To Civilize Our Gentlemen  

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"Recently one of my colleagues, an eminent scholar, inquired of me, with genuine bafflement, why someone trying to establish himself in an English literature faculty should refer so often to concentration camps; why they were in any way relevant. They are profoundly relevant, and before we can go on teaching we must surely ask ourselves: are the humanities humane and, if so, why did they fail before the night?" --"To Civilize Our Gentlemen" (1965) by George Steiner


"We do not know whether the study of the humanities, of the noblest that has been said and thought, can do very much to humanize. We do not know; and surely there is something rather terrible in our doubt whether the study and delight a man finds in Shakespeare make him any less capable of organizing a concentration camp." --"To Civilize Our Gentlemen" (1965) by George Steiner

"The second major assumption was nationalism. It is no accident that German philology and Germanic textual criticism coincided with the dynamic rise of the German national consciousness (and let us not forget that it was on the genius of the German scholars that the rest of Europe, England, and America drew so heavily). As Herder, the Grimm brothers, and the whole lineage of German literary teachers and critics were frank to proclaim, the study of one's own literary past played a vital part in affirming national identity. To this point of view Taine and the historical positivists added the theory that one gets to know the unique racial genius of a people, of one's own people, by studying its literature. Everywhere the history of modern literary studies shows the mark of this nationalist ideal of the mid-and late-nineteenth century." --"To Civilize Our Gentlemen" (1965) by George Steiner


"Unlike Matthew Arnold and unlike Dr. Leavis, I find myself unable to assert confidently that the humanities humanize. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text, which is the substance of our training and pursuit, diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response. Because we are trained to give psychological and moral credence to the imaginary, to the character in a play or a novel, to the condition of spirit we gather from a poem, we may find it more difficult to identify with the real world, to take the world of actual experience to heart— "to heart" is a suggestive phrase. The capacity for imaginative reflex, for moral risk in any human being is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room. Thus there may be a covert, betraying link between the cultivation of aesthetic response and the potential of personal inhumanity. What then are we doing when we study and teach literature?" --"To Civilize Our Gentlemen" (1965) by George Steiner

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"To Civilize Our Gentlemen" (1965) is an essay by George Steiner collected in Language and Silence. It explores the connection between ethics and aesthetics.

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A man would have to be an outright optimist or gifted with self-deception to argue that all is well in the study and teaching of English literature. There is a distinct malaise in the field, a sense of things going wrong or by default. The quality of students in respect of intellectual rigor and independence of mind is not always very impressive, compared, say, with the man coming up to read economics, or the good historian, let alone the natural scientist. Mo- tives are unclear or faintly hypocritical. A man reads English because he wants time in which to write fiction or verse, to act or produce plays, or simply because English looks like the soft option before he enters business and begins serious life. Reading a number of good books which an educated man should have read anyway is a pleasant enough way of spending three or four years at a university, pleasanter than learning a lot of mathematics needed for economics or irregular verbs in a foreign tongue.

The malaise in research studies is of a different nature, but no less disturbing. The entire notion of research, when applied to litera- ture, is problematic. As there are fewer and fewer really significant texts to edit, and this is what doctoral research in literature originally meant, as the historical or technical problems to be cleared up grow less and less substantial, the whole thesis business grows more ten- uous. And already the hunt for genuine subjects is a difficult one. Many dissertations, particularly the safe ones, deal with trivia or with matters so restrictive that the students themselves lose respect for what they are doing.

The contrasting notion that a dissertation should be a piece of literary criticism, that a young man or woman in the very early

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twenties should have something fresh or profound or decisive to say about Shakespeare or Keats or Dickens is equally perplexing. Few people are ever able to say anything very new about major literature, and the idea that one can do so when one is young is almost paradoxi- cal. Literature takes a great deal of living with and living by. So which is it to be? The combing of increasingly barren ground for some tiny fragments, or the large, uneasy vagueness of premature generality and judgment? Is either a genuine discipline? Indeed is "English Lit." in its academic guise? Exactly what is happening, what is being achieved, when a man reads novels, poems, or plays which he might well have read in the course of ordinary life and certainly ought to have read if he regards himself as a literate mem- ber of his society?

