Leavis would not have approved of the third epithet in our title. He saw himself as an “anti-philosopher”—philosophers being thinkers who reduce thought to “isms.” Leavis was clear that he was neither a theorist nor a philosopher, but as a literary critic he could not avoid thinking about the kind of existence works of literature have, and how they can be forms of thought. In “Leavisian Thinking,” Ian Robinson shows how this led him to develop the idea of the “third realm,” which is often misinterpreted but can be useful to both the philosophy of language as well as literary criticism.
Chris Joyce’s essay, “Rethinking Leavis,” seeks to establish the case for reading Leavis as a thinker and as one of the most impressive figures of modern intellectual history. Its aim is to shift the emphasis from the idea of Leavis as a “practical critic” or as a proponent of “minority culture” (although he was both) and place it on him as a conceptual reformer. The author suggests that Leavis’s work as a literary critic and teacher is inseparable from his thinking about the nature of language.
In “Leavis, Tolstoy, Lawrence, and ‘Ultimate Questions,’” Edward Greenwood explores why Leavis’s essay on Anna Karenina is one of his best: in it, he is prepared to be critical of his admired D. H. Lawrence, he deals with his own deepest moral concerns, and he explores the nature [End Page 124] of tragedy. This brings Greenwood to draw a comparison between a narrowing moralism in the later Leavis and the later Tolstoy. In “Leavis on Tragedy,” Paul Dean argues that the reason Leavis wrote comparatively so little about tragedy lies in his growing realization that Lawrence was a greater writer than T. S. Eliot. The Leavis who said “no” to Eliot was saying “no” to life-denying doctrines and inhibiting classical-Christian, conventional habits of mind, above which the individual couldn’t rise, thus making him a tragic figure. This, in opposition to Lawrence’s non-tragic, positive acceptance of body and mind as one, of life in individual embodied lives existing in time.
Despite his charismatic impact on many of his students, Leavis resisted the description of teacher. In “Creativity and Pedagogy in Leavis,” Michael Bell examines the connection between this resistance in Leavis and the charismatic impact he had on so many of his students and readers, seeing the seminar as engaging in a common aesthetic pursuit—reading—even if with those less experienced than himself. Bell shows, with special reference to the tradition passing from Schiller through Nietzsche and Suzanne Langer, Leavis’s sophisticated recognition of the centrality of aesthetics to human beings and culture.
Leavis was friends with Wittgenstein, and recorded this friendship in “Memories of Wittgenstein” in the Critic as Anti-Philosopher. Though he does not say why—and does not betray any familiarity with Wittgenstein’s philosophy—Leavis speaks of Wittgenstein’s “unmistakable genius.” What prompted him to use that word, we may never know. For Bernard Harrison, Leavis considered Wittgenstein as merely one more representative of a “philosophy” intrinsically hostile, as he saw it, to the literary-critical enterprise. But in this he was mistaken. In “Leavis and Wittgenstein,” Harrison shows that Wittgenstein’s later thought is in many ways as helpful to Leavis’s conception of the critical enterprise as it is hostile to much that Leavis regarded as inseparable from “philosophy.”
Paul Standish’s “Absolute Pitch and Exquisite Rightness of Tone” considers the encounter between Leavis and Wittgenstein, in the light of what Michael Bell has called the “potentially important unfinished business in their intellectual non-relationship.” The work of both evinced a suspicion of theory, and this suspicion can be seen to cast light on their respective conceptions of philosophy and literature. But Standish finds a more important potential connection in their ideas about language and its relation to imagination and maturity of judgment.
In “Wittgenstein and Leavis: Literature and the Enactment of the Ethical,” I also make a rapprochement between Leavis and Wittgenstein, [End Page 125] but in the realm of ethics. For Wittgenstein, ethics cannot be put into words. This does not mean he thought ethics cannot be made manifest; indeed, he took the best manifestation of ethics to occur in aesthetics, and more specifically, in literature. Wittgenstein takes us some way toward fleshing out literature’s “perspicuous presentations,” but not far enough. To do this, I appeal to Leavis’s notion of enactment and his view of the autonomous, active role of language in literature. I conclude that for both, the meaning of literature’s ethical enactments is determined not subjectively but intersubjectively. Literature generates, and does not merely propose, ethical meaning. [End Page 126]