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To be disillusioned

“We read the late novels of D.H. Lawrence or the cantos of Ezra Pound, aware that these are works of enormously gifted writers yet steadily troubled by the outpouring of authoritarian and Fascist ideas. We read Bertolt Brecht’s ‘To Posterity,’ in which he offers an incomparable evocation of the travail of Europe in the period between the wars yet also weaves in a justification of the Stalin dictatorship. How are we to respond to all this? The question is crucial in our experience of modernist literature. We may say that the doctrine is irrelevant, as many critics do say, and that would lead us to the impossible position that the commanding thought of a poem need not be seriously considered in forming a judgment of its value. Or we may say that the doctrine, being obnoxious, destroys our pleasure in the poem, as some critics do say, and that would lead us to the impossible position that our judgment of the work is determined by our opinion concerning the author’s ideology. There is, I think, no satisfactory solution in the abstract, and we must learn to accept the fact that modernist literature is often – not in this way alone! – ‘unacceptable.’ It forces us into distance and dissociation; it denies us wholeness of response; it alienates us from its own powers of statement even when we feel that it is imaginatively transcending the malaise of alienation.” – Irving Howe, “The Culture of Modernism”

Published inLit & Crit

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