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June 10, 1967 - Image 7

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: _ __

'4 * 4 'F U 4 4




The Critic
The Idea of the Humanities and
Other Essays, Critical and Histori-
cal, by R. S. Crane. 2 volumes.
University of Chicago P r e s s.
The school of criticism associated
for the past thirty or forty years
with the University of Chicago has
been variously known as the Neo-
Aristotelians, the Critical Pluralists
or, more simply and nastily, as
"that Chicago bunch." They include
established theorists and practical
critics like Wayne C. Booth and
Elder Olson, as well as such rising
scholars as Robert Marsh and Shel-
don Sacks. Their ideas are anathe
ma on many a campus, while they
hold the hegemony on their own.
Behind this group stands its intel-
lectual father, a man who in his
eighty-fourth year is still a potent
force in the field of letters: Ronald
Salmon Crane.
Crane's most seminal theoretical
work has already been published in
The Languages of Criticism and the
Structure of Poetry and in a few of
the essays in Critics and Criticism:
Ancient and Modern. The present
volumes, a collection of essays, lec-
tures and letters to former students
spanning three decades, is not a
re-statement of Crane's theories but
rather an application of them. I do
not mean "application" in the strict
sense: the book is not simply a com-
pendium of practical criticism uti-
lizing his theories (though the sec-
ond volume contains a bit of this
type of work). The Idea of the Hu-
manities presents a vision, necessar-
ily seen from the vantage point of
Crane's particular critical stance, of
what humanistic scholarship is and
ought to be, and of how the
strengths peculiar to humane let-
ters can best be exploited.
Before looking at The Idea of the
Humanities itself, it might be well
to take a glance at the rudiments of
Crane's theory. The two non-
pejorative ways of referring to his
school provide the basic clues.
Crane is, in the first place, a "criti-
cal pluralist," which means nothing
more or less than this: he supposes
that if two critics ask two different
questions about a book, they will
come up with two d iff er en t
answers. Further, that if both have
done their work intelligently and
disinterestedly, both answers will
be right. This implies that there is
no one correct way of explaining a
work, and that anyone who would
dogmatically assert that he has
found the key to (say) Joyce's lys-
ses is a fool.
In the second place, Crane is a
Neo-Aristotelian, and p r e c i s e 1 y
what this means is harder to say, if
only because he and his colleagues
have expressed themselves in such
technical language. But to cram the
ideas rather sloppily into a nutshell,
we start with the notion that every
work of literature moves its readers
in a very special way, different
from all others. The work, then, has
something about it, a power, force,
dynamis, whatever one calls it, that
produces this special effect. Now

Ai Cranium

this power or dynamis is not simply
the language, nor the plot, nor the
manner in which the above are pre-
sented to the reader, but an artistic
synthesis of all of these. Crane and
his followers have in general asked
the following sorts of questions:
"What is the special power of the
work I am reading" and "How
does each element in the work func-
tion in producing this power?" This
is Crane's favorite type of inquiry
and, pluralist that he is, he leaves
questions like "What would Freud
have said about the author?" and
"What is the relationship of this
book to primitive fertility ritual?"
to those interested in answering
It is not easy to show in a brief
space just how adept Crane is at
answering the questions he is inter-
ested in-his style, though not pol-
ished and graceful, is concise and
pointed, and one never feels that,
summarizing him, one has done him
justice. Let me take up, neverthe-
less, one of Crane's essays in practi-
cal criticism from The Idea of the
humanities, a letter to a friend of
his on Hemingway's "The Killers."
In Understanding Fiction, Brooks
and Warren make "The Killers" out
to be a study of a stage in Nick Ad-
ams' adolescence-partly because
Nick is the subject of so many of
Hemingway's fine short stories,
partly because the story is told
from Nick's point of view. Crane vi-
olently differs with the authors of
Understanding Fiction:
the view I have taken all along..
is that Nick and his friends, and
what they are made to do and say
from first to last, are in "The Kill-
ers" primarily assnot "of the es-
sence" but "of the form." They be-
long to the "subject" of the story
not directly but indirectly; they be-
long intimately to the "treatment"
as devices of disclosure and com-
mentary which enable Hemingway
to bring his essential "subject" be-
fore us with a maximum of concen-
tration and dramatic liveliness and
a minimum of ambiguity as to its
desired emotional effect
Crane's idea is that the "subject"
of "The Killers" is exactly what you
would think it was if you tried to
d e s c r i b e "what happened": as
Crane himself puts it, "the killers
are bent on murdering Ole, Ole will
do nothing to prevent them, they
will therefore succeed." This situa-
tion has its own peculiar emotional
power, and Nick and the boys are
present, not to create the power of
"The Killers" but to make it more
clear and vivid for us. While Crane
never explicitly states just what the
dynamis of the story is (remember,
this is just a letter to a friend), it is
clear that Hemingway was aiming
at shocking the reader, and that all
sorts of devices are used to height-
en the shock value-not the sensa-
tionalism-of the initial situation.
The situation is, of course, a
gangster murder. Hemingway adds
to the shock of sudden violence,
Crane says, by setting his tale in a
small town (rather than Chicago), by
making the killers themselves so
completely disinterested (they are
just "obliging a friend"), by making

