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January 17, 1942 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1942-01-17

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Page Twelve



La Trahison d'un Clerc. Primary Lit.
erature and Coterie Literature, Van
Wyck Brooks.
TO BE SPENDING the day of
America's entry into the War
in criticising a literary critic
must seem preposterous, but,
perhaps, it is more relevant than ap-
pears at first sight. To be living in the
greatest revolutionary epoch since the
Reformation means, firstly that all
our activities, political, economic, re-
ligious and cultural are involved, and,
secondly, thtt the external conflict of
classes and nations and ptlitical sys-
tems is paralleled by an equally in-
tense internal conflict in every indi-
vidual. We are perhaps less conscious
of this than we should be; we are all
too ready to accust others of being
Fascists, Reds, Bourgieos, or what-
have-you, but all too reluctant to ad-
mit the sinister presence of a Fifth Col-
umn within tur own personal mind and
heart. Yet, unless we realize that a
collective political victory over Ger-
many and Japan, and a personal vic-
tory over ourselves ase mutually inter-
dependent aspects of the same prob-
lem, our chances of winning either
battle are small.
If then I criticise Mr. Brooks, the
name is of no importance; he has only
had the misfortune to be the first
man to state publicly in America
thoughts which have been latent in all
of us for a long time, and they would
have had to be stated by someone else
if Mr. Brooks had never been born.
It is an axiom of human nature that
evil always presupposes evil from which
it derives its power. An intellectual evil,
i.e. a heresy, is always, either a reaction
to a previous heresy which it attempts
to correct by thinking the exact oppo-
site on every point, or a revolt against
hypocrisy, i.e. a discrepancy between in-
tellectual principles and practical con-
duct, in which it rightly judges the con-
duct to be bad but wrongly assumes
that the conduct is the necessary con-
sequence of theh priciples.
Every heretic, like every neurotic and
every tyrant, has a real grievance; the
Evil One seduces us by an appeal to our
sense of justice. Mr. Brooks in his
minor way, like Hitler in his major, are
punishments for the sins of which all of
us who have grown up in a rationalistic
liberal-democratic capitalistic culture
are guilty.
Mr. Brook's thesis has been excel-
lently summed up in an essay by Dwight
Macdonal in Partisan Review.
"The paper is built around an
antithesis between 'primary' and
secondary' writers. The former is
=a great man writing,' 'one who be-
speaks the collective life of the peo-
ple' by celebrating 'the great
themes . . . by virtue of which the
race has risen-courage, justice,
mercy, honor, love.' He is positive,
constructive, optimistic, popular.
He believes in 'theh idea of pro-
gress.' . . . The 'secondary' or 'co-
terie' writer, on the other hand,
is a thin-blooded, niggling sort of
fellow, whose work reaches' a mere
hadful of readers.' His stuff has
brilliant 'form' but lacks 'content.'
He is 'a mere artificer or master of
words' who perversely celebrates
the 'death-drive' instead of the
'life-drive.' He is a doubter, a
scorner, a sceptic, expatriate, high-
brow and city slicker. His work is
pessimistic and has lost contact
with The People and the Idea of
Mr. Brook's list of primary writers
need not detain us long for, with one
exception, they are all safely dead and
recognized as great in all the textbooks:
as for his one living primary writer,
Thomas Mann, any one who is at all

familiar with his work, can only con-

elude either that Mr. Brooks has never
read him or that he is unacquainted
with the dictionary meanings of the
words Scepticism and Pessimism and
is using them in some highly 'coterie'
sense of his own.
His list of secondary writers is more
significant; it includes, among others,
Joyce, Proust, Valery, Henry James,
and, above all, Eliot.
WHEN one has. got over the first
shock of distaste at the vulgarity
of a writer who has done uncommonly
well for himself by his books sneering
at colleagues for being less fortunate
and at the insolent ingratitude of a
self-appointed patriot attacking the
greatest novelist and the greatest poet
that his country has the honour to have
produced, one begins to guess the story
that lies behind this amazing rubbish.
An over-sensitive and not very bright'
individual finds himself living in an
atomized industrial civilization, in
which there is no natural instinctive
community of behaviour or belief, and
in which the majority have come in
their heart of hearts to fear that all

a) the scepticism and pessimism of
contemporary art was not an ac-
curate reflection of a society in
which, whatever they might say of-
ficially, its individual members
were secretly sceptical and pessi-
b) its esoterism was not an accurate
reflection of the real atomism of
our society underlying any super-
ficial and desperate bonhomie. ,
c) Its unpopularity was not due, in
part at least, to a reluctance of
the average reader to be made con-
scious of his own scepticism and
isolation. That what is popular, in
fact, is precisely work that falsely
reassures them that everything is
fine and dandy, that their society
is sound at bottom, that there may
be some wicked fellows 'over there'
who must be dealt with but that
'we have nothing in common with
their vices, and once they are put
in their place, the reign of right-
eousness and peace will begin im-
d) And lastly, whether the faults

Editor ............................................... Jay McCormick
Fiction Editor ..................................... ....Gerald Burns
Lois Welles, Mark Lipper, William Kehoe, Eugene Mandeburg,
Nelson Bentley.
Essay Editor ....................... ... . ....... Richard M. Ludwig
Erath Gutekunst, Gerald Schaflander.
Poetry Editor .........................................David Stocking
Clarence Foster, Audrey Hirschl, Sam Moon, Donet Sorenson,
John Ragsdale.
Book Review Editor ................................ Guy Serge Metraux
George Kerr, Ray Ingham, Robert Hemenway.
Art Editor............ ............................. Cliff Graham
Publications Editor .................................... Carol Bundy
Betty Baer, Lynn Bell, Joan Siegel, Barbara DeFries, Etaoin
Advisory Hoard:
Arno L. Bader, Herbert Weisinger, J. L. Davis, Morris Greenhut,
Allan Seager, W. H. Auden, Donald Martin, Emil Weddige.

