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This report is taken from PN Review 85, Volume 18 Number 5, May - June 1992.

Comment C.H. Sisson
'The myth of the great French writer, the sacred depositary of all higher values, has crumbled since the Liberation.' The words have all the hall-marks of media trash, of the sort of rubbish that is talked when those who are presented as experts on 'the arts' are given their turn at deluding the public. 'The myth of the great French writer' is a phrase conveying the obligatory touch of conventional innuendo against whomever might otherwise have been supposed to be the speaker's betters; there is the evidently enlightened use of the word sacred' as a term of abuse, in association with 'higher values' which are clearly to be taken as ridiculous, in the light of the speaker's own; finally, a dollop of heady politics in a reference to an event likely, at the time of speaking, to be both highly emotive and profoundly confusing to the audience. This great pronouncement, however, is not from some hack broadcaster, but from one who might be called 'the myth of the great Roland Barthes'. Many academics, since then, have made a good living out of something like the same mixture. Neither literature nor politics, it might be thought, benefit much from such proceedings. Literature has, in any case, been ruled out of existence by this little group of entrepreneurs. More ignorant persons than they are supposed to believe in 'the magical, transcendant, properties of the literary artefact,' even to credit the notion that 'great poems like "On a Grecian Urn"

and "Michael' ...


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