English is not the only field in which such questions can be put. The problem of research, of what graduate study means, pertains to the arts as a whole. But the restiveness of many who are engaged in the teaching and study of English literature and the peculiar public acrimony which seems to characterize their professional disagree- ments suggest that the difficulties have reached a fairly acute stage. All I want is to try to put the question in some kind of historical and moral focus, to try to point to some of the roots of our present dilemmas. In fact these go back almost to the beginning of English literature as an academic pursuit. Much of what needs saying today is already implicit in William Morris' well-known dissent from the establishment of a chair of English Literature at Oxford. It dates to the eighteen-eighties when Morris spoke, and to the late eighteen- sixties when Farrar edited the Essays on a Liberal Education and Matthew Arnold produced his Culture and Anarchy. We must look there for the assumptions on which faculties of English Literature were founded.

What were these assumptions? Do they still hold good? Are they relevant to our present needs? In method and intellectual organization, the academic study of modern languages and literature reflects the older tradition of classical studies. The critical, textual, historical study of Greek and Latin literature not only gave precedent and justification for a similar study of the European vulgate; they were foundations on which that study was built. Behind the analysis of Spenser or Pope or Milton or Shelley lay an assumed classic literacy, a natural familiarity with Homeric, Virgilian, Horatian, and Platonic models and energies. The classic background and interests cf Mat-

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thew Arnold, Henry Sidgwick, Saintsbury, are representative. The notion that a man could study modern literature, could study or edit it honestly without having the classical background, would have seemed shocking and implausible.

The second major assumption was nationalism. It is no accident that German philology and Germanic textual criticism coincided with the dynamic rise of the German national consciousness (and let us not forget that it was on the genius of the German scholars that the rest of Europe, England, and America drew so heavily). As Herder, the Grimm brothers, and the whole lineage of German literary teachers and critics were frank to proclaim, the study of one's own literary past played a vital part in affirming national identity. To this point of view Taine and the historical positivists added the theory that one gets to know the unique racial genius of a people, of one's own people, by studying its literature. Everywhere the history of modern literary studies shows the mark of this nationalist ideal of the mid-and late-nineteenth century.

The third major body of assumption is even more vital, but I find it difficult to analyze briefly. Perhaps I could put it this way: behind the formation of modern literary analysis, editorial scholarship, and literary history, lies a kind of rational and moral optimism. In its philological and historical methods the field of literary study reflects a large hope, a great positivism, an ideal of being something like a science, and we find this all the way from Auguste Comte to I. A. Richards. The brilliant work of the classical and Semitic philolo- gists and textual analysts in the nineteenth century, which is one of the chapters of intellectual glory in Europe, seemed to give warrant for the use of similar means and standards in studying a modern text. The variorum, the concordance, the rigorous bibliography— all these are a direct inheritance of this positivist tradition. But the optimism lay much deeper. The study of literature was assumed to carry an almost necessary implication of moral force. It was thought self- evident that the teaching and reading of the great poets and prose writers would enrich not only taste and style but moral feeling; that it would cultivate human judgment and act against barbarism.

There is a remark here by Henry Sidgwick which is typical. He wants us to study English literature so that our views and sympathies may be enlarged and expanded, "by apprehending noble, subtle and profound thoughts, refined and lofty feelings," and he sees in litera- ture the "source and essence of a truly humanizing culture." I think

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that is the key phrase. And this high claim extends from Matthew Arnold's idea of poetry as a vital substitute for religious dogma to Dr. Leavis' definition of the study of English Literature as the "central humanity." Again we should note the carry-over from the Ren- aissance and eighteenth-century view of the role of the classics.

Do these assumptions— the classic background, the nationalist consciousness, and the rational, moralizing hope— these habits and traditions of feeling still hold today? In regard to the classics our condition has formidably altered. Consider two passages from Shake- speare. The first is the celebrated nocturne of love between Lorenzo and Jessica:

Lorenzo: The moon shines bright. ... In such a night as this, When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, And they did make no noise, in such a night Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls, And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents, Where Cressid lay that night.

Jessica: In such a night

Did Thisbe fearfully o'ertrip the dew, And saw the lion's shadow ere himself, And ran dismayed away.

Lorenzo: In such a night

Stood Dido with a willow in her hand Upon the wild sea banks, and waft her love To come again to Carthage.

Jessica: In such a night

Medea gathered the enchanted herbs That did renew old Aeson.

