Though not strictly
speaking a literary critic--among all his books, only Poetic Diction
can truly be labeled as literary criticism--Barfield is much more accurately
designated as a "philologist"
or "thinker." Poetic Diction nevertheless contains several interesting
observations on the nature of criticism.
He offers his own
conception of the critic's role. "Surely if criticism is anything worth
while," he writes, "it must be a sort of midwifery--not, of course, in
the Socratic sense, but retrospectively."
try to alter the state of mind of the artist's audience, from mere wondering
contemplation of an inexplicable result, towards something more like sympathetic
participation in a process. And in poetry, as far as it is merely semantic,
and not dramatic, or sentimental, or musical, this process is the making
of meaning. What kind of criticism, then, is dilettante: that which attempts
to know, by sharing in, the poetic process itself, or the fastidious sort
which can only moon aimlessly with its hands in its pockets, till the infant
is nicely washed and dried and ready for inspection? (PD 132)
He speculates on the
centuries-old question of the "progress
critic, like the minor poet (they are often one even in corporeal substance)
needs to have his poetry in an idiom already dully established as poetry
before he can appreciate it as such. And usually nothing but time can bring
this about; as the new style percolates through the more lively and original
spirits till at last it receives the franchise of the pedants and the literary
snobs. Thus, it so often comes about that the fame of great poets is posthumous
only. . . . We have but to substitute dogma for literature, and we find
the same endless antagonism between prophet and priest. How shall the hard
rind not hate and detect the unembodied life that is cracking it from within?
How shall the mother not feel pain? (PD 166-67)
And he ponders "the
question [of] whether or no poets make good critics."
s it an
advantage, it is asked, that the critic should himself be creative? Those
who hold that it is not, point out that the powerful imagination of a poet
may easily be stimulated by some experience of which the artistic ingredients
are in themselves trivial, or non-existent, so that the poet-critic may
mistake his own poetic contribution for that of the original author. "Tipperary"
on a barrel organ may move him more than the Ninth Symphony; let him beware,
therefore, of expressing an opinion of music. On the other hand, really
dreadful pitfalls open at the feet of the unpoetic critic. For, since his
principal function is appreciation, it follows that the prosaic--the death-forces--are
particularly strong in him. Therefore, if his endless appraisals are not
leavened by some creative vigour of his own, he is in danger of losing
all sympathy with the poetic itself, that bodiless ocean of life out of
which all works of art spring. Nay, he may even cease to believe in it.
For the pure prosaic can apprehend nothing but results. It knows nothing
of coming into being, only of the thing become. It cannot realize shapes.
It sees nature--and would like to see art--as a series of mechanical rearrangements
of facts. And facts are facta--things done and past.
non-creative critic can never be the interpreter proper . . .; he can only
be the collector. (PD 168-69)
|See in particular