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

A Four Letter Word C.H. Sisson

IT IS an odd fact that, in a century in which it has, on the whole, paid writers to trade under a left-wing label, so few of the major figures have done so. For some of the most eminent figures - one need go no further than Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis - it has been necessary to enter special apologies, to explain how people so recalcitrant to the main stream of intellectual prejudice can be accepted as intellectually respectable in spite of it all. Something is wrong somewhere, and since the general managers of the trade cannot be at fault, something must be wrong with these eminent writers. It is fortunately not difficult to show that something is wrong, in each case, for anyone who dips a toe into the great sea of politics gets his feet dirty. None the less it is odd that none of these brilliant performers could quite swallow what might be called the great obligatory truths of the left, which all decent people take without choking: put compendiously, a belief in the harmony of democracy, largescale organization, and individual self-expression. Of course the managers of the trade have become adept at various logomachies, one of the most useful has been the assimilation of literary innovation into the general notion of revolution, which has become a repository for all that is desirable. There are even people, not themselves anxious to promote the usual axioms of the left, who have been so far convinced ...


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