THE LIVING PRINCIPLE: ""English"" As A Discipline of Thought by F.R. Leavis

THE LIVING PRINCIPLE: ""English"" As A Discipline of Thought

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Which side of the cultural pale are you on? Do you support a return to ""standards"" and ""values,"" or an increased scientific ""relevance?"" F. R. Leavis, British don nonpareil, editor for twenty years of Scrutiny (1932-53) who instigated the Great Tradition, whose criterion of ""livingness"" established D. H. Lawrence as a major 20th century figure, turns 80 this year but age has not mellowed this exuberant old curmudgeon. He's as categorial and opinionated as he ever was. Though he has only now gotten around to The Living Principle, it is, he asserts, the book he's been meaning to write all these years to vindicate ""English"" as a discipline of thought sui generis. This means, first of all, contending with those overweening philosophers, particularly the Wittgensteinians who think they've cornered the market on language, as well as various social scientists. Once Leavis establishes that only an educated public minority with an English school background can save us from ""cretinization"" and the end of civilization, he offers a master's lesson in Practical Criticism--does anybody remember I. A. Richards?--which he has rechristened Judgment and Analysis. He intends to illustrate here that a poem is not like those horrid offspring of the industrial revolution, simply a machine with interchangeable parts. Indeed: ""In pursuit of its proper ends, literary criticism becomes the diagnosis of what. . . we can only call spiritual malady."" This leads to a protracted defense of Eliot's Four Quartets as a central statement for our age. It is an exegesis that will stand. Holistic-elitist views like Leavis' swing in and out of fashion. But whether or not you agree that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, you cannot fail to be impressed by Leavis' ""seniority, perception and influence"" (the TLS) and by this summation of his career in letters.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1975
Publisher: Oxford