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This report is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

Letter from Germany Michael Hulse
In many ways the 1980s are a footling, over-contingent time, and the literature of the decade is smugly over-apt to become the ritual enshrinement of the era's cry that the style is the man. To weigh the works of contemporaries in one hand against a Chaucer, a Cervantes or a Turgenev in the other is to know, palpably, that literature's greatest quest has been shrugged off in our time: the quest for wisdom. The very notion of wisdom is awfully absent from our commentaries: the word (I suppose) calls to mind a pre-Modernist world of complacent, authoritarian, imagined wholeness. That is not what I should like to mean by wisdom, but I do not propose to offer any definition, as the impulse to define seems to me profoundly suspect: at its most innocent it is drably bureaucratic, pigeonholing and pointlessly academic, and at its ugliest it is aggressive, territorial and father-killing. It does seem possible, though, to suggest simply that we know when we are in the presence of wisdom. The quality identifies itself generously. (In my own life I have known only one person whom I could unhesitatingly describe in terms of wisdom, a lady now in her seventies who has repose without resignation, contentment without smugness, knowledge without knowingness, clear-hearted faith without knee-bending rigmarole, political acumen without party littleness, and many other qualities of kindness, thoughtfulness, insight and Gelassenheit. Acute to sufferings, well-acquainted with the darkest, she has remained wonderfully open to hope and joy.)

These thoughts ...

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