the victim a man no one in the little
town thinks badly of, by having Ole
Andresson-formerly an a c t i v e
man, a prize-fighter-submit him-
self completely to the fact of being
shot to death. Most of all-and here
is where Crane answers the authors
of Understanding Fiction-he in-
creases the shock by showing us
this situation through the eyes of
Nick Adams who, young and ideal-
istic, cannot understand either the
killers or \Ole. To Nick (and George
and Sam) the situation-is simply "too
damned awful." Nick indeed makes
a discovery in this story, but
not, as Brooks and Warren would
have it, of "the reality of evil";
Nick learns only that which is pe-
culiar to the special situation de-
picted in "The Killers"-as, in fact,
we all do.
This summary of Crane's letter
on "The Killers" has not done jus-
tice to this small gem of literary in-
terpretation. What is lost in the
brief paraphrase is Crane's magnifi-
cent ability to relate both the great-
est facts of the story and its most
insignificant details to the artistic
synthesis Crane finds in the work.
One senses in this letter-as in the
rest of Crane's practical criti-
cism-a keen and flexible mind
reading a work without prejudice or
preconception, rationally reflecting
on its matter and manner, and
clearly stating without superfluous
rhetoric the essence of what he had
There are many alternatives to
the way Crane goes about his work.
One of them, of course, is Brooks'
and Warren's-that of the "new
critics" generally. For such men, ac-
cording to Crane, "the essential
structure of poetic works, as con-
trasted with prose arguments, con-
sists in a hierarchy of proportions
or metaphors, running upward from
lines and stanzas to the poem as a
whole." Crane actually tried this
"dialectical" approach to criticism
with, he says, complete success. It
was easy: "there was, no need to
trouble myself about biographical
or historical probabilities or to raise
the question whether the same tex-
tual details I had brought into har-
mony with my hypothesis might not
admit of another or simpler expla-
nation. Hypothesis, backed by di-
alectic, was enough."
Not enough for Crane, of course,
but not because he couldn't have
become a full professor if he had
gone on with these efforts. It was
not enough because such studies
simply did not accord with his view
of progress in humanistic achieve-
ment. Dialectical studies of poetry
always seek to explain varied phe-
nomena in terms of just a couple of

