Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Spring 1975

Volume 1 Issue 3
    • 479Jacques Barzun
    • Many years ago Degas said "Il faut décourager les arts." I am far from agreeing, but I am ready to say that critics of a certain kind are in need of active discouragement. Too much is written about matters that should be taken in by the beholder as he hears or scans the work. It is not desirable that his conscious mind should entertain - or be prepared to entertain - clear statements of what he experiences under the spell of a masterpiece. The very reason why art is finer when it shows rather than tells is that comprehension is then immediate, not discursive. Ideally, the spectator must absorb - in order to be absorbed; and this means that the critic should shut up until he is wanted. We have no need of a study of "Punctuality in Thomas Hardy." I am making up the subject, but everybody can think of dozens of comparable works of pseudo-scholarship and pseudo-criticism. Their only excuse is that the authors wrote them under Ph.Duress and cannot be blamed for being coerced.

      See also:  Barbara Currier Bell and Carol Ohmann, Virginia Woolf's Criticism: A Polemical Preface

      Jacques Barzun is University Professor at Columbia University. Among his numerous books are Classic, Romantic and Modern, Berlioz and the Romantic Century, The Use and Abuse of Art and, most recently, Clio and the Doctors: Psycho-History, Quanto-History, and History.

    • 497Quentin Bell
    • But while the literature of art is, in publishers' terms, booming, it has in one respect suffered a loss. During the past two hundred years there has usually been some important figure who acted as a censor and an apologist of the contemporary scene, a Diderot, a Baudelaire, a Ruskin or a Roger Frye. Who amongst our living authors plays this important role? What name springs to mind? I would suggest that no name actually springs; the last of our grandly influential critics was Sir Herbert Read and since his death, whatever else modern art may or may not possess, it has no prophet. This is not to say that aesthetic prophets are necessarily desirable nor that there are not some very conscientious and extremely perceptive critics at work today; in view of the fact that I am within a fortnight exhibiting my work in a London dealer's gallery (December 1973-January 1974), it would be folly to deny it. But it is I believe true that for better or for worse we have no grand pundit of living art and I believe that this lack may be concerned with what I see as a certain diminution in the role of the art critic, a certain decay in this department of literature. It is a tendency which I regret and the causes of which I want to try to discuss. It arises I believe from a misunderstanding concerning the proper functions of the critic and this confusion of purpose will be my theme. First, however, I think that I should glance at two important circumstances which make the work of an art critic particularly difficult today.

      See also: Quentin Bell, Art and the Elite

      Quentin Bell, professor of the history and theory of art at Sussex University, has written Virginia Woolf: A Biography, Of Human Finery, Ruskin, Victorian Artists, and, Bloomsbury. His article, "Art and the Elite," appeared in the first issue of Critical Inquiry. "The Art Critic and the Art Historian" was originally delivered as the Leslie Stephen lecture at the University of Cambridge on November 26, 1973. Other contributions are "CRITICAL RESPONSE: Notes and Exchanges" (Summer 1979), and "Bloomsbury and 'the Vulgar Passions'" (Winter 1979).

    • 521John G. Cawelti
    • The chief difficulty with most social and psychological studies of violence lies in their assumption that violence is essentially a simple act of aggression that can be treated outside of a more complex moral and dramatic context. This may be the case with news reports of war, murder, assault, and other forms of violent crime, but it is certainly not a very adequate way to treat the fictional violence of a western, a detective story, or a gangster saga. It is true that one can count and catalog the number of violent acts that occur in a day or a week of television and produce distressing statistics about the number of murders and assaults per minute on the typical television show. One can, like the redoubtable Dr. Wertham, amass specific instances where a young person has imitated or thinks he has imitated an act of violence he saw on television, though we should not forget that it can also be said without much fear of contradiction that the literary work which has directly caused more violence in the history of Western civilization than any other is the Bible. One can also construct laboratory experiments in which various groups are shown short films of violent acts and demonstrate that in certain circumstances this experience will cause further aggressive behavior. With procedures such as this, the evidence of a correlation between media violence and aggressive behavior becomes more and more persuasive. But do such studies tell us anything more than that this is a violent age and that there is probably some connection between the violence of actuality and the representation of violence in the media?