The second is a brief passage from Berowne's mockeries in Act IV of Love's Labour's Lost:

O me, with what strict patience have I sat To see a king transformed to a gnat! To see great Hercules whipping a gig, And profound Solomon to tune a jig,


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And Nestor play at push-pin with the boys, And critic Timon laugh at idle toys!

The classical references in these two passages, as in countless others in Shakespearean drama, were most probably immediately familiar to a large part of Shakespeare's audience. Troilus, Thisbe, Medea, Dido, Hercules, Nestor would be part of the repertoire of recognition to anyone with a measure of Elizabethan grammar- schooling, having come down as living resonance from Plutarch and Ovid's Metamorphoses through Chaucer's Legend of Good Women. And these allusions are no mere ornament; they organize the essential focus of Shakespeare's text (the partially comic, partially sinister precedents invoked by Lorenzo and Jessica beautifully articulate the impulsive, somewhat frivolous quality of their infatuation). The worthies cited by Berowne reflect ironically on his own role and image of himself.

These several references would have been eloquent to an Au- gustan with any serious claim to literacy, to a Victorian public-school boy, to much of the educated European and English bourgeoisie until, say, 1914. But what of today? Hercules, Dido, and Nestor, probably. What of critic Timon and Medea's murderous rejuvenation of Aeson, with its grim hint of Jessica's view of old Shylock? Difficult for those without a classical education.

The point is not trivial. As footnotes lengthen, as glossaries become more elementary (right now it might still be "Troilus: Trojan hero in love with Cressida, daughter of Calchas, and betrayed by her," but in a few years the Iliad itself may require identification) , the poetry loses immediate impact. It moves out of any direct line of vision into, a place of special learning. This fact marks a very large change in the consensus assumed between poet and public. The world of classical mythology, of historical reference, of scriptural allusion, on which a preponderant part of English and European literature is built from Chaucer to Milton and Dryden, from Tennyson to Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes, is receding from our natural reach.

Take the second assumption, the glorious, hopeful view of na- tional genius. From being a nineteenth-century dream, nationalism has grown to a present nightmare. In two world wars it has all but ruined Western culture. It may end by driving us like crazed lem- mings to destruction. In the case of England's political and psychologi-

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cal position the change has been particularly drastic. The implications of the supremacy of the English language, of the exemplary moral and institutional authority of English life, which we see everywhere in the treatment of English literature before the first world war, are no longer tenable. The center of creative and linguistic gravity has begun to shift. Thinking of Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, O'Casey, T. S. Eliot, Faulk- ner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, one makes a commonplace observation. The great energies of the language now enter into play outside Eng- land. Only Hardy, John Cowper Powys, and Lawrence can be com- pared to these major writers. The American language is not only as- serting its autonomous power and showing far greater facilities of assimilation, of innovation, than is standard English, but it is more and more pressing on England itself. American words express eco- nomic and social realities attractive to the young in England, to the hitherto underprivileged, and these words are becoming part of the dream life and vulgate of the post-war English scene. African English, Australian English, the rich speech of West Indian and Anglo-Indian writers, represent a complicated, polycentric field of linguistic force, in which the language taught and written in England is no longer the inevitable authority or focus.

If these new literacies are to be excluded from our curriculum, will that curriculum become almost wholly historical? Will the stu- dent of English literature be taught in a kind of museum? But if we are to include these new literacies, and this is particularly relevant with respect to American literature, what is to be dropped? How are lines of continuity to be drawn? Less Dryden, so we can have more Whitman? Miss Dickinson instead of Mrs. Browning?

To the historian and literary scholar of the late nineteenth century the tremendous advance of the sciences was no threat. He looked on it as a glorious parallel adventure. I think this is no longer the case. I have tried to outline the new situation in The Retreat from the Word."

The bearing of the multiplication and scattering of literacies on the entire shape, on the integrity of literary studies, seems to me to be profound and far-ranging. Until now it has hardly been understood or brought into rational perspective.

