A Commentary (Nov 1927)
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286 ] A Commentary The Monthly Criterion: A Literary Review, 6 (Nov 1927) 385-88 The Conversations at Pontigny The entretiens which take place every summer, for a period of several weeks, at the former Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy, are not intended to interest the general public, but merely to profit the men of letters of various countries who meet there.1 The proceedings are not published. But the prospectus of subjects to be discussed, which was issued before the meeting of this year, is an interesting document in itself. In 33 pages it gives an admirable view of the kinds of subject which preoccupy the minds of men of letters to-day. And all the more as many of the writers who were present are occasional contributors to The Criterion, a short summary of the programme may be of interest. The headings are three: a discussion of Liberty – i.e. the relation of the individual to the State, with reference to bolshevism, fascism and the other typesofcontemporarypoliticalorganization.Second,adiscussion of romanticism. Third, a discussion of “humanism,” or the question of education and civilization. Through the summaries of the points to be raised in these discussions appear also the persistent questions of religion. In the first discussion, the question of the relation of Church and State arises; in the second, some of the personal aspects of religion; in the third, the place of religion in education.2 No meeting of persons small enough and sympathetic enough to be able todiscusssuchmatterscouldpossiblybewhollyrepresentative;andwemean no disrespect in suggesting that the actual conversations (which we did not hear) are less important than the choice of subjects. The interesting point is that such subjects, and such varied subjects, would hardly have engaged so much attention from men of letters of the previous generation, or even fifteen years ago. The man of letters of to-day is interested in a great many subjects – not because he has many interests, but because he finds that the study of his own subject leads him irresistibly to the study of the others; and he must study the others if only to disentangle his own, to find out what heisreallydoinghimself.Threeeventsinthelasttenyearsmaybeinstanced: the Russian revolution (which has also directed our attention to the East), [ 287 A Commentary (Nov) the transformation of Italy (which has directed our attention to our own forms of government), and the condemnation of the Action Française by theVatican.AlloftheseeventscompelustoconsidertheproblemofLiberty andAuthority,bothinpoliticsandintheorganizationofspeculativethought. Politics has become too serious a matter to be left to politicians.3 We are compelled, to the extent of our abilities, to be amateur economists, in an age in which politics and economics can no longer be kept wholly apart. Everything is in question – even the fundamental dogma of modern society that debentures are safer than common stocks. And now that psychology has invaded everything, and at the same time is rapidly transforming itself into biology and physics, how can we avoid such subjects, even if our only desire is to be able to ignore them? All this, and much more, is happening not because we wish to take up new hobbies, but because we must submit to the pressure of circumstances. We have to adapt our minds to a new age – new certainly to this extent, that the nineteenth century gave us a very inadequate preparation for it. And none of these problems is local. It is the same set of problems, perhaps in the end the same problem, which is occupying the mind of all Europe. We can only hope that all this labour will make it possible for us to return more tranquilly to our own business, such as writing a poem, or painting a picture. The considerations above are given a greater precision by the appearance of Mr. Wyndham Lewis’s book, Time and Western Man. Mr. Lewis is the most remarkable example in England of the actual mutation of the artist into a philosopher of a type hitherto unknown.4 American Copyright Law By the courtesy of a friend of The Criterion, we are able to print the following two paragraphs from a letter from an American editor of standing who is in close touch with the movement for Copyright Reform.5 They will have particular interest for writers; but the matter should be of interest to everyone who cares for literature and for justice: I alsonote youropinionoftheAmericancopyrightlaw,andIwishIcould send word that there was hope of passing a new bill this year. This cannot be foretold. I think it...