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October 26, 1940 - Image 3

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-10-26

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Pu e Three

...B Frederick R. White

L ITEIATURE is the ordering
of mimic-events into certain
fixed and significant relation-
amps, the creation, that is,
of an intelligible world distinct from
the world about us charged with mean-
ing in such a way that it is rather an
interpretation or a criticism of life than
a reprodetion of the unintelligible flux
of reality There are, then, two profit-
able poits of departure for the dis-
cussion of any work of literature. The
first is a consideration of the technical
skill whereby the mimic-events are so
ordered as to constitute an intelligible
whole; the second is an evaluation of
the significance or the meaning of this
intelligible whole to ourselves. The first
is a matter of craftsmanship and must
be discussed largely in terms of con-
temporary information relevant to the
exercise of that craft at the particular
time -of composition. The second is a
matter of judgment and must be dis-
cussed in the light of the best possible
mode of interpretation we can bring
to bear upon the work of literature. But,
although the two approaches are separ-
ated in discussion, one relating to the
author ,and' his time, the other to the
spectator and his time, it is clear that
in the work of literature both intelligi-
bility and order are mutually interde-
pendent, since without the ordering-there
could be no intelligibility, and without
intelligibility there would be no means
of perceiving the order. Not to separ-
ate these two elements in discussion,
however, introduces one of two confu-
sions. Hither technique is over-empha-
sized at the expense of meaning, and
we have that type of criticism which, ig-
noring the completed result of a pat-
tern, speaks chiefly of structure, coun-
terpuntaJ harmonics, and tonality; or
meaning is over-emphasized at the ex-
pense of technique, and we have that
type of scholarship which, neglecting
the relation of the part to the whole,
sees hidden contemporary meanings in
every lene. Though technique is con-
temporary, meaning obviously is not. If
it were, '.iterature coud not survive its
Mature technique in a great master
of any act tends to become highly in-
dividuaized, as we recognize when we
employ such terms as Homeric, Bott-
cellian, or Wagnerian. All great mas-
ters, however, have learned their tech-
nique laboriously through the deliberate
imitation of others. In technique, then,
there are two elements which can be
more or aess clearly distinguished: the
imitative and the original. Literary
history inevitably deals with what is
imitative, since history seeks those ele-
ments which are common to contemp-
orary writers. Thus Shakespeare's early
indebtedness to Marlowe, Kyd, and Lyly
has been sufficiently stressed. The or-
iginal eement in technique, however,
deserves and demands greater concern,
for it is that element which has raised
the artist above the level of his fellows.
It is that element which, slightly recog-
nizable i. immature works, slowly de-
velops into a flexible instrument of ex-
pression, outwardly distinguished by the
stamp of an individual style. Study of
an artista mature technique must be
concerned chiefly with the development
of this individual element, rather than
with the elements he shares with his
Meanoing which arises from the com-
plete or static pattern of a work, can
be understood, of course, only after the
dynamic development of mimic-events
is complete. In this sense it comes after
and depends upon technique. It must,
however, be evaluated from the outside,
by some other mode of interpretation;
for meaning, unlike action, does not de-
velop; it exists. There is a tendency
in -modern criticism to deny any defin-
able xnearring: to works of literature, a

tendency paralleled by the production
of poems and naturalistic novels which
do appear to have been written without
any purposed significance. T. S. Eliot,
for example, who is doubtless the most
influential practitioner and critic of this
tendency, has given wide credence to
the dogma that literature need have no
single and necessary meaning, nor any
ascertainable connection with life. This
is the other extreme of the scholar's
insistence that literature is a transcript
of life. Eliot, in "Shakespeare and the
Stoicism of Seneca," writes:
I would suggest that none of the plays
of Shakespeare has a "meaning," although
it would be equally false to say that a
play of Shakespeare is meingless . In
trutlo neither Shakespeare nor Dante slid
any real thinking-that was not their
job; and the relative value of the thought

group of plays, as the word "Homer"
denotes not a man, who may never have
existed, but a body of poetry. Any long
passage of language ordered to some end
will inevitably be regarded as meaning-
Again, there is a confusion between
the words, "emotion" and "intellect,"
Eliot tells us that philosophy and the-
ology are intellectual and have mean-
ing; poetry is emotional and therefore
has no meaning. But although we habit-
ually use the two words as opposite, we
have no current, agreed-upon psycholo-
gy which will enable us to define and
use the words accurately. It may be
true in general that the poet arouses
the intelect, if at all, by engaging our
emotions, while the philosopher or the-
ologian touches our emotions, if at all,