      See also: W. J. T. Mitchell, The Violence of Public Art: "Do the Right Thing"

      John G. Cawelti, author of Apostles of the Self-made Man, Six-Gun Mystique, and Focus on Bonnie and Clyde, is professor in the Department of English and chairman of the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities at the University of Chicago.

    • 543Frederick Crews
    • The present disarray of psychoanalytic criticism is no doubt a cause for satisfaction among people who never cared for "deep" interpretation and who now feel confirmed in their resolution to allow literature to speak for itself. The only way to do that, however, is to remain silent—a sacrifice beyond the saintliest critic's power. To be a critic is precisely to take a stance different from the author's and to pursue a thesis of one's own. Among the arguments it is possible to make, reductive ones are without a doubt the trickiest, promising Faustian knowledge but often misrepresenting the object of inquiry and deluding the critic into thinking he has cracked the author's code. To forswear all reductions, however, is not the answer: that is the path of phobia. A critic can avoid reductionism, yet still give his intellect free rein, only by keeping his skepticism in working order. If psychoanalysis, originally the most distrustful of psychologies, has by its worldly success and conceptual elaboration become a positive impediment to skepticism, we need be no more surprised than Freud himself would have been at such all-too-human backsliding. A critic's sense of limits, like Freud's own, must come not from the fixed verities of a doctrine but from his awe at how little he can explain. And that awe in turn must derive from his openness to literature—from his sense that the reader in him, happily, will never be fully satisfied by what the critic in him has to say.

      See also: Margret Schaefer, Psychoanalysis and the Marionette Theater: Interpretation Is Not Depreciation

      Frederick Crews has written books on James, Forster, Hawthorne, and Christopher Robin. He is professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley. The present essay is a chapter from a new book, Out of My System: Psychoanalysis, Ideology, and Critical Method (Oxford University Press, Fall 1975).

    • 559E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
    • Among philosophers as well as linguists the battle is still joined between those who view the correlation between meaning and linguistic form as strictly determined by convention and those who argue (as I shall) for the essential indeterminacy of the relationship between meaning and form.1 Plato's Cratylus aside, the philosphical dialogue that forms the locus classicus of this debate is the following:


      "You're holding it upside down!" Alice interrupted. "To be sure I was!" Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. "I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying. that seems to be done right - though I haven't time to look it over thoroughly just now - and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents -" "Certainly," said Alice. "And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!" "I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't - till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'" "But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected. "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."2


      ·  1. This should not be taken as an argument for the indeterminacy of linguistic meaning itself. Quite the contrary; it is because meaning can be stable and determinate despite variations in mental acts and linguistic forms that the relation between form and meaning must be indeterminate on the basis merely of rules and conventions.

      ·  2. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, chap. 6.

      See also: E. D. Hirsch, Jr, The Politics of Theories of Interpretation

      E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is Kenan Professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Validity in Interpretation and Wordsworth and Schelling: A Typological Study of Romanticism. A second edition of his book on Blake, Innocence and Experience, will appear next year, as will a new book on critical theory.

    • 581John Holloway
    • Some recent discussions of narrative structure consider the narrative as a sequence of events, and assume that the structure is what is manifested by the relation between any given event and the event (n - 1)1, or perhaps the whole sequence from the first event up to the (n - 1)th event in the book. In the present discussion this approach will be modified in two ways. It will be modified, later on, by considering what would be happening if the writer were revising his work into the final version, out of a penultimate version which was, as it were, a next-most complex version: one to which some final "complexifying" process had not yet been applied. The other way in which the present discussion will modify that approach is that it will consider narrative not as one sequence of events but as an interrelated set of sequences.


      ·  1. E.g., R. Barthes, "Introduction à l'analyse structurale du récit," Communications, no. 8 (1966), pp.1-27.

      See also: John Holloway, Supposition and Supersession: A Model of Analysis for Narrative Structure

      John Holloway, professor of Modern English at the University of Cambridge, has written The Victorian Sage, The Charted Mirror, The Story of the Night, Blake: The Lyric Poetry, and five volumes of verse, such as New Poems. He is presently completing a book on poetic modes from Milton to Hardy and coediting a four-volume series on English and Irish street ballads. His other contribution to Critical Inquiry," Supposition and Supersession: A Model of Analysis for Narrative Structure" appeared in the Autumn 1976 issue.

