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446 ] The Function of a Literary Review1 The Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 1 (July 1923) 421 On the completion of the first volume of the Criterion, it is pertinent to define, and perhaps to defend, the purpose of a literary review. For in our time the pursuit of literary perfection, and the preoccupation with literature and art for their own sake, are objects of attack, no longer in the name of “morals,” but in the name of a much more insidious catchword : “life.”2 I say “more dangerous,” because the term “morals,” at worst, stands for some order or system, even if a bad one; whereas “life,” with much vaguer meaning, and therefore much greater possibilities of unctiousness , may be merely a symbol of chaos. Those, however, who affirm an antinomy between “literature,” meaning any literature which can appeal only to a small and fastidious public, and “life,” are not only flattering the complacency of the half-educated, but asserting a principle of disorder. It is not, certainly, the function of a literary review to provide material for the chat of coteries – nor is a review called upon to avoid such appeal. A literary review should maintain the application, in literature, of principles which have their consequences also in politics and in private conduct; and it should maintain them without tolerating any confusion of the purposes of pure literature with the purposes of politics or ethics. In the common mind all interests are confused, and each degraded by the confusion. And where they are confused, they cannot be related; in the common mind any specialised activity is conceived as something isolated from life, an odious task or a pastime of mandarins. To maintain the autonomy, and the disinterestedness, of every human activity, and to perceive it in relation to every other, require a considerable discipline. It is the function of a literary review to maintain the autonomy and disinterestedness of literature, and at the same time to exhibit the relations of literature – not to “life,” as something contrasted to literature, but to all the other activities, which, together with literature, are the components of life. T. S. E. [ 447 The Function of a Literary Review Notes 1. Printed under the general title, “NOTES,” and followed by a paragraph titled “Literature and the ‘Honnête Homme,’” by assistant editor Richard Aldington. The section “NOTES” was permanently replaced by “A Commentary” in the issue of Apr 1924. 2. TSE refers to the inaugural essay of the newly launched journal The Adelphi, in which editor John Middleton Murry affirms the new monthly’s unifying principle: “We believe in life. Just that. And to reach that belief, to hold it firm and unshakable, has been no easy matter for some of us.” He continues: “The Adelphi is nothing if it is not an act. It is not a business proposition, or a literary enterprise, or a nice little book in a pretty yellow cover; it is primarily and essentially an assertion of a faith that may be held in a thousand different ways, a faith that life is important, and that more life should be man’s chief endeavour.” “The Cause of It All” (June 1923), 5, 8. ...


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