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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

The Case for Stokes (and Pater) Stephen Bann

THE PUBLICATION of Adrian Stokes's collected Critical Writings', in three handsome volumes, has been greeted with an almost unanimous acclamation. No doubt reviewers were cowed into submission from the start by the remarkable set of tributes from different quarters which cover the reverse of the dust jacket. Yet the very effulgence of all these tributes presents us with a conspicuous paradox. If the quality of Stokes's writing is indeed so generally recognized among our philosophers, our journalists, our literary critics and our art critics, then why is there nothing resembling Stokes's writing, or indeed Stokes's point of view, among those who have succeeded him? To turn the argument aggressively ad hominem, we are told in a recent memorial lecture that Stokes stood firmly to the end of his life on his low estimate of the "half-baked, ignorant and journalese theory of surrealism." Yet David Sylvester, one of the contributors to the dust jacket, has in the past year compared Dada and Surrealism to "Tantric art or, for that matter, Christian art."3 In his introduction to the important recent exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, he went on to explain this identification by saying that Dada and Surrealism "are not art movements . . . They are religions." In our context, it is not so much the banality of this statement that is surprising, as the simple fact that such pontifical assertions pass without serious challenge in the half-light of the contemporary British art world. Who indeed would put himself forward ...


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