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This article is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

T.S.Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and the Quality of Time Dan Jacobson


A revised version of an Inaugural Lecture delivered at University College London, May 1989


A LITERARY WORK of any depth arises from experiences which are hard to comprehend and articulate. In the act of composition these are transformed, for the writer himself as well as for the reader, into an experience of quite a different order: namely, into the experience of the story or poem or play.

The distinction appears elementary enough. It is also fraught with difficulty; so much so that we should not be surprised that it is often overlooked, or misunderstood, or denied on ideological grounds. Implicit in the drawing of such a distinction is the belief that the poem or tale is ineluctably the product of forces outside it or anterior to it (the experiences and circumstances from which it arises), and at the same time an imaginatively autonomous creation (the experience which it then becomes). It is precisely this belief from which certain schools or teams of critics would recoil; in all likelihood they would take special exception to the use I have just made of retrograde terms like 'imaginative', 'autonomous' and 'creation'.

Some would insist that literary works have no existence, and can logically have no existence, outside or beyond the pre-determining social and cultural structures, and the ideological and linguistic systems, of which both the writer and his product are a manifestation. The same is true, they would argue, of our very ...


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