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This review is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

UNDER THE NET MARTIN RYLE AND KATE SOPER, To Relish the Sublime? Culture and Self-realization in Postmodern Times (Verso)

Five years ago I developed a strong attachment to two words: `noble' and `soul'. Then three years ago, I developed a stronger attachment to the phrase `aesthetic pleasure'. Despite this apparent shift of allegiance there was an underlying loyalty. I was looking for the support of language for the memory of the happiness I felt when I read Proust.

I should say, briefly, that I had read Proust after reading a memoir by the Irish journalist Nuala O'Faoloin containing the sentence: `Of course, if there were nothing else, reading would - obviously - be worth living for.' This was to me an arresting sentiment and, since O'Faoloin also talked about the `perfect happiness' she felt when she read Proust, I read him too. And I loved his book and regarded it with astonishment as one of the most magnificent and beautiful things in the world. I fastened on the words `noble' and `soul' because Proust used them and because the way he made me feel led me to conceive (silently) that he had shown me the dignity and beauty of the human soul. (Of course, I did not talk like this but I prized these emotions inwardly.)

Although I do not remember all the details of my `noble' phase, my attachment to the word `noble' and to the idea that reading literature could yield noble emotions was strengthened by two remarks from different writers. One was Wordsworth, who described the poet's task as `... a ...


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