wrong, to be 'international,' ie, to treat
other nations and cultures as your
equals. Of course if you believe that
men are equal in respect of their natur-
al goodness, then there is no such thing
as a rabble. If, on the other hand, you
believe that men are indeed equal but
equal in respect of their natural weak-
ness, then we are all units in the rabble,
whatever our income or education, ex-
cept insofar as we manage to trans-
form our nature, a task which cannot
be done for one by anyone else but
which can be done by the poor and the
ignorant as well as by anyone else. One
may never judge or despise others be-
cause we are all weak and evil.
Whenever the word Masses is used,
we must read the words 'myself in my
weaker moments.'
The Masses hate scepticism, not be-
cause it is only a means to faith, but
because it threatens to reveal that their
own professions of faith are conven-
tions. The Masses hate what is diffi-
cult to understand, not because they
want to understand, have tried and
failed, but because they want every-
thing to be easy. The Masses resent
'coterie' art, not for its real vice, which
is a failure to attain an all inclusive
vision of the age, but for its real vir-
tue, which is a refusal to accept fully
the contemporary illusion. And be-
cause faith requires the constant effort
of personal discipline, ie, not being a
unit of the Masses, and yet no indi-
vidual or society can live for long with-
out either real faith or its counterfeit,
in order that they may remain the
Masses and not be forced to become
persons, the Masses end by demanding
that a belief be imposed on them for-
mally from without, they cry for The
The late Huey Long, when asked if
Fascism could ever come to America,
replied: "Sure. Only it will be called
Anti-fascism." It is sad to see the acu-
men of this cynical remark being proved
not by a politician, but by an intellec-
-- W. H. Auden
(Continued from Page Nine)
culminated in his posthumous novel.
Here we have an American returning to
the Paris in which he had run riot and
lost everything that could be dear to
him. A decade lies between, and the
American is much sobered by the events
and the years that have passed. He is
frustrated in his attempt to recover his
daughter from a guardenship imposed
in those careless days, by the appear-
ance of several members of the old smart
set who linger on attempting to main-
tain the desperate illusion of 1928's
gaiety. It is a tale full of compassion
and a new kind of restraint. Scott Fitz-
gerald was on his way. Like the Ameri-
can of his story, "He was not young any
more with a lot of nice thoughts and
dreams to have by himself."
But death ended the literary re-
birth of Scott Fitzgerald when he was
in the midst of his finest work. It was
a warm and human novel he was writ-
ing, and there is ample reason to be-
lieve he could have written many more;
for he had come out of the moral intel-
lectual fog that obscured his undoubted
talents for almost twenty years. Com-
pared to what he might have done, Fitz-
gerald's work is slight, much of it triv-
ial-and therein lies the tragedy of his
early death.
-James Allen

truths and all values are relative, that
nothing matters unconditionally, yet
which is at the same time officially
committed to believing;
a) That all men are born equal and
b) That this equality and freedom
arise from the natural goodness
of Man. Evil is, either an iherit-
ance and remediable social or-
c) That when a man knows the
God, he must automatically will
it. Therefore, since increase of
knowledge in time is a historical
fact, progress must also be a his-
torical fact.
The strain of living in a world where
the professed principles are being con-
tinually contradicted by the facts pro-
duces in our subject a series of nervous
breakdowns. As a young man he runs
for refuge, like so many of his class,
to Art, hoping to find there a calm
and changeless world of eternal values
free from all conflict. When in due
course he makes the inevitable dis-
covery that Art gives no answers, and
that every year the increasing strains
in society make the need for satisfac-
tory answer all the more urgent, in-
stead of blaming himself for ever hav-
ing been such a fool as to expect from
writers what no writer can or ever will
be able to offer, he blames them for
not having the particular stick of candy
he wanted.
A healthier and more intelligent man
than our subject would have been led
by this to ask himself whether

both of society and its art do not
indicate that perhaps the doctrine
of the natural goodness of Man
and the Idea of Progress are an
inadequate basis for. true Democ-
racy or great Art.
MR. BROOKS, however, asks none of
these questions. Like any classical
philosopher he is determined that Art
shall act as a State Religion; and if
it doesn't then it must be the fault of
the writers. What is alarming about
his paper is not that he should criti-
cize James, Eliot, Joyce or Proust, but
what he criticizes them for. It would
be fair to say that they are too much
men of their time, that Joyce, for ex-
ample, not only reveals Mr. Bloom's
sensual passivity and hatred of the
flesh but shares it, or that Proust gives
no sign of realizing that love has noth-
ing in common with romance, the illu-
sions of which he so magnificently de-
scribes, but Mr. Brooks' objection is
that they have no sense of their agd,
an objection which implies a view that
the greatest Art would be State-
controlled Soap Opera.
It is significant that Mr. Brook's Bete
Noir should be Mr. Eliot who holds the
Christian faith, ie, who really believes
that the virtues of 'courage, mercy, jus-
tice, honour, love' are absolute but also
believes in Original Sin, ie, in the vir-
tues of humility and contrition which
to Mr. Brooks are perverse celebrations
of 'the death drive.'
According to Mr. Brooks it is wrong
to despise the 'rabble,' but it is also

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