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This article is taken from PN Review 1, Volume 4 Number 1, October - December 1977.

Absentist Poetry: Kinsella, Hill, Graham, Hughes Calvin Bedient

I
ONE KIND of modern literature is both anti-Romantic and anti-Classical. Sceptical of everything (if only occasionally of its own scepticism), it thrusts aside even the darkened potential of the Classic view of life: the noble sense of the cost of virtue, of the limitations of happiness, of the fragility of hope. It is impatient to climb into its own negatives and drift beyond the point of return, free from disappointment at last.

Vexation-Hegel called it a disease peculiar to modern man-is the mood, the morass of the new literature. Whether loudly or secretly the new writer is too chagrined for resignation. Classical renunciation has usually an obverse side of the most immodest hope of all: everlasting life. But this third literature is post-religious. The loss of a way out from death is its foremost frustration, though closely rivalled by the inverse loss of a way into being: both the Classical and the Romantic plenitudes are denied. Like the Romantic at low ebb and the self-accusing Christian, the new writer feels the pangs of isolated selfhood and the consequent dread of nothingness; but in him these anxieties are never annihilated by the great self-escape, the overbeing, of ecstasy. The only depth he knows in himself is the one in which he is drowning. The alien outsidedness of space, the insubstantiality of time and identity, the isolation belying language and love-against these he lacks protection. Indeed, he both finds and puts himself in their way. His negations ...


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