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This item is taken from PN Review 11, Volume 6 Number 3, January - February 1980.

Letters Dear Sir

One point, arising from the John Pilling article on Andrei Biely in PNR 8, is rather saddening: this is that Pilling nowhere mentions that in February this year Harvester published a major new translation of Biely's Petersburg, a version which in the opinion of everyone who has read it is infinitely better than the John Cournos translation to which the article refers.

That such an important article could have been written without, I am sure, Pilling being aware of our publishing the work earlier this year is rather extraordinary! I wonder if a note about our edition of the book (published in February 1979 at £8.50) could be inserted in the next issue?

Yours, etc.
The Harvester Press Ltd
16 Ship Street, Brighton, Sussex

[The General Editor writes: PNR 8 was at press when the new translation appeared.]


Dear Sir

I am grateful for Adrian Clarke's appreciation of my summary of the themes of Being and Time (Letters, PNR 10) but his criticism of my account of Heidegger's later philosophy and his dealing with poetry demand a reply.

I stand accused of 1) inadequacy in understanding Heidegger's position on rationality, 2) falsifying his views on language, 3) confusing distinct senses of 'metaphysics', 4) inaccurately characterising the poetry which he cites, and 5) attributing to him attitudes which I 'initially ascribed fancifully to those to whom his later thought is meant to appeal'. These are weighty charges, formulated with care, and a full reply would involve explaining why I follow the teachings of philosophers other than Heidegger who seem to me to give a truer account than his of the relationship between philosophy and poetry and between language and reality. I intend to do this in a projected essay to be called 'Thinking about Being' in which I shall investigate the viability of a rational (not a rationalist) ontology, through a comparison of Heidegger's views with those of Eric Voeglin and Paul Ricoeur. Here and now, though, I must be content with a brief and necessarily concentrated comment on each of Clarke's points, which I admit to be important and substantial though only convincing to one already convinced by Heidegger.

1) One does not cease to be an irrationalist because he seeks to transcend the conflict between modern rationalism and irrationalism. I appreciate Heidegger's effort to renew the original Greek sense of the intimate relationship between logos and physis: the question between us is whether or not philosophy in its Platonic and Aristotelian development explicates or falsifies the logos of the physis experienced and symbolised by the Pre-Socratics.

2) Language, we can agree, is the place of the articulation of truth. In the Greek terms it embodies the alethia of the logos of physis. My objection to Heidegger's account of this process is that emphasis on truth as revelatory happening, combined with the priority accorded to poetic over philosophical speech, results in a denial of the truth content of the differentiated discourse of philosophy. Silence is the result because philosophy is essentially only a fully self-conscious discourse, that is a mode of speech that is true to and expressive of the real, a mode which reflects upon its relationship to its object and which makes that relationship a specific topic of consideration. When we deny the claim of philosophy to articulate the truth of experienced reality or rate it as inferior to a less differentiated mode of speech as a fitting form for statements about the structure of reality, what is ultimately at stake is the very possibility that language can ever speak the truth of reality. If that speech which most explicitly reflects on the structure of language and the relationship of language to the world fails us, what hope is there for poetry as a vehicle of ontological truth which is what Heidegger claims that it can be? The unique privilege of poetry, an art of language, is bought at the price of denying that the structure of language can articulate the ontological structure of experienced reality.

3) We are right, as Nietzsche and Heidegger say, to reject `otherworldly' philosophies. The trouble is that these two great demolition agents throw out the baby with the bathwater, thought that truly articulates experienced reality alongside logical and emotional fantasies.

4) There will always be differences of opinion over how far poetry is or must be fragmentary in utterance and ambiguous in meaning in comparison with other forms of speech. I did not deny that Heidegger cites important and often great poetry. My quarrel was with his tendency to treat it as an exclusively privileged mode of truth telling.

5) When I accuse Heidegger of ignoring the conditions under which the understanding of Being may be approached, it is not because I have not followed the path of his thought back from the printed page to the experience of being in the world, but because I find his account of the relationship between man, language and reality unsatisfactory. Language is the realm of symbols devised by man to articulate equivalent experiences given in reality. Serving the purposes of articulation and communication, language mediates between the psyche of the speaker and the logos of the spoken, reality which the Greeks called physis. The balance is delicate and truth is lost whenever emphasis is placed to excess either on the pole of psychic coherence or on the self revealing nature of the physic. These are respectively the mistakes of the rationalist and the natural mystic (a term I use to distinguish the type from the genuine recipient of supernatural vision). Heidegger seems to me to be a philosopher of such natural mysticism, a mysticism which is false because its emphasis on immediate revelation is not appropriate to the natural, abstractive function of language which operates inevitably through conceptualisation and the creation of symbols answering to the reality of an intelligible but strictly speechless world.

Yours, etc.

Dear Sir

Professor Davie's persuasive article (PNR 9) took me, as it must have taken several others, to Jack Clemo's Confessions of a Rebel. It is difficult to disagree with Professor Davie's main point: the more Clemo's work is read, the more puzzling it is to see one of Britain's most original talents being ignored. I understand, however, that a BBC documentary on Clemo is in preparation; this may help to bring Clemo some of the attention he deserves.

With Harry Williams (Letters, PNR 10), I can only thank Professor Davie for drawing attention to a work of startling perception and honesty. However, with Mr Williams too, I wonder if three somewhat peripheral pages deserve such concentrated attention as are lavished on them by Professor Davie. I would have thought Clemo's critique of the British educational system far more relevant, the power of his prose of more literary interest, and his journey from perversity to sanity of greater psychological and indeed human interest. Clemo also has a warm, self-mocking humour, which dances out at the most unexpected moments.

From a formal point of view what is striking about Confessions of a Rebel is Clemo's certainty regarding the inner life. What a contrast to the self-doubting that is fashionable in autobiography today! Not merely fashionable, however, for our hurried and harried generation has lost the time and perhaps the ability for the sort of introspection that has been so fruitfully inflicted on Clemo.

Delightful as it is, the greatest value of Confessions of a Rebel lies in its provision of invaluable background material to Clemo's neglected but award-winning novel, Wilding Graft, and in the way it supplements his other autobiographical volume, The Invading Gospel.

No, Mr Williams, Clemo is not only a poet-his poetry, his novels, and his autobiographical writings originate in and introduce us to one imaginative world. And it is the stark and rugged texture of Clemo's life which powers the world, rich in its leanness, that is created and celebrated in all his work.

Yours, etc.


Dear Sir

It is disingenuous of Michael Schmidt (Editorial, PNR 10) to assert his brand of 'commitment' and then to summon as his justifying texts: Burke, Goldsmith, Coleridge. Each a Tory! Come clean, then: is PNR a Tory journal or not?

Yours, etc.
Birkenhead, Merseyside

[Michael Schmidt writes: The 'Toryism' of Goldsmith, Burke and Coleridge would hardly be recognised by the party that nowadays sports that name. It is worth recalling that the editorial also quoted Michael Hamburger-hardly a Tory-and drew illustrative examples for contexts other than the English. The short answer, then, is No. ]

This item is taken from PN Review 11, Volume 6 Number 3, January - February 1980.

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