By Warner Berthoff
Probes postwar American writers' abandonment of distinguishing beneficial properties of literary workmanship in writings considered as testaments of private survival and displays at the clients of literature in a time of cultural drawback and waft
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Extra resources for A Literature Without Qualities: American Writing Since 1945
Il aa1opcK111M npaaoM A Generation in Retreat 29 review the career charts of that whole company of apprentice poets who in the late 1930s and the 1940s put themselves to school with one or another recog nized master of the precedi11g generation. It is a case worth considering in some detail. These were the poets, most of then1 college bred, who began by seeking out the approval of teachers and editors known to take their evaluative cues from T. S. cl Robert Penn Warren, or to Bread Loaf to breathe in the sly, untransferable self promotions of Robert Frost, or to Sa11 Francisco and environs where they could choose between Yvor Winters and Kenneth Rexroth as mentors (and choose well in either case), or else to Paris cafes where Picasso had doodled and Hemingway watched and listened; who prowled the Grolier Book Shop, Newbegin's, Shakespeare & Company, the Gotham Book Mart, for autographs and fresh clues; who paid ritual calls on Dr.
Individual \vriters may or may not propose ideological explanations for what they are driven to say or for the cumulative judgments tl1eir work de livers. Fear arid loathing'' can be disguised i11 vari ous compensatory ways: not only in l1orror stories but in dreamlike visio11s of rescuing favored sectors of existence fro111 the general ruin, or in fantasies of a power of resistance and escape within the grasp of certain exceptio11al groupings of persons. But whether or 11ot the conveyed message is inte11tional and whether or not it is made ft1lly explicit, we will Marep111an.
3aU\"1U\eHHbllii aBropCK"1M npaaoM 32 A Literature Without Qualities pling burden of the great creative past and must struggle with only partial hope of success to break free of the terrific influence of their most admired precursors, in order to become creators of equal strength and in the same performative mode. 8 But the pivotal moments of change I have in mind after 1945 are really of another kind. They are moments instead when that ruling mode itself, and the conceptions of vocation and performance it presupposes, lose credit and are seemingly abandoned; and the writer begins to write, not to achieve the same kind and degree of mastery he has been schooled to admire, but simply to maintain himself as a functioning being in what ever intentional sphere he can tolerate belonging to.
A Literature Without Qualities: American Writing Since 1945 by Warner Berthoff