concepts-we may recall William
Empson's reduction of poetry to
ambiguity, or Brooks' paradox and
irony-while Crane sees the func-
tion of literature as the celebration
of the individuality of man's works:
The sciences are most successful
when they seek to move from the
diversityandtparticularity of their
observations toward as high a de-
gree of unity, uniformity, simplici-
ty, and necessity as their materials
permit. The humanities, on the oth-
er hand, are most alive when they
reverse this process, and look for
devices of explanation and appre-
ciation that will enable them to
preserve as much as possible of the
variety, the uniqueness, the unex-
pectedness, the complexity, the ori-
ginality, that distinguish what men
are capable of doing at their best
from what they must do, or tend
generally to do, as biological or-
ganisms or members of a commu-
Despite his contrast of science
and humanities, I doubt that Crane
sees the heirs of Descartes as the
real threat to belles lettres (I dare
say he would dismiss the Leavis-
Snow "Two Cultures" controversy
as a side-issue, a few lumps of
spleen left over from the Huxley-
Newman debate a century before).
No, if the humanities will not pro-
gress as they might in these days, it
will be because the humanists them-
selves obstruct their own efforts:
...the internal enemies of the hu-
manities are mainly two in num-
ber. One of these is the spirit of
dogmatism, or rather ofisectarian-
ism: the spirit that gives us so
many rival schools of linguists,
critics, historians, and philoso-
phers, who frequently seem more
intent on exposing each other's er-
rors than on getting ahead with
their own studies. . . The other ene-
my is . .. what T may call the spir-
it of reduction: thespirit that de-
nies the essence of the humanities
by seeking always to direct our at-
tention away from the multiplicity
and diversity of human achieve-
ments, in their richconcrete actu-
ality, to some lower or lowest com-
mon denominator: the spirit that is
ever intent on resolving the com-
plex into the simple, the conscious
into the unconscious, the spirit for
which great philosophic systems
are nothing bu.t the expression of
personal opinions or class preju-
dices, the forms of art nothing but
their materials or their sources in
the unconscious mind, the acts of
statesmen nothing but the reflec-
tion of economic forces, the moral
virtues nothing but the mores or
the functioning of the glands.
The Idea of the Humanities is a
high critical achievement, good
enough to meet Crane's abstract
criteria. The prospective reader
should be warned, however; Crane
has a heady taste for abstraction (the
book is hardly "light" criticism). A
certain polemicism also pervades
both volumes. The controversy be..
tween the Aristotelians and the
"new critics" was long and bitter,
and the polite invective against the
latter is perhaps too present in
Crane's new book. Especially in the
older essays-written when the Chi-
cago school was just beginning to
establish itself-the sly pokes and
h a y m a k e r s directed against
Brooks' boys seem curiously defen-
sive. Now that the Chicago group is
a force in its own right, these digs
seem pointless, minor blemishes
upon Crane's brilliant criticism.
Carolyn Tate
Mrs. Tae is a second-'ear graduate
student in the department of English
at The University of Chicago.


jfil? MI WEST




Vol. 4, No. 6

A Decade of Dickey: Poetic Pilgrim's Prog

Poems 1957-1967, by James Dick-
ey. Wesleyan University Press.
James Dickey published his first
book of poetry in 1960. In eight
short years, he has produced
enough to fill a 300-page volume.
Dickey's productivity, though, is as
excellent as it is voluminous. He has
already received a National Book
Award (1966), and other recogni-
tions. Unheard of ten years ago, not
anthologized until the last couple of
years, James Dickey has already
been cited (by Life!) as "the hottest
of emerging U. S. poets." Poems
1957-1967 justifies this citation.
It is often interesting to judge a
poet in terms of the criteria he him-
self uses to judge others., Dickey
has suggested such a way to evalu-
ate poetry:
There are four or five main ways
of reacting to poems. and they all
matter.In ascending order of im-
portance they are (a) "This proba-
bly isn't so and even if it were I
couldn't care less," (b) "This may
be true enough as far as it goes,
but, well. . . so what?" (c) "This is
true, or at least convincing and
therefore I respond to it differently
than I do to poems in the first two
categories," and (d) "This is true
with a kind of truth at which I
could never have arrived by my-
self. butits truth is better than the
one I believed."
Applying this to Dickey's poetry,
we find that nearly all of it falls
into the last two categories.
In an article entitled "The Poet
Turns On Himself," Dickey has
traced his own creative evolution in
an incredibly honest, open and suc-
cinct manner. He tells us that while
participating in World War II, he
realized that "occasionally, very oc-
casionally," he would hear or read a
popular phrase which would have
an "unforeseeable but right correla-
tion be tw e e n lived time--
experience-and w a r d s." This
awareness gradually prompted a de-
sire to write poetry (he did not be-
gin until he was twenty-four). It
also began his quest for direct "ob-
servation" and "immediacy," which
in turn led to "the belief in the in-
exhaustible fecundity of individual
Memory has been the chief
source of Dickey's poetry. The
things of greatest concern to him,
his family, his war experiences, his
knowledge of nature, and death are
the subject matter of his poetry.
Yet, though he has limited his mate-
rial severely, this restriction seems
to have been right for Dickey-we
are never forced to wail: "The same
old story, again!" What would crip-

