Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

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

may be a difficult one, for even Communism, the creed of liberty and fraternity, has made the exigences of a transitional epoch the excuse for an unnecessary and stupid form of aesthetic intolerance.

The contradictions of the personality are resolved in the work of art: that is one of the first principles of romanticism. One might even go so far as to say that the personality without contradictions is incapable of creating a work of art. It is incapable of entering into dialectical activity--of moving from the state of equilibrium which is the state of mental passivity. Art is more than description or "reportage"; it is an act of renewal. It renews vision, it renews language; but most essentially it renews life itself by enlarging the sensibility, by making men more conscious of the terror and the beauty, the wonder of the possible forms of being.

The renascence of wonder--I remember this as the title of an essay by Watts-Dunton, the friend of Swinburne. I should not be afraid to dopt such a grandiloquent phrase to describe the general aim of Surrealism as I conceive it. Just as curiosity is the faculty which drives man to seek out the hidden structure of the external universe, thereby enabling him to build up that body of knowledge which we call Science, so wonder is the faculty which dares man to create what has not before existed, which dares man to use his powers in new ways and for new effects. We have lost this sense of the word "wonderful"--it is one of the most outworn clichés in the language. But actually "wonder" is a better and more inclusive word than "beauty," and what is full of wonder has the most compelling force over the imagination of men. "We cease to wonder at what we understand," said Dr. Johnson, a man indifferent to the cost of complacency. It would have been much more to the point to have observed that understanding ceases when we cease to wonder, that, as Pascal, a less complacent man, observed "there are reasons of the heart of which Reason knows nothing."


JAMES T. FARRELL: Growth and Decay in Literature*

REVOLUTIONARY critics have frequently assured the revolutionary and proletarian writer that for subject-matter he has the whole range of history before him. Thus, Mr. Hicks has written that it is possible for the proletarian novelist to write about the past, the present, or the future, and that over this span of time there is the social area of all classes. Generally, such remarks have been just words. For while giving the world to the novelist in generalizations, critics and reviewers have taken about nine-tenths of that world back from him in specific judgments and measurements of contemporary works of literature.

Mr. Hicks, for instance, is fond of applying the phrase "Marxian insight." As I interpret this phrase, it seems to relate to the connecting up of disparate events and phenomena in economic links, a process which cuts a straight line back to the class struggle. In other words, it relates to a "Marxism" that is mechanical. The opposite tendency--revolutionary sentimentalism--has achieved a co-ordinate narrowness that binds not by the rigidity of its concepts but by the unanalyzed, roomy, and disorganized state of its crystallized emotions. Whereas the critics of one tendency speak of "Marxian" insight, those of the other revel in warning writers that they have come out of the womb of the

____________________
*
"Growth and Decay in Literature" is the eleventh chapter of A Note on Literary Criticism, by James T. Farrell , Copyright, 1936, by The Vanguard Press, Inc. Mr. Farrell (b. 1904) has also written The League of Frightened Philistines ( 1945) and Literature and Morality ( 1947).

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