rebecca west

The Duty of Harsh Criticism

For only through art can we cultivate annoyance with inessentials, powerful and exasperated reactions against ugliness, a ravenous appetite for beauty; and these are the true guardians of the soul.

Rebecca West, “The Duty of Harsh Criticism”

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January 23rd, 2010 / 2:10 pm

Critics on Criticism: William Carlos Williams

wheelbarrowWhat follows are excerpts from a kind of (scathing) review of a (scathing) review. WCW’s essay, called “A Point for American Criticism,” is directed at Rebecca West, who had published some comments on Ulysses that WCW found wanting in every respect. Sometimes he says “they,” presumably meaning West and her critical cohort. So, from his red wheelbarrow full of glorious vitriol:

Forward is the new. It will not be blamed. It will not force itself into what amounts to paralyzing restrictions. It cannot be correct. It hasn’t time.   ….

Comment if you like on Joyce’s narcissism but what in the world has it to do with him as a writer? Of course it has, as far as prestige is concerned, but not as to writing….But the expedient is convenient if we want to gain a spurious (psychologic, not literary) advantage for temporal purposes.

What Joyce is saying is a literary thing. It is a literary value he is forwarding. He is a writer. Will this never be understood? ….

The thing is, they want to stay safe, they do not want to give up something, so they enlist psychology to save them. But under it they miss the clear, actually the miraculous, benefits of literature itself. A silent flower opening out of the dung they dote on. They miss Joyce blossoming pure white above their heads. ….

She speaks of transcendental tosh, of Freud, of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, of anything that comes into her head, but she has not yet learned–though she professes to know the difference between art and life–the sentimental and nonsentimental–that writing is made of words. ….

Here Joyce has so far outstripped the criticism of Rebecca West that she seems a pervert.

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November 5th, 2009 / 1:17 pm