F. R. Leavis R. J. Kaufmann

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R. J. Kaufmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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[I mean] to recommend Leavis as a thinker, a "critical thinker" whose subject matter is the moral (not the moralistic) use of literature. The stress must fall equally on moral and literature, for it is precisely the distinction of Leavis that he has had the tact and intelligence largely to preserve this balance. (p. 248)

Seen from one perspective, Leavis's whole work is a series of wide-ranging, superlatively intelligent, violently partisan responses to the repellent and central fact of modern hugeness. Leavis joins Lawrence (whom he resembles as well as admires) in working to make it "impossible for us to ignore the nature of our loss" in our passage into the sought after privileges of life in the modern welfare state. Since it has never been his delusion that the world's change can be prevented, his mission has been the vitally direct one of preservation and practical continuity. Consequently, his work has had to be sociological as well as conventionally literary. In fact, it bears everywhere the traces of his realization that the ground held by literature had to be enlarged if she was to survive; hence we are periodically annoyed by that lack of finish which symptomizes the inspired co-ordinator of facts and insights which otherwise would have not been linked in the minds of his contemporaries. (pp. 249-50)

[The] rapidly maturing social sciences are a set of vocabularies and techniques for coping with the imaginative necessities as well as the sprawling data of that modern hugeness to which Leavis is so sensitive. But left to themselves these social sciences run the risk of delivering order without sense, of a kind of implication of relationship without any true inwardness. Leavis, to a degree, anticipated this development brilliantly and part of his vaunted irritability springs, I think, from his shocked realizations that he has been busily offering solutions to problems which are only now being isolated and prosed out for the official mind. It is in this sense that Leavis must endure the label of philosopher; his famous contemporary, the philosopher for many of his generation, Ludwig Wittgenstein, can impose it, "The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose." Leavis has conducted his campaign for a mature and responsible literacy in just such a way. His criticism works that way too. He has been a kind of mapmaker, simplifying the terrain of the past, routing his contemporaries towards proved sources of life, wisdom and health, at the same time that he provides recipes for the use of just these sources. One needs to accentuate this generalizing, sociological aspect of Leavis—what I've called "critical thinking", which transcends conventional explication—lest we miss a central paradox of his aggressively taut mind.

While Leavis almost religiously plumps for the individual, for reverence for life and privately felt holdings, he really has little capacity for envisioning the unique, the non-representative singularities of actual people or even of fictional characters. Evidently he finds something suspectly indulgent in full-blooded individuality, something sloppy often, or infantile, or waste-fully violent. There are unwitting Proustian self-revelations in Leavis's passionate defence of D. H. Lawrence against the icily prim strictures of T. S. Eliot. The defence is necessary, for Eliot with all his vast influence has fought against sympathetic closure with Lawrence as Ying resists Yang. But there is a manifest side of Lawrence—his petulant, domineering, immature side—that Leavis simply denies. I happen largely to approve Leavis's major thesis, that Lawrence was supremely intelligent…. Leavis saw this early and has doggedly proclaimed it since. But if Lawrence is animated by a splendid intelligence, if his perception was of a deeper (lost?) health, it is equally certain that he was not the official and unadulterated embodiment of that Intelligence. There is a left-handed platonist which...

(The entire section is 1,295 words.)