criticism, quotes, style

“a justification for their pitiable and base existence”

From a fellow formalist. I really like the way that Wolfe, using language, blames the language itself for the use it’s being put to. This is out of a description of a graduate class in theater criticism, at Harvard:

“…He gave them a language they could use with a feeling of authority and knowledge, even when authority and knowledge were lacking to them. It was a dangerous and often very trivial language – a kind of jargonese of art that was coming into use in the world of those days….

But although this jargon was perhaps innocuous enough when rattled off the rattling tongue of some ignorant boy or rattle-pated girl, it could be a very dangerous thing when uttered seriously by men who were trying to achieve the best, the rarest, and the highest life on earth – the life which may be won only by bitter toil and knowledge and stern living – the life of the artist.

And the great danger of this glib and easy jargon of the arts was this: that instead of knowledge, the experience of hard work and patient living, they were given a formula for knowledge; a language that sounded very knowing, expert and assured, and yet that knew nothing, was experienced in nothing, was sure of nothing.

It gave to people without talent and without sincerity of soul or integrity of purpose, with nothing, in fact, except a feeble incapacity for the shock and agony of life, and the desire to escape into a glamorous and unreal world of make believe – a justification for their pitiable and base existence.

It gave to people who had no power in themselves to create anything of merit or of beauty- people who were the true Philistines and enemies of art and of the artist’s living spirit – the language to talk with glib knowingness of things they knew nothing of…”

(Thomas Wolfe, OF TIME AND THE RIVER)

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