If the relationship of literary studies and literary awareness to the ensemble of knowledge and expressive means in our society has radically altered, so surely has the confident link between literature and civilized values. This, I think, is the key point. The simple yet

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appalling fact is that we have very little solid evidence that literary studies do very much to enrich or stabilize moral perception, that they humanize. We have little proof that a tradition of literary studies in fact makes a man more humane. What is worse— a certain body of evidence points the other way. When barbarism came to twentieth- century Europe, the arts faculties in more than one university offered very little moral resistance, and this is not a trivial or local accident. In a disturbing number of cases the literary imagination gave servile or ecstatic welcome to political bestiality. That bestiality was at times enforced and refined by individuals educated in the culture of tradi- tional humanism. Knowledge of Goethe, a delight in the poetry of Rilke, seemed no bar to personal and institutionalized sadism. Liter- ary values and the utmost of hideous inhumanity could coexist in the same community, in the same individual sensibility; and let us not take the easy way out and say "the man who did these things in a concentration camp just said he was reading Rilke. He was not reading him well." That is an evasion. He may have been reading him very well indeed.

Unlike Matthew Arnold and unlike Dr. Leavis, I find myself unable to assert confidently that the humanities humanize. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text, which is the substance of our training and pursuit, diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response. Because we are trained to give psychological and moral credence to the imaginary, to the character in a play or a novel, to the condition of spirit we gather from a poem, we may find it more difficult to identify with the real world, to take the world of actual experience to heart— "to heart" is a suggestive phrase. The capacity for imaginative reflex, for moral risk in any human being is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room. Thus there may be a covert, betraying link between the cultivation of aesthetic response and the potential of personal inhumanity. What then are we doing when we study and teach literature?

It seems to me that the wide gap between the orthodox academic formulation of "Eng.Lit." as it is still so largely prevalent in univer- sities, and the realities of our intellectual and psychological situa- tion may account for the general malaise in the field. There are

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questions we must be tactless and undiplomatic enough to raise if we are to stay honest with ourselves and our students. But I have no answers; only suggestions and further queries.

The profusion and stylishness of modem poetic translations from the classics, during the two generations from Pound to Lattimore and Robert Fitzgerald, are comparable to those of the age of Tudor and Elizabethan translation. But this tells not so much of a return to traditional humanism as of the fact that even the better schooled among us can no longer cope with Greek and Latin. These transla- tions are often superb and should be used, but they cannot replace that immediacy of response, that natural background, which Milton, Pope, and even Tennyson assumed in their readers. It is therefore possible that such works as Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel, a good deal of Paradise Lost, of The Rape of the Lock, or Shelley's Aeschylaean and Platonic verse will pass increasingly into the cus- tody and delight of the specialist. Milton's Lycidas is perhaps a test case; there is scarcely a passage to which the generally educated modem reader has immediate access.

I am not saying that we must abandon our classic legacy; we cannot. But I wonder whether we must not recognize its limited, difficult survival in our culture, and whether that recognition should not lead us to ask whether there may be other coordinates of cultural reference that touch more urgently on the present contours of our lives, on the way we now think and feel and try to find our way. This is quite simply a plea for modem comparative studies. Monsieur Etiemble in Paris may be right when he says that an acquaintance with a Chinese novel or a Persian lyric is almost indispensable to contemporary literacy. Not to know Melville or Rimbaud, Dostoevsky or Kafka, not to have read Mann's Doctor Faustus or Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago is a disqualification so severe from the notion of a vital literacy that we must raise, if not answer, the entire question of whether the close study of one literature makes good sense. Is it not as important for the survival of feeling today for a man to know another living language as it was once important for him to be intimate with the classics and Scripture?

Monsieur Etiemble argues that the Anglo-Saxon and western- European sensibility, the way we in the West think and feel and imagine the present world, will remain largely artificial and danger- ously obsolete if we do not make the effort of learning one of the major languages outside the park— say Russian or Hindi or Chinese.

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How many of us have tried to acquire even the most preliminary knowledge of Chinese, of the oldest of all literate cultures— a culture which is borne by the energies of the largest nation on earth and many features of which are certain to dominate the next era of history? Or, less ambitiously, is a man who has spent his last years of school and his university career in the study of English literature to the exclusion of nearly every other language and tradition, an edu- cated man? Many reorientations, many ways of ordering and choos- ing are available to scholarship and the imagination. English litera- ture can be taught in its European context: an awareness of George Eliot implying a simultaneous response to Balzac; Walter Scott being seen in relation to Victor Hugo, Manzoni, and Pushkin, as part of that great turn of the human imagination toward history which takes place after the French Revolution. English literature can be seen in its increasingly reciprocal relationship to American literature and the American language. An inquiry can be made into the fascinating divisions of meaning and imaginative connotation which the two communities are making today while still preserving largely a com- mon vocabulary.

