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100 ] A Commentary The Monthly Criterion: A Literary Review, 5 (June 1927) 283-86 Politique d’Abord1 It is a trait of the present time that every “literary” review worth its salt has a political interest; indeed that only in the literary reviews, which are not the conscientious organs of superannuated political creeds, are there any living political ideas. We have just received the first number of Les Derniers Jours, a bi-monthly pamphlet edited and at present written by two very intelligent young men of letters, Drieu La Rochelle and Emmanuel Berl. Their interests and their methods are right.2 But The Criterion cannot altogether accept so Spenglerish a point of view;3 it cannot assume as axiomatic the statement that tout est foutu.4 To assume that everything has changed, is changing, and must change, according to forces which are not human, and that all that a person who cares about the future must or can do is to adapt himself to the change, is a fatalism which is unacceptable. It is an exemplification of the modern time philosophy discussed by Mr. Wyndham Lewis in The Enemy.5 If we are to be qualified as “neo-classicists,” we hope that “neoclassicism ” may be allowed to comprise the idea that man is responsible, morally responsible, for his present and his immediate future. The authors of a recent interesting little book published by the Hogarth Press, Coal, should be in agreement with this statement.6 Neo-Classicism One of our contemporaries, The Calendar, has devoted the foot-note of a semi-editorial article (April, 1927) to the dismissal of something called “neoclassicism .” Neo-Classicism, we are told, is “the literary version of a reactionary Latin philosophy which is being adapted, in one or two English reviews, into a repressive instrument of literary criticism.”7 As The New Criterion was the first English review to publish the work of three of the four French writers whose names are most closely associated in the public mind with the “reactionary Latin philosophy” in question, we suppose that we are indicated; which review may be the other hinted at we have no notion. We have used, and shall continue to use the word “classicism,” unsatisfactory as it is – to most people it connotes little more than alexandrine couplets, [ 101 A Commentary (June) the painting of David, and the architecture of the Madeleine or possibly the British Museum.8 The term “neo-classicism” is not ours, and is not particularly commendable; for all “neos” indicate some fad or fashion of the moment, and it is not our concern to be fashionable. Let us concern ourselves , however, with the thing, not the name. In what way is the “instrument of literary criticism,” called neo-classicism, so repressive? What testimony of “repression” of anything valuable can be advanced? If this reproach is addressed to us – and at whom else can it be levelled? – it reads more like the cry of a muddled neo-communist against what he believes to be, to adopt his own jargon, a form of neo-fascism.9 We have always assumed that certain men of genius, such as Mr. D. H. Lawrence, were simply irrepressible and therefore not to be repressed, and we have printed them without attempting to repress them.10 The foot-note continues, about “neo-classicism”: “the mixed merits of ‘neo-classicist’ literary criticism: the verbal sobriety which disguises its positivism , its calm and socialized demeanour in the midst of the revolutionary concepts by which we are surrounded, and its genuine but exaggerated docility to the world of learning. . . .”11 We are glad to have merits, and hope they are well mixed, though not so well mixed as the minds of some of our critics. “Verbal sobriety” is good, but how does it “disguise” positivism? and what is positivism? which we had always thought was something to do with Comte and Frederic Harrison;12 and which we had never suspected to be the “reactionary Latin philosophy” in question. And we should like to know in what way we apply “the dogma of an exclusive cultural value” to “the interpretation of those great works of art which proceed from the clash of permanently antagonistic cultural values.” Cultural is a fine word, hot i’ the mouth;13 and clash is one of those words which can only be described (see Fowler: Modern English Usage) as having done yeoman service.14 Those persons who find even a little stay and comfort in the...


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