing new under the sun--a pose which merely reflected the general lack of intellectual curiosity in this country. But in the event they were all deceived; their taunts fell on deaf ears, and though for a time there was no lack of the laughing jackass--an animal extinct in most parts of the world and even in this country generally emerging only from beyond the pale of the ineffectual Cheviots--in the outcome people, and mostly young people, came in their hundreds and their thousands not to sneer, but to learn, to find enlightenment, to live. When the foam and froth of society and the press had subsided, we were left with a serious public of scientists, artists, philosophers and socialists. Ten years have now passed by, bringing with them death, destruction, and the diaspora of another world war; but that serious public still remains.

From the moment of its birth Surrealism was an international phenomenon--the spontaneous generation of an international and fraternal organism in total contrast to the artificial manufacture of a collective organisation such as the League of Nations. It would therefore be contrary to the nature of the movement to present, as some have suggested, a specifically English version of Surrealism. We who in England have supported this movement have had no other desire than to pool our resources in the general effort. Nevertheless, there is an English contribution to be made to this effort, and its strength and validity can only be shown by tracing its sources in the native tradition of our art and literature. The evidences on which we base the claims of Surrealism are scattered through the centuries, the partial and incoherent revelations of permanent human characteristics; and nowhere are these evidences so plentiful as in England. My main purpose in this essay will be to present this English evidence, to unite it with the general theory of Surrealism, and to reaffirm on this wider basis the truths which other writers, above all André Breton, have already declared.

In an Introduction which I contributed to the catalogue of the exhibition I asserted, in the cryptic and exiguous manner demanded by the occasion, that "superrealism in general is the romantic principle in art." It will be noted

____________________
*
"Surrealism and the Romantic Principle" first appeared as the Introduction to Surrealism ( 1936) by André Breton and others, and is reprinted here in a specially revised version by permission of Mr. Read and Faber and Faber, Ltd. Mr. Read (b. 1893) is the author of Reason and Romanticism ( 1926), English Prose Style ( 1928), Phases of English Poetry ( 1928), The Sense of Glory ( 1929), Julien Benda and the New Humanism ( 1930), Wordsworth ( 1930), Form in Modern Poetry ( 1932), Collected Essays in Literary Criticism ( 1938), and Poetry and Anarchism ( 1939).

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