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This article is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

Context and Con/Text Frederic Raphael

Romantic typology would have the critic a solitary man with the taste and conviction to endure, even relish, dislike. The champion of his own insights, he prefers to be rare sooner than popular. Even when affecting to uphold the people's cause, he (criticism has, until recently, been men's work) disdains popularity. If he deigns to be of a school, he must be its maître-à-penser. Frank Leavis might listen to others, at least in private, but he always meant to sheriff the posse in 'The Common Pursuit' of accurate taste. In the solemnity of the chase, his deputies made no jokes and were marked more by doggedness than by wit. Aesthetics has small place for comedy (Plato would not have loud laughter in his Republic). 'No hope for them as laughs,' said the Calvinist preacher to the boy Byron. The mature Hyndman said to Marx, 'As I grow older, I find I grow more tolerant.' Marx replied, 'Do you?' All these unsmiling influences leave traces in the rebarbative style of modern critics.

Leavis boasted of the company of the similarly open-necked Wittgenstein, who never boasted of Leavis's. After one of their walks, Wittgenstein advised Leavis, 'Give up literary criticism.' Since the young philosopher had, in the Tractatus, posited the equivalence of ethics and aesthetics, he might have been expected to endorse Scrutiny 's equation of moral with mature taste, but the later Wittgenstein winced at canonical postures: he ...


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