I’m back to Kirk after Lukacs, re-reading Eliot and His Age because (1) I am better able to appreciate and learn from it now and (2) I’m also pecking at Axel’s Castle–which is surprisingly limpid–and (3) I’m also pecking at the chapter on Eliot in Scruton’s book. Besides that, I’m doing Williams’ He Came Down from Heaven on Sundays and he talks about the interpretation of Scripture being literary criticism, which it is. All of them have that way of putting things.
What way? It can be called startling, although it is not entirely startling. But that’s what’s startling: it is the right use of words: avoiding overstatement, setting the principal describing word in a setting that does not strain the honesty of the statement, correcting the common expression into something charged with insight, structuring sentences and paragraphs toward clarity. In other words, the mental labor that goes into creating the easy grace of their final expression was considerable.
And the result? Literary pleasure of a very high order. Wait though; order in what sense? Do I mean literary pleasure of a very high quality? Yes, providing ‘quality’ is not restricted to literary craftsmanship, but includes moral considerations and everything that goes into the high and comfortable seriousness of thinkers of mature stature.
I appreciate Lukacs for his precision about expression and words, however peculiar sometimes they seem, however distorted by his vanity and opinions (he has a right to his opinions!). I appreciate Kirk for his unassuming penetration and how he deals with Eliot not in hieratic but in human terms. I love Williams’ because though he is difficult he is always and fully poetic–he made poetry his mode of thinking, and though he is wild he is poetically wild, not arbitrarily so.
The danger in writing about those who put things well is that one shows oneself up thereby. But though I may not admire and love the way these men put things enough, I do admire and love the way they put things a lot, and it exerts a fascination on me that keeps me reading these works thanks to which, it can be said, for all the bad there is in the world, it could be worse. I have (and can get) and, however dimly, still enjoy with real and keen enjoyment what they thought and wrote; and that is something.