Thursday, June 23, 2005

On Elitism

Submitted for discussion: Donald Davie, on Yvor Winters and F. R. Leavis:

That I cannot concur in either Leavis’s or Winters’s way of dividing the sheep from the goats, is beside the point: what I esteem in both of them is their common insistence that sheep there are, and goats there are; that in the arts, as between the genuine and the fake, or between the achieved and the unachieved, there cannot be any halfway house. The Calvinist doctrines of election and reprobation may be false and brutal in every other realm of human endeavour; in the arts they rule. And the catholicism of Lewis and Tolkien becomes, when extended into the arts, merely a lax eclecticism; worse, it becomes – because of its tenderness towards ‘the ordinary’ – indistinguishable, in its impact on the practicing artist, from that secular social democracy which from every other point of view is its enemy.

–Donald Davie, These the Companions: Recollections (Cambridge UP, 1982) 170.


E. M. Selinger said...

Daniel: Leavis? F. R. Leavis? The F. R. Leavis who wrote "Mass Civilization and Minority Culture"? The F. R. Leavis who died in 1979?

Bridget (sotto voce): FUUUUUUUCK

Daniel (shrugging): Fascinating!

(On a more serious note, Mark, would you really rather end up read and loved as much as Winters, or as much as Tolkien and Lewis? Whose accomplishments look to have held up better, fifty years on?)

Oy Elbereth!


Mark Scroggins said...

The quote's "up for discussion" – didn't say I entirely endorsed it... & I think the question of long-term popularity is a just a trifle disingenuous: Let's face it, Louis L'Amour by those terms is a better eternity model than Faulkner.

For the record: I have a sneaking admiration for many of Winters's late formal poems. I have little truck with Leavis, but there's plenty of time for me to get older & even more cantankerous. Lewis's criticism is pretty monumental, when he's on his most solid medieval/early renaissance turf, but if the novels vanished tomorrow I wouldn't miss 'em, and the apologetics are sfarz I'm concerned spew-making. I love LOTR, except for the 1st half of Return, which is a dreadful yawn, and the long poems, which I simply *can't* read. (I've read the first six pages of Silmarillion about ten times – but no further; I'd rather listen to Marillion than read the Silmarillion.)