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This item is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

Letter from John Lucas
Language Games (3)


I've been accused of many things in my time, but as far as I know I've never before been in the dock for 'disinterested' aka 'reactionary, right-wing' thinking. As a student in the latter part of the 1950s I learned to distrust the claims to Arnoldian disinterestedness of those whose own interests were all too plain; and as a committed socialist I've opposed such claims in everything I write. On the other hand, there's not much point in denying that Arnold is an often wonderful literary critic and someone whose social criticism is usually directed at the necessary questions, even if you didn't agree with his answers. Partly because I distrust those who have learned to curl the lip at a mere mention of his name, I've also learnt to distrust the claims of those whose supposed radicalism is worn as a fashion statement. (It was an American critic - I'm sorry I can't remember who - who spoke of 'the General Motors Theory of Poetry: Next Year's Model Will be Different'.) Paul Quinn says I'm opposed to the new. Rubbish. I am, however, sceptical about the case he makes for Bernstein's poetry because the programme on which that poetry depends, at least as Quinn presents it, isn't so much new as rechauffé; and anti-style is still style. To call my scepticism British peevishness is as trivial as it's beside the point. Quinn must surely know that the most eloquent criticism of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry is to be found among American writers. I was hoping his piece might confront these. But no. There is apparently no case to answer. This is very similar to the tactic of those in the UK who, wanting to regard Althusser or Lacan as beyond criticism, proceed as though E.P. Thompson and Raymond Tallis have never written. To distrust such evasiveness doesn't make me 'disinterested', any more than thinking that Gore Vidal's fiction over-rated makes me homophobic, or being certain that Maya Angelou can't write poetry makes me either racist or sexist.



This item is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

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