[E.H. Gombrich wrote on May 13, 1975:]
. . . I recently was invited to talk about "Art" at the Institution for Education of our University. There was a well-intentioned teacher there who put forward the view that we had no right whatever to influence the likes and dislikes of our pupils because every generation had a different outlook and we could not possibly tell what theirs would be. It is the same extreme relativism, which has invaded our art schools and resulted in the doctrine (which I have read in print) that art could not possibly be taught because only what has been done already can be taught, and since art is creativity (they used to call it originality) it is not possible to teach it. Q.E.D.—I recently asked my history finalists what "Quod erat demonstrandum" means and they did not know. . . .
[Quentin Bell responded on May 15, 1975:]
. . . Your teacher at the Institute, is he really a relativist? Isn't he a kind of religious zealot? I used to teach school children. With me there was a much better teacher (better in that she could interest and control a class and organize things and was in fact a very admirable and sensible person). One day she came into the room where I had been teaching and found a series of (to my mind) the most surprising and beautiful water colours. "What are these?" said she. I explained that they were copies of Raphael made by eleven and twelve year old children. I would have gone on to explain how interested I was by their resemblance, not to Raphael but rather to Simone Martini, for they had all the shapes beautifully right but none of the internal drawing or the sentiment, but I was checked by her look of horror.
"You've made them copy from Raphael?" she said. Her expression was exactly that of someone who had been casually informed that that I had committed a series of indecent assaults upon the brats. And in fact in subsequent conversation it appeared that this was very nearly what she did feel. For her, what she called "self expression" was as precious as virginity.
E.H. Gombrich was director of the Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of the Classical Tradition at the University of London from 1959 to 1976. His books include The Story of Art, Art and Illusion, Meditations on a Hobby Horse, Norm and Form, Symbolic Images, The Heritage of Apelles, and In Search of Cultural History. He became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1960, a Commander of the British Empire in 1966, and was knighted in 1972. He is also a trustee of the British Museum and a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Notes and Exchanges" (Summer 1979),"Standards of Truth: The Arrested Image and the Moving Eye" (Winter 1980), and, with Quentin Bell, "Canons and Values in the Visual Arts: A Correspondence" (Spring 1976). Quentin Bell is professor of the history and theory of art, Sussex University. He has written Virginia Woolf: A Biography, Of Human Finery, Ruskin, Victorian Artists and Bloomsbury. Other contributions to Critical Inquiry are "The Art Critic and the Art Historian" (Spring 1975), "Notes and Exchanges" (Summer 1979), and "Bloomsbury and 'the Vulgar Passions'" (Winter 1979).
When M. H. Abrams published a defense, in 1972, of "theorizing about the arts,"1 some of his critics accused him, of falling into subjectivism. He had made his case so forcefully against "the confrontation model of aesthetic criticism," and so effectively argued against "simplified" and "invariable" models of the art work and of "the function of criticism," that some readers thought he had thrown overboard the very possibility of a rational criticism tested by objective criteria.
In his recent reply to these critics,2 Abrams concentrates almost entirely on whether his critical pluralism is finally a skeptical relativism. He does not even mention his great historical works, The Mirror and the Lamp and Natural Supernaturalism, and he has nothing to say about how his pluralistic theories would be applied to the writing of history. But then, surprising as it seems once we think about it, neither of the two histories has much about his method either.
What is the true achievement of these aggressive raids into our past, and how does Abrams see them in relation to other possible histories of the same subjects? Knowing in advance that he has agreed to reply to my nudging, I should like both to propose that everyone has—with Abrams' own encouragement—understated the importance of what he has done and to ask: What kind of pluralist is he?
· 1. "What's the Use of Theorizing about the Arts," In Search of Literary Theory, ed. Morton Bloomfield (Ithaca, N.Y., 1972), pp. 3-54.
· 2. "A Note on Wittgenstein and Literary Criticism," ELH 41 (Winter 1974): 541-54.
Wayne C. Booth's other contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Kenneth Burke's Way of Knowing" (September 1974), "Irony and Pity Once Again: Thais Revisited" (Winter 1975), >"Preserving the Exemplar: Or, How Not to Dig our Own Graves" (Spring 1977), "Notes and Exchanges" (Autumn 1977), "Metaphor as Rhetoric: The Problem of Evaluation" (Autumn 1978) ,"Ten Literal 'Theses" (Autumn 1978), with Wright Morris: "The Writing of Organic Fiction: A Conversation" (Autumn 1976), and with Robert E. Streeter, W. J. T. Mitchell: “Sheldon Sacks 1930-1979” (Spring 1979).
