Friday, May 21, 2010

Bringing Actaeon to Mrs Porter no more

Today's reading consisted of contemporary reviews of T.S.Eliot's early poetry. I expected to find much silliness, and there certainly was some, but I was more struck by the quality of the writing, and not only quality - there was an intensity and seriousness in the tone, a belief that literature is of vital importance... How quaint is that. And how quaint to find literary criticism that is beautifully written and not filled with the latest unintelligible jargon from Paris or with journalistic shallowness and crowd pleasing. Those seem to be the two choices these days when debating serious literature is a peripheral, rather eccentric past-time, mostly practiced in the campuses, and not practiced, evidently, with much faith in the importance of the activity.

Well, perhaps this nostalgia is mistaken. Most nostalgia is. But I do wonder - how can we expect to keep civilization going if we are not civilized ourselves, not educated in this oldfashioned sense which translates roughly into having a civilizational memory, a dialogue with the past, a serious, living connection with it? Very elitist, I'm sure, to have these worries, but I can't help having a certain sense of foreboding in seeing this cultural amnesia advancing so quickly. What can be the end result, what brave new ahistorical, non-literary world?

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