While we’re still at the getting-to-know-you phase of our bloggy relationship, I’d like to clarify something that, to judge by comments on the Larkin post, wasn’t clear: for me, quotation does not mean I’m Alan Jacobs, and I endorse this statement. Rather, quotation means, Here’s something worth considering. If I endorse the statement I quote, I will say so. Usually. When I remember.
So why would I quote Philip Larkin on the subject of modernism if I don’t agree with him? Why would I find his views “worth considering”? Answer: because when someone who wrote this and this and this comments on artistic form, he’s worth listening to, because he obviously knows a good deal about artistic form. I might not listen to him about anything else, but I’ll hear him out on a subject in which he has considerable professional skill.
For the record, I think Larkin’s tastes were far too narrow, and they blinded him to the real achievements of his immediate artistic predecessors, and to developments in jazz in his own time. But his comments reveal a relatively common view among the artists in the generation after the great Modernists, that those titans (Joyce, Eliot, Woolf, et al.) had strayed too far from the language and experience of the common people, and that art needed to be pulled back towards general accessibility. And you know, while I’m glad we have Joyce, Eliot, and Woolf, I’m also glad we have that next generation, including Larkin, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, and of course Auden (who managed to run the gamut from sheer simplicity to outrageously inaccessible complexity).
On a possibly related note, that post elicited some vitriolic comments about Larkin that I didn’t approve. Insofar as those were prompted by my apparent endorsement, my apologies. But we don’t do vitriol on this blog. Strong views, yes, even strongly expressed, but when comments veer into the personally abusive I don’t approve them, even when they’re directed at highly unpleasant characters like Larkin.