Wednesday, 24 September 2014

F.R. Leavis on Santayana

For Johnson, I said, expression was necessarily statement; critically, he couldn't come to terms with the use of language, not as a medium in which to put 'previously definite' ideas, but for exploratory creation. Poetry as creating what it presents, and as presenting something that stands there to speak for itself, or, rather, that isn't a matter of saying, but of being and enacting,he couldn't properly understand.
(from Tragedy and the ‘medium’ essay in The Common Pursuit by F.R. Leavis)

Leavis is deprecating Santayana’s philosopher’s view that Shakespeare is expressing his own sense of the futility of life that he puts into the mouth of Macbeth, “Tomorrow and tomorrow etc.” No, no, no it is the play that is speaking. As I have expressed it in relation to Flannery O’Connor, the work gets away on its creator. ‘I didn’t know he was going to say that’ she says of a character. If you’re a reader you can feel this and it may be that writers who can’t read fail to ever pass into the active imagination
active imagination
by which a world is mediated.
cf.getting away on Flannery

The Last Puritan by Santayana and The Late George Apley by John Marquand are both exemplars of Beacon Hill Brahminism but the former stays within the program withal beautifully written while Marquand’s work may have surprised himself.
The Last Puritan
The Late George Apley

George is fatuous, blinkered but strangely noble and lovable. Oliver has to die to make his point but it seems unsatisfactory that he was not given more of a chance to meet himself, to catch himself on as the saying was. That is the tragedy of dying young never having been able for happiness.


skholiast said...

The sense of a character as another person seems like a crucial piece of the humility of the writer. You find it across the board, in artists who in other respects could not be more different. Tolkien and Kundera, for instance.

ombhurbhuva said...

I don’t know the writing of Kundera and I missed out on the Tolkien 'Lord’ phenomenon back in the day. Maybe the enthusiasm of the ‘heads’ put me off, far out man. Someone I met was hypnotised and saw Bilbo Baggins peering round the corner at him due to post hypnotic suggestion. I have it on the ereader now and am going to give it a go soon. Edmund Wilson famously didn’t dig it. F.R. Leavis may well have kept his counsel. Am I right in thinking that you regard him highly? I do myself. Santayana may have been gravid for far too long with The Last Puritan so that when finally delivered of it, it had a beard.