Mr. Read and M. Fernandez. A review of Reason and Romanticism: Essays in Literary Criticism, by Herbert Read; and Messages, by Ramon Fernandez
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834 ] Mr. Read and M. Fernandez1 A review of Reason and Romanticism: Essays in Literary Criticism, by Herbert Read London: Faber & Gwyer, 1926. Pp. vii + 229. Messages, by Ramon Fernandez Première série. Paris: Gallimard, 1926. Pp. 222. The New Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 4 (Oct 1926) 751-57 The intelligent and sensitive critic who discussed Mr. Read’s book in the Times Literary Supplement (leading article, July 8th, 1926), begins his article by remarking that “The comparative quiescence of the creative spirit in our literature of recent years has found a certain compensation in the increased activity of the critical.”2 This antithesis between the “creative” and the “critical” spirits in literature, between “creative” and “critical” periods , had some validity or utility in the last century, when “literature” was still composed in accepted forms, of poetry, of prose, of the novel; when the writers of verse, prose or the novel could assume for themselves a positionrespectableordisreputable (itisnowmuchthesamething)inarespectable or disreputable world (according to the way in which you looked at it); when accordingly the “critic” existed, had a position in “literature.” But at the present time, when we have begun to suspect that “literature” depends for its existence, even its subsistence, upon other things the existence of which we now doubt; when one of our most conspicuous littérateurs can exclaim: La littérature est impossible. Il faut en sortir;3 when it appears that the existence and the concept of literature depends upon our answer to other problems, the distinction between the “critic” and the “creator” is not a very useful one. The significance of the term critic has varied indefinitely : in our time the most vigorous critical minds are philosophical minds, are, in short, creative of values. Mr. Read and M. Fernandez provide an excellent example of this invalidation of the ancient classification. They are of the same generation, of the same order of culture; their education is as nearly the same as that of men [ 835 Mr. Read and M. Fernandez of different race and nationality can be; and they are occupied with similar material. Both books are collections of reprinted essays: and both volumes have a unity of purpose hitherto uncommon in volumes of collected essays. Both have rewritten and improved their essays, under the impulse of this unity of purpose. Both were primarily students of literature, and animated by the desire to find a meaning and justification for literature. Mr. Read has the advantage of being European and English; M. Fernandez that of being European and American (he was born in Mexico). Both, instead of taking for granted the place and function of literature – and therefore taking for granted a whole universe – are occupied with the inquiry into this function, and therefore with the inquiry into the whole moral world, fundamentally, with entities and values. And they represent , finally, in my opinion, two divergent directions which the human spirit can take. Both are occupied with what M. Fernandez calls the problème de hiérarchie .4 Let us start from the novel, in which both writers are interested, and from the particular point – a capital point for every contemporary mind – on which we find them most closely in agreement: their judgment of the work of Marcel Proust. I will take a sentence which Mr. Read, in his book, quotes from the book of M. Fernandez, and quotes obviously with warm approval: Les objections que soulève l’œuvre de Proust, considérée comme analyse intégrale du cœur, comme révélatrice du fond de notre nature, peuvent être à mon avis réduites à deux essentielles: elle n’édifie point une hiérarchie des valeurs, et elle ne manifeste, de son début à sa conclusion, aucun progrès spirituel.5 This sentence in itself is enough to show the penetration, the seriousness, and the novelty of M. Fernandez’ criticism. And as, from this point of agreement – the rejection of Proust (and by Mr. Read, of Joyce also, with whom Fernandez is not concerned) because of what M. Fernandez notifies as l’absence de l’élément moral chez Proust6 – as from this point the divergence begins, and becomes more and more manifest, we have, from these two writers, almost incorrigible testimony to the actual lack of value of Proust, or more exactly, to his value simply as a milestone, as a point of demarcation between a generation for whom the dissolution of value had in itself a positive value, and the generation for...