In retrospect, I think I was right to compose Natural Supernaturalism (let us, following Booth, focus our discussion on this book) by relying on taste, tact, and intuition rather than on a controlling method. A book of this kind, which deals with the history of human intellection, feeling, and imagination, employs special vocabularies, procedures, and modes of demonstration which, over many centuries of development, have shown their profitability when applied to matters of this sort. I agree with Booth that these procedures, when valid, are in a broad sense rational, and subject to analysis and some degree of definition. But the rules underlying such a discourse are complex, elusive, unsystematic, and subject to innovative modification; they manifest themselves in the intuitive expertise of the historian; and the specification of these rules should not precede, but follow practice. . . . After the fact, nevertheless, a book like Natural Supernaturalism is subject to close critical inquiry about its methods and rationale. I am grateful to Booth for opening up such an inquiry, and for doing so in a way that is not only disarming, but seems to me to be the most promising of useful results. That is, instead of adopting a prosecutorial stance, demanding: "Justify the rationality and probative force of what you have done; it looks dammed suspicious to me," he has adopted the friendly tactic of saying: "Your book, in my experience of it, has yielded discoveries that I want to call knowledge, by methods, however deviant from standard rubrics of valid reasoning, that it seems irrational to call non-rational. Let's set out to clarify what these methods are, and to see what grounds we can find for the claim that they provide warranted knowledge."
M.H. Abrams' contributions to Critical Inquiry are "The Deconstructive Angel" (Spring 1977) and "Behaviorism and Deconstruction: A Comment on Morse Peckham's 'The Infinitude of Pluralism'" (Autumn 1977).
The willows and the hazel copses green
Shall now no more be seen
Fanning their joyous leaves to thy soft lays.
[Milton, Lycidas, Ll. 42-44]
It is my thesis that the reader is always making sense (I intend "making" to have its literal force), and in the case of these lines the sense he makes will involve the assumption (and therefore the creation) of a completed assertion after the word "seen," to wit, the death of Lycidas has so affected the willows and the hazel copses green that, in sympathy, they will wither and die (will no more be seen by anyone). In other words at the end of line 43 the reader will have hazarded an interpretation, or performed an act of perpetual closure, or made a decision as to what is being asserted. I do not mean that he has done four things, but that he has done one thing the description of which might take any one of four forms—making sense, interpreting, performing perpetual closure, deciding about what is intended. (The importance of this point will become clear later.) Whatever he has done (that is, however we characterize it) he will undo it in the act of reading the next line; for here he discovers that his closure, or making of sense, was premature and that he must make a new one in which the relationship between man and nature is exactly the reverse of what was first assumed. The willows and the hazel copses green will in fact be seen, but they will not be seen by Lycidas. It is he who will be no more, while they go on as before, fanning their joyous leaves to someone else's soft lays (the whole of line 44 is now perceived as modifying and removing the absoluteness of "seen"). Nature is not sympathetic, but indifferent, and the notion of her sympathy is one of those "false surmises" that the poem is continually encouraging and then disallowing.
Stanley E. Fish, professor of English at Johns Hopkins University, is the author of John Skelton's Poetry, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, and Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature. His other contributions to Critical Inquiry include "Facts and Fictions: A Reply to Ralph Rader" (June 1975), "Normal Circumstances, Literal Language, Direct Speech Acts, the Ordinary, the Everyday, the Obvious, What Goes without Saying, and Other Special Cases" (Summer 1978), "A Reply to John Reichert; or, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Interpretation" (Autumn 1979), and "One More Time" (Autumn 1980).
We are much given to supposing that "knowledge" designates a few prize classes of—of what I am not sure, but matters quite distinct from, superior to, others. It seems we are beginning to understand that: "Such terms as sensation, perception, imagery, recall, problem-solving, and thinking, among many others, refer to hypothetical stages or aspects of cognition."1 The imagery of Macbeth refers to a hypothetical stage or aspect of cognition, as does problem solving using algebra. For that matter, it might be argued that "cognition" itself is hypothetical, only a part of knowing, only an abstraction of a human activity. But we must have terms to make sense, and we can take "cognition" to designate the activity that we otherwise designate in specific result as knowledge. In such a view, what we know is all "a human being might possibly do." That "all" is inexplicable apart from doer-knower, from a postulated "real world," and from activities by organs or tissue collectively referred to as the brain.
· 1. Ulrich Neisser, Cognitive Psychology (New York, 1967), p. 3.
Earl Miner is Townsend Martin, Class of 1917, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. His works include Literary Uses of Typology from the Middle Ages to the Present (of which he is editor and a contributor) and Japanese Linked Poetry. He has contributed "On the Genesis and Development of Literary Systems, Part 1" (Winter 1978) and "On the Genesis and Development of Literary Systems, Part 2" (Spring 1979) to Critical Inquiry.