    • 605Martin Price
    • The subtlety of the novel lies in its unrelieved tension of flesh and spirit, exclusion and invitation, the social self and the deeper impersonal self. At one extreme are the caricatures caught in the social grid - the Turtons and Burtons. At the other are the characters who slip out of the meshes of social responsibility through despair or obliviousness. We move from the elaborate rituals of Anglo-Indian to Mau, where the only aspects of life we are shown are ecstasy and neglect. Where does the mind rest? The difficulty with looking at reality directly is that reality will tend to dissolve: "not now, not here, not to be apprehended except when it is unattainable." Transcendence dehumanizes, the deeper self is a source rather than a habitation, we cannot see the unseen. We only glimpse it through paradox, violence, or farce; and each of these contributes something to Forster's conception of character.

      See also: Martin Price, The Logic of Intensity: More on Character

      Martin Price, Thomas E. Donnelly Professor of English at Yale University, is author of To the Palace of Wisdom and the recently reprinted Swift's Rhetorical Art, editor and coeditor of the Oxford Anthology of English Literature, and coeditor of Poetry Past and Present. He is currently working on a book on character in the novel.

    • 623Edward Wasiolek
    • With the publication of Anatomy of Criticism in 1957, Northrop Frye had already recognized that some egress had to be found from the theoretical impasse of insisting on an autonomy that cut literature off from more and more. Whereas American New Criticism saw the structure of the individual work as unique and self-sufficient, Frye insisted that there were structures that overrode the specific contexts of individual works. The structures of individual works were not worlds unto themselves, but were conditioned by contexts and structures broader than they. Works were not made ex nihilo; they were made out of literature, and Frye seemed to imply what T.S. Eliot had stated some thirty years before him: that there was an order of works that affected and was affected by the individual work.1 Unlike the American New Critics who insisted - at least in their extreme period - that the individual poem had an induplicable context, Frye insisted on the duplicable context, and on the fact that certain images and basic structures are repeated throughout Western literature.


      ·  1. Frye actually pays high tribute to Eliot’s The Function of Criticism and his concept of literature as an ideal order of works and not simply the collection of writings of individuals. He says, "This is criticism and very fundamental criticism. Much of this book attempts to annotate it" (Anatomy of Criticism [Princeton, N.J., 1957], p.18).

      See also: Edward Wasiolek, Texts Are Made and Not Given: A Response to a Critique

      Edward Wasiolek, is author of Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction and editor of the five-volume edition of Dostoevsky's notebooks for which he received the Gordon J. Laing Prize. He is Avalon Foundation Professor and chairman of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago.

    • 641Eugène Ionesco
    • GJ: We've talked a lot about critics who are hostile toward you. Do you ever feel the need to make a stand against those who are favourably inclined toward your plays but whose comments seem to you to be stupid?


      EI: Well, for better or worse, that's what I've always done: I wrote Notes and Counter-Notes, had discussions with Claude Bonnefoy, I've written articles; and in each case what I've said, in short, is that critics who gave me their approval, did so because they misunderstood me and were mistaken about my intentions.


      GJ: Finally, are you at all bitter about the critics?


      EI: No. Many have become good friends of mine. But it is a bit disheartening; when I began, a critic who, shall we say, is on the Right, a conservative critic who is very well-known and has since become a friend of mine, called me an impostor, a fraud, and a dummy; and now, twenty-five years later, the Leftists still call me an impostor, a fraud, and a dummy.


      GJ: But less often?


      EI: Well, I suppose so.


      Eugene Ionesco, renowned by playwright , recently was awarded the International Writer's Prize by the Welsh Arts Council. While in Wales, he was interviewed by Gabriel Jacobs, lecturer in French at University College of Swansea; the interview represents Ionesco's most concerted attempt yet to deal with his critics. He is completing a book on the subject which Gabriel Jacobs will translate into English.

