A Revolution in Taste (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
Louis Simpson’s lively and personable essays on four major voices in American poetic sensibility derive from the poet/critic’s aversion to “confessional” writing and his preference for what he calls “the personal voice” in literature. The personal voice expresses character; it does not exhibit the soul of the writer but seeks to create “a symbolic life” and, by doing so, to “create a feeling of community.”
In his Foreword, Simpson announces that his method, like his subject, “has been somewhat personal.” Therein lie many of the virtues of the book, as well as its chief faults. The person narrating and interpreting the history of his own time invariably reveals as much of himself as he does of his contemporaries, and when the narrator himself participates in the scenes he presents, one can hardly expect a calculated balance. A Revolution in Taste provides insight to the cultural life of a nation, but it suffers from blind spots.
Engaged criticism, however, may be superior to coldly detached, merely academic criticism. At no point does Louis Simpson claim to be the oracular voice of truth. The voice of his book is the voice of an individual concerned about poetry and the state of the culture poetry reflects. Simpson’s essential ambivalence prevents his book from becoming rigidly ideological. John Woods...
(The entire section is 1849 words.)
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