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This report is taken from PN Review 82, Volume 18 Number 2, November - December 1991.

Comment C.H. Sisson
'Everybody has the capacity for discerning excellence, whether in football or in poetry.' With great deference to Violet M. Hughes*, this is not true, so far as football is concerned. You have to understand something about the game. I fear something of the same sort may go for poetry.

'People not yet aware of the fact have to be convinced that the literature of the past and the present, of their own and other countries, belongs to them.' In what sense? If it belongs to anybody - and 'belongs' is a confusing word in the context - it can surely only be to those who have acquired enough of the languages concerned, including the older language of their own country, to understand what is being said.

'It is a responsibility of the Arts Council,' says Alastair Niven, the Director of Literature, 'to widen access to an understanding of the arts.' It must be said that Violet Hughes's report is about widening access, but not at all about understanding. She nowhere says what she understands by the term 'literature'. Anything to do with conveying meaning? One wonders.

Dr Johnson, who was a simpleton, defined 'literature' as 'learning; skill in letters'. It is reasonable to suppose that, as the making of books has been going on for some time, there is something to be learnt about it. Alastair Niven says:

ninety-seven per cent of our work in the Literature Department is to do with ...


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