ple the work of a lesser poet (notice
the boredom resulting from repeti-
tions in Allen Ginsberg's work) be-
comes a means of a vertical expan-
sion' for Dickey. In believing that,
the isolated episodes and incidents
of a human life make up, in the
end, a kind of sum, a continuous
story with different episodes.. . in
the case of a poet they are not so
much what he writes but what he
is. If I were to arrange my own
poems in some such scheme.
chronologizing them, they would
form a sort of story of this kind,
leading from childhood in the north
of Georgia through high school with
its athletics and wild motorcycle
riding, through a beginning attempt
at education in an agricultural col-
lege, through World War II and the
Korean War as a flyer in a night-
fighter squadron, through another
beginning at college, this time com-
pleted, through various attempts at
a valid love affair culminating in
the single successful one known as
'marriage," through two children,
several deaths in the family, trav-
els, reflections, and so on.
Dickey found that his peculiar
feelings and experiences did not
easily lend themselves to the poetic
languages he was familiar with. He
wished to avoid "the license that
many poets claimed for themselves"
as well as the "dead, period-style
poems indistinguishable from one
another, the fodder of classrooms."
This problem of style led to a
search for appropriate form. The
first question to arise was one of
rhyme; but since he found rhyme
distasteful and artificial, Dickey
chose to "try to come to terms with
my subjects in some other way."
Next came meter and rhythm.
Dickey explains, "I have always

liked strongly cadenced language
and the sound of words in a line of
verse is to me a very important part
of its appeal." He therefore went
out and read books on prosody.
which instructed him in the use of
the iambic line. But "it was not un-
til later that I thought to analyze
the metrical basis of the sounds I
kept hearing at odd times. . .and
discovered that they were anapes-
tic." Dickey continues,
Along with the rhythmical experi-
ments, I also found that what I was
working toward was a very
stripped kind of simplicity in
verse; what I really wanted to be
able to do was to make effective
statements. I began to use short
lines, usually having three accents
or beats, because I wanted to say
one thing-hopefully, one memora-
ble thing-in each line: one thing
that would make its own kind of
impression and would also connect
with other single, things, one per
line, and so form a whole poem.
These are the methods and goals of
Dickey's early poems, the poems
which make up the volume Into the
Stone. The opening lines of the ti-
tle poem show what he was after:
On the way to a woman, I give
M heart all the way into moon-
Now down from all sides it is
The moon turns around in the fix
Of its light; its other side totally
shines. -

He also f
which "thi
tinction be
in the min
poem" we
most fruitf
"a fusion (
of dream,
where eve
creates a s
ing with 0
new disc,
his state u
I have j
Higher at
Above m4
Shed by
I drop th
And then
It was
ume, Bu
Dickey lef
less poets
views. Th
above mo,
and entere
poets who
fourth cl
"even tho
An Ex
by L
The U
by C
by L
by C
The Id
by F
by J.
by G
edi t
The A

Dickey explains that these simple iic C
declarative sentences had, at times. Social C
the very quality he wanted. This led by C
to an awareness of two things. First. Black
he preferred to work with narrative by F
in order to play on the "what hap- Texts an
pens next" curiosity of the reader.


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