The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays

By Morris R. Cohen | Go to book overview

22
FORCES IN AMERICAN CRITICISM

THE PAST TWO DECADES have witnessed both a notable increase of interest in the history of American literature and a considerable insurgence against the traditional ideas which have long prevailed with regard to it. Under the influence of what may be broadly called the Anti-Puritan and the Marxian points of view, the rebels have protested either (1) against the "Puritanic," "genteel," or "Victorian" subordination of literature to conventional morality or (2) against treating literature apart from the economic, political, and social conditions under which people actually live. The slogan that literature should express "life" has been used so much by both groups that it has obscured the fact that the differences between them are in some respects greater than that which separates the second group from their supposed common enemy. Indeed, the Marxian group might well be called neo-Puritanic, since they are hostile to the idea of literature for the sake of enjoyment (no matter how refined) and insist that it must be judged not by purely esthetic or artistic considerations but by the writer's conformity to the proper doctrine, which must now be politico-economic rather than, as formerly, politico-theological.

The Marxian view of literary criticism is put forward with considerable vigor in Bernard Smith Forces in American Criticism. And though Mr. Smith joins some Freudians in the notion

____________________
The substance of this essay appeared as a review of Bernard Smith, Forces in American Criticism: a Study in the History of American Literary Thought, in the Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, p. 241 ( April 1940).

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