    • 669A. Walton Litz
    • The nineteenth century compared her to Shakespeare; in our own time, she has been likened most often to Henry James. Both comparisons reflect a basic difficulty in reconciling subject matter with treatment, in squaring Jane Austen's restricted world - "3 or 4 Families in a Country Village" - with her profound impact upon our imaginations. Over the years her admirers have tried to resolve this paradox in various ways, none quite successful, but throughout all the changes in critical method one thing has remained constant: the high level of admiration. As Edmund Wilson once remarked, in various revolutions of taste which have occurred during the last century and a half, "perhaps only two reputations have never been affected by the shifts of fashion: Shakespeare's and Jane Austen's. We still agree with Scott about Jane Austen, just as we agree with Ben Jonson about Shakespeare." Even in the half-century after Jane Austen's death, when her reputation was limited in comparison with those of the great Victorians, the praise of discriminating critics was remarkably consistent; and it seems safe to predict, as we begin to celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of her birth, that this high estimate will remain unchallenged. The bicentennial year will produce the usual tributes, conferences, and collections of essays, but the call for "revaluation" which is usually a ritual part of such occasions will scarcely be heard. The question will not be one of placing Jane Austen in some hierarchy of value, but of trying once again to explain her accepted excellences.


      A. Walton Litz has written The Art of James Joyce, Jane Austen: A Study of Her Artistic Development, Introspective Voyager: The Poetic Development of Wallace Stevens, and numerous articles. He is professor of English at Princeton University.

    • 683Gunther S. Stent
    • I was surprised to note the critical tone of the discussion which my friend Leonard B. Meyer recently devoted in these pages to an article on the relation of art and science that I wrote for a popular scientific magazine. For I had believed all the while that in my article I was merely presenting to a general scientific audience a watered-down version of what I thought were Meyer's own views. Evidently I was mistaken in that belief, though I have been unable to fathom just where I went wrong in interpreting Meyer's earlier writings, which, more than any other source, are the provenance of my ideas about the nature of art.


      Gunther S. Stent, professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses, Phage and the Origin of Molecular Biology, Molecular Genetics: An Introductory Narrative, The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress, and many important scientific papers. In Concerning the Sciences, the Arts—AND the Humanities" (September 1974), Leonard B. Meyer took issue with views expressed by Professor Stent in "Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery," published in Scientific American (December 1972).

    • 694Leonard B. Meyer
    • I am very sorry that you were distressed by the “critical tone” of my essay; and I apologize if it was in any way offensive. Though I am afraid that our disagreements remain, it would take another article to reply to the paper you enclosed. Of course, I have no objections to your sending your MS to the editor of Critical Inquiry, if you have not already done so.) But let me at least try to pinpoint our differences as I see them.


      Leonard B. Meyer's most recent book is Explaining Music: Essays and Explanations. He is also the author of Emotion and Meaning in Music, The Rhythmic Structure of Music (with Grosvenor W. Cooper), and Music, The Arts, and Ideas, awarded the Laing Prize in 1969.

    • 699Frank Kermode
    • Like all sensible men I feel that to be read carefully by Denis Donoghue is a privilege rather than an ordeal; but although I am clearly to blame insofar as I allowed him to misunderstand me, I can't at all admit that he has damaged the argument I was trying to develop.


       I cheerfully concede most of his points, but they don't work against me in the way he thinks. Of course there is a sense in which it can be said that "there is only one story," the facts of which can be had "for the trouble of finding them." That is not in dispute; the question concerns that "trouble" and its products. For we surely mean by right reading something more than the reconstruction of events in causal and chronological order - that is what we do when we read complicated detective stories, though even then, as I have argued elsewhere, our "trouble" involves considerations of a nonnarrative order; and this is true whether or not it is the intention of the author that it should. (Incidentally, I remember lecturing on that topic a couple years ago in Dublin, again, it appears, without convincing my host and friend Denis Donoghue that even in these relatively simple cases no single right reading is possible.)


      In the December issue of Critical Inquiry Denis Donoghue raised objections to Frank Kermode's "Novels: Recognition and Deception" (Critical Inquiry, September 1974). In his brief comments, Professor Kermode clarifies the issues in dispute. Kermode's other contributions to Critical Inquiry are "A Reply to Joseph Frank"(Spring 1978), and "Secrets and Narrative Sequence" (Autumn 1980).