Why not study the history of English poetry in close comparison with that of another expansionist and colonizing tradition, say Span- ish? How have the characteristics of the language in far places devel- oped in relation to the home tradition? Are the problems of form and consciousness met by the Spanish poet in Mexico comparable to those of the Anglo-Indian; are certain languages better media of cultural exchange than others? The directions of vision are manifold. The alternative is parochialism and retrenchment from reality. The almost total lack of comparative studies in English academic circles (and I open parentheses here to acknowledge that in the new universities such comparative studies are being undertaken and to note my fear that what does not originate at the center of England, at the top of the academic establishment, does not always have much chance of life) may in itself be a very small thing. But it may also be a symptom of a more general withdrawal, of the fist closing tight against an altered, uncomfortable world. This would be alarming because in culture, no less than in politics, chauvinism and isolation are suicidal options.

The displacement of traditional linguistic modes from an essen- tially dominant function in our civilization has consequences so intri- cate and large that we have not even begun to take stock.

It is naive to suppose that a little teaching of poetry to the

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biophysicist or a little mathematics to the student of English litera- ture will solve the problem. We are in mid-tide of divisive energies too new, too complicated, to allow of any confident remedy. Ninety percent of all the scientists in human history are now living. Scientific publications over the next twenty-five years, if laid next to each other on an imaginary shelf, would reach to the moon. The shapes of reality and of our imaginative grasp are exceedingly difficult to foresee. Nev- ertheless, the student of literature now has access to and responsi- bility toward a very rich terrain, intermediate between the arts and sciences, a terrain bordering equally on poetry, on sociology, on psychology, on logic, and even on mathematics. I mean the domain of linguistics and of the theory of communication.

Its expansion in the post-war period is one of the most exciting chapters of modern intellectual history. The entire nature of language is being re-thought and re-examined as it has not been since Plato and Leibniz. The questions being asked about the relations between verbal means and sensory perception, about the way in which syntax mirrors or controls the reality-concept of a given culture, about the history of linguistic forms as a record of ethnic consciousness— these questions go to the very heart of our poetic and critical concern. The precise analysis of verbal resources and grammatical changes over any period of history which may soon be feasible by means of comput- ers may have close bearing on literary history and interpretation. We are within reach of knowing the rate at which new words enter a language. We can discern graphic contours and statistical patterns relating linguistic phenomena to economic, sociological changes. Our whole sense of the medium is being revalued.

Let me give only two examples which are familiar to any stu- dent of modern linguistics. There is a Latin-American Indian lan- guage, indeed there are a number, in which the future— the notion of that which is yet to happen— is set at the back of the speaker. The past which he can see, because it has already happened, lies all before him. He backs into the future unknown; memory moves forward, hope backward. This is the exact reversal of the primary coordinates by which we ourselves organize our feelings in root metaphors. How does such a reversal affect literature or, in a larger sense, to what extent is syntax the ever renewed cause of our modes of sensibility and verbal concept? Or take the well-known instance of the astound- ing range of terms— I believe it is in the region of one hundred— by which the gauchos of the Argentine discriminate between the shad-

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ings of a horse's hide. Do these terms in some manner precede the perception of the actual nuance of color, or does that perception, sharpened by professional need, cause the invention of new words? Either hypothesis throws a rich light on the processes of poetic invention and on the essential fact that translation means the meshing of two different world images, of two entirely different patterns of human life.

To a contemporary student of literature the latest recension of Dryden or essay on the point of view in Nostromo are certainly of interest. But is the work of Jakobson on the structure of speech or of Levi-Strauss on the relations between myth, syntax, and culture not as important, or dare I say even more so? The theory of communi- cations is a branch of linguistics peculiarly enriched by advances in mathematical logic. The advance since I. A. Richards began his work on the nature of poetic statement, and Wittgenstein inquired into the structure of meaning has been dramatic. I am thinking of the work being done on the relations between visual, auditive, and verbal communications and impulses in Russia, at M.I.T., in the Centre for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto— particularly at Toronto under Marshall McLuhan. The reception accorded to McLuhan's work by the "Eng-Lit." establishment is one of the most disturbing of recent symptoms of parochialism and laziness of mind. The Gutenberg Galaxy is an irritating book, full of wildness and imprecision, full of unnecessary gesture, egotistical, almost at certain points megalomaniac; but so, of course, is Coleridge's Biographia Literaria or Blake's Descriptive Catalogue. And like Blake, who has greatly influenced his thought, McLuhan has the gift of radical illumination. Even when we cannot follow his leap of argument, we are made to re-think our basic concepts of what literature is, what a book is, and how we read it. Together with Sartre's Qu'est-que ce la litterature? the Gutenberg Galaxy should stand on the shelf of anyone who calls himself a student or teacher of writing and of English literature. Are these directions not as exciting, as demanding of stringency as the latest edition of yet another minor poet or the fiftieth analysis of Henry James's narrative style?