The advent of the post-Stalin "thaw," particularly the period after 1956, was marked by a spectacular expansion in the publishing of translated Western writing and also, on occasion, of editions in the original languages: the virtual ban on import of Western books was, as of 1975, never relaxed. The more permissive political atmosphere favored the publication of a vastly larger variety of Western authors and titles and provision for the Soviet public of much larger quantities of such books in the country's bookstores and libraries. While the improvement was very impressive in itself, abundant data attest that it was far from adequate to satisfy reader demand.1 Among the beneficiaries, books by American authors stood out the more prominently since it was these that were most discriminated against during the years immediately preceding.2 Decades of neglect, to say nothing of politically inspired selectivity, resulted in such incongruities as the first Russian translation of Melville's Moby Dick in 1961—more than a century after the novel's appearance—and the first Soviet publication of any work by Henry James (who was a friend of Turgenev a century earlier!) in 1973. It was not until the 1960's that Russians had an opportunity to read Faulkner—but then, the same was true of Kafka. However unevenly, the range of American literature, both old and new, now made available to Soviet readers is gradually expanding.
· 1. The overall problem is discussed in detail in this writer's forthcoming book, A Decade of Euphoria: Western Literature in Post-Stalin Russia, 1954-64 (Bloomington, Ind., 1976).
· 2. For a thorough and illuminating discussion of the fate of American literature in the U.S.S.R. from the Revolution until the early post-Stalin years, see Deming Brown, Soviet Attitudes toward American Writing (Princeton, N.J., 1962). Interesting statistical data on the first post-Stalin years may also be found in Melville J. Ruggles, "American Books in Soviet Publishing," Slavic Review 20, n.3 (October 1961): 419-35. A useful, very brief list of selected works of American writing published by 1968, though not entirely as complete as it purports to be, may be found in M.O. Mendel'son, A.N. Nikolyukin, R.M. Samarin, eds., Problemy literature S. Sh. A. XX. veka (Moscow: "Nauka," 1970), pp. 391-517. Unfortunately, the Soviet bibliography contains no information on press runs of the books listed.
Maurice Friedberg, head of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, is the author of numerous essays and articles on Soviet literature. Professor Friedberg's most recent book, A Decade of Euphoria: Western Literature in Post-Stalin Russia, 1954-1964, will be published this year.
In working his way through his complex conception of the relation of fiction and reality, [Henry] James thus found the unconscious moral dimension inextricably embedded within "realism" itself. In following the threads of realism (or reality) back to consciousness itself, James invariably found there intertwined with its roots those aspects and elements that other theorists kept carefully separate. By exploring experience to its source, he found imagination. By following objective life from "out there" to conception, he found individual vision. By following the seeming oneness of the passing show back to perception, he found infinite variation and multiplicity. By following the uncolored flux and flow of events to their embodiment in the fictional medium, he found coloration of personality. And by following the "felt life" back to the artist's "prime sensibility" (consciousness), James found there the "moral sense" and the "enveloping air of the artist's humanity"—that which gives "the last touch to the worth of a work."
James E. Miller, Jr., professor of English at the University of Chicago, is the author of A Critical Guide to Leaves of Grass; Walt Whitman; F. Scott Fitzgerald: His Art and His Technique; J.D. Salinger; Theory of Fiction: Henry James; and numerous articles on American literature and education. He contributed "Catcher In and Out of History" to Critical Inquiry, Spring 1977.
Teachers and critics have much to learn from [Harold] Bloom's work, and in this paper I want to try to show what it is we can learn from him and how we might go about it. In doing so, I also mean to analyze his attack upon formal criticism and to consider the merits of that attack. In the end, I propose an assessment of what in my view is the crucial weakness of both formal and dialectical criticism alike. This will involve an explication of the meaning of critical care and an enlargement of our customary understanding of critical method and procedure. . . . In The Anxiety of Influence Bloom presents theory based frankly upon Freudian models, or what Bloom calls Family Romance. Every new poet is caught up in a struggle with his forebears, or precursors. Being Freudian forebears, they naturally both teach the poet and threaten him as teachers. The problem for the poet is to learn from his forebearing (or perhaps overbearing) family without losing his integral self. If he succeeds he becomes what Bloom calls a "strong poet," and, hence, again quite naturally, he lives to present much trouble to coming generations, who have their own paths to go.
See also: Jerome McGann, Philology in a New Key
Jerome McGann, professor of English at John Hopkins University, has written books on Byron and Swinburne and is presently working on the Oxford English Text edition of Byron's Complete Poetical Works, Don Juan in Context, and a collection of poetry, Air Heart Sermons.