- 0

Yet, never has there been a period
when so many poets consciously sought
to present "reasoned views of life," and
when so many critics, themselves poets,
paid service to poetry as the perfect
guide to thought and action. Never have
poetry and philosophy been so deliber-
ately entwined, so that we have in Davies'
Nosce Teipsum a logical and poetic dis-
course on immortality, in Spenser's
Faerie Queene an allegory of the good
life, in Chapman's poetry, and even in
his translations from Homer, a deliber-
ately wrought description of the whole
life of learning, in Fletcher's Purple
Island an induction into the philosophy
of anatomy, in the satirists, Marston and
Hall, the presentation of an ethical
mean, and suffused through almost all
the poetry of the time a Christian-hu-
manist view of life, drawing strength
from the Italian -platonists, that was
certainly a system of thought and was
certainly associated with poetry. Milton,
in his closely reasoned allegory of man's
postion on earth, was following this
broad tradition. Never was there a time
when the critics and the practitioners
of poetry so agreed in attributing philo-
sophical greatness to it, so that Sir
Philip Sidney was but expressing the
dominant attitude of his age when at
the end of the Apologie he exhorted his
readers to
believe, with Clauserus, the translator of
Cornutus, that it pleased the heavenly
Deity, by Hesiod and Homer, under the
veil of fables, to give us all knowledge.
Logic, Rhetoric, Philosophy, natural and
moral, and quid non?; to believe, with me,
that there are many mysteries contained
in Poetry. which of purpose were written
darkly, lest by profane wits it should be
I do not say that Shakespeare there-
fore subscribed to this point of view,
which was, incidentally, also held by
Jonson and Bacon. We have no sure
evidence for Shakespeare's critical at-
titude. But certainly his age as a whole
has never been surpassed in establishing
a close connection between poetry and
a reasoned view of life. Here a close
connection between poetry and a reas-
oned view of life. Here it need not yield
to the Athenians, although it may have
less sanity, wholeness, and restraint in
its expression. The connection between
poetry and philosophy is the dominant
note in criticism from Ascham to Dry-
den; the conscious presentation of a
reasoned view of life in poetry is the
practice in almost all Renaissance poets
who still are read. The modern notion,
that poetry has no necessary relation
to modes of interpreting reality, simply
did not exist in the Renaissance; or,
if it did exist, it failed to receive en-
during expression. If we are justified
in any age in looking for meaning in
works of literature, it is during the
Renaissance ...
Both for its, technique and for its
meaning, Measure for Measure is'among
the most interesting of Shakespeare's
plays. Technically, it marks his aban-
donment of the illogical conclusion and
the maturity of his use of dramatic
irony, a device without which the great
tragedies could not have been written.
Its meaning, reasonably clear, is perti-
nent to our own day. Happily it seems
less ambiguous than its companion
pieces, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet,
over which such beating about of brains
has taken place as to render agreement
impossible. Because of a notion still
prevalent, fathered by Coleridge, that
Measure for Measure is a disagreeable
and bitter play, it has largely escaped
the classroom and the consequent min-
istrations of the scholarly. Yet it is a
suitable battlefield for fighting out the
question of historical versus contem-
porary meaning. Even a casual reading
of the play suggests, that it has many
Continued on Page Four

current at their tine, the material en-
forced upon each to use as the vehicle of
his feeling Is of no importance . . You
can hardly say that Dante believed, or
did not believe the mixed and muddled
scepticism of theRenaissance. If Shake-
speare had written according to a better
philosophy, he would have written worse
poetry; it was his business'to express the
greatest emotional intensity of his time,
based on whatever his time happened to
think. Poetry is not a substitute for phil-
osophy or religion; it has its own func-
tion. But as this function is not intel-
lectualabut emotional, it cannotbe de-
fined adequately in intellectual terms.
This is perhaps a salutary reaction
against the scholar's tendency to find
all kinds of contemporary references in
literature, but it reduces a poem to a
bare core of "emotion" without allow-
ing any significance to the ordered
events which arouse that emotion. Eliot
seems to confuse the "meaning" of the
Divine Comedy or of one of Shake-
speare's thoughts. Any statements about
Shakespeare's system of thought are, of
course, conjectural, since there is no
evidence to draw from. But statements
about the meaning of any of Shake-
speare's plays may be checked against
the play in question, And in this use
the word "Shakespeare" is merely a
convenient term to denote a play or a

by stimulating our mental activity. But
however ambiguous the phraseology, the
result seems much the same. We return
to the great writers Plato, Lucretius,
Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Tol-
stoi, not in conscious search for either
"emotion" or "intellect" as separable
entities; but because we get from these
writers a fusion of intellectualized-emo-
tion which somehow enables us to
understand ourselves and our lives mort
fully. In reading great works I know
not how to separate intellectual pleasure
from emotional pleasure; they seem too
closely related. Can any significant
emotion-be aroused except by a signifi-
cant referent, and, on the other hand,
does any large interpretation of life lack
deep emotional implications, whether we
categorize the author as poet or philoso-
Perhaps the clue to Eliot's objection
to reading any meaning into Shake-
speare's plays is to be found in his at-
tributing to the Renaissance a divorce
between poetry and reason which is
characteristic of our own .age:
The end of the sixteenth century 1s an
epoch when it s particularly difficult to
associate poetry with systems of thought
or reasoned views of life.

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