The last point I want to touch on is the most difficult to put, even in a provisional way. We do not know whether the study of the humanities, of the noblest that has been said and thought, can do very much to humanize. We do not know; and surely there is something rather terrible in our doubt whether the study and delight a man

65


finds in Shakespeare make him any less capable of organizing a concentration camp. Recently one of my colleagues, an eminent scholar, inquired of me, with genuine bafflement, why someone trying to establish himself in an English literature faculty should refer so often to concentration camps; why they were in any way relevant. They are profoundly relevant, and before we can go on teaching we must surely ask ourselves: are the humanities humane and, if so, why did they fail before the night?

It is at least possible that our emotion in the written word, in the detail of the remote text, in the life of the poet long dead, blunts our sense of present realness and need. One recalls Auden's prayer at the grave of Henry James [“At the Grave of Henry James”] : "Because there is no end to the vanity of our calling: make intercession/ For the treason of all clerks." Because this is so our hopes should be uneasy yet tenacious, and our claims to relevance modest, yet at all times urgently pressed. I believe that great literature is charged with what grace secular man has gained in his experience, and with much of the harvest of experienced truth at his disposal. But to those who challenge, who query the pertinence of my calling, I must more than ever before give scrupulous hearing. In short, I must at every point be ready to answer to them and to myself the question: What am I trying to do? Where has it failed? Can it succeed at all?

If we do not make our humanistic studies responsible, that is if we do not discriminate in our allocation of time and interest between that which is primarily of historical or local significance and that which has in it the pressure of sustained life, then the sciences will indeed enforce their claim. Science can be neutral. That is both its splendor and its limitation and it is a limitation which makes science in the final analysis almost "trivial." Science cannot begin to tell us what brought on the barbarism of the modern condition. It cannot tell us how to salvage our affairs though it has made the immediate menace to them more precise. A great discovery in physics or biochemistry can be neutral. A neutral humanism is either a pedantic artifice or a prologue to the inhuman. I cannot put it more exactly or in a succinct formula. It is a matter of seriousness and emotional risk, a recognition that the teaching of literature, if it can be done at all, is an extraordinarily complex and dangerous business, of knowing that one takes in hand the quick of another human being. Negatively, I suppose it means that one should not publish three hundred pages on some sixteenth- or seventeenth-cen-

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tury writer without expressing any opinion on whether he is worth reading today. Or, as Kierkegaard said: "It is not worth while remembering that past which cannot become a present."

To teach literature as if it were some kind of urbane trade, of professional routine, is to do worse than teach badly. To teach it as if the critical text were more important, more profitable than the poem, as if the examination syllabus mattered more than the adventure of private discovery, of passionate digression, is worst of all. Kierkegaard made a cruel distinction, but we could do worse than bear it in mind when we enter a room to give a lecture on Shakespeare or Coleridge, or Yeats: "There are two ways, one is to suffer; the other is to become a professor of the fact that another suffers."

In I. A. Richards' Practical Criticism we find the following:

The question of belief or disbelief, in the intellectual sense, never arises when we are reading well. If unfortunately it does arise, either through the poet's fault or our own, we have for the moment ceased to be reading and have become astronomers, or theologians, or moralists, persons engaged in quite a different type of activity.

To which the answer should be: No, we have become men. To read great literature as if it did not have upon us an urgent design, to be able to move unchanged on the day after reading Pound's LXXXIst Canto, is to do little more than to make entries in a librarian's catalogue. When he was twenty, Kafka wrote in a letter:

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it? So that it shall make us happy? Good God, we would also be happy if we had no books, and such books as make "us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books which come upon us like ill-fortune, and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us.

Students of English literature, of any literature, must ask those who teach them, as they must ask themselves, whether they know, and not in their minds alone, what Kafka meant.






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