Vol. 18 No. 1 1951 - page 128

reactions either friendly or hostile. I mention this not as a contrast
personal idiosyncrasies but because I suspect that my feeling is rather
widely shared among readers of the generation brought up during the
depression. Our divergence from Wilson's taste is here not merely a
literary problem but also a reflection of a difference in the experience
of two generations separated from each other by more than years.
But no such explanation could account for Wilson's essay on Kafka.
An intelligent depreciation of Kafka would be useful, if only to save him
from most of the appreciators, and Wilson does offer some acute critical
remarks. But his essay is finally disappointing because he rejects the
claims for Kafka's greatness less on aesthetic than on moral grounds;
he sees Kafka's novels as a plea for moral passivity-which is to miss,
among other things, Kafka's occasional strand of subterranean rebel–
liousness and his quite unpassive humor. One suspects that this essay is
partly a consequence of more than a reading of Kafka, that it reflects
Wilson's irritation with the Kafka cult and, more generally, the current
literary scene. Often enough the irritation is justified, but it would be
released far more usefully in direct polemic than in occasional remarks.
Wilson troubled to organize his opinions of the New Criticism into a
rounded essay rather than inserting them into a review of a book by
Gilbert Highet, it would be better not only for us but for him.
Finally, a word about Wilson as writer. He has become one of
our finest prose stylists: his powers of exposition and atmospheric evo–
cation are greater than ever, he is quite free of jargon or academic
lint, and with the possible exception of Newton Arvin there is no Amer–
ican critic living today who can match his mastery of syntax and the
long sentence. I suppose it is hopeless to expect the critics-to-be of the
graduate schools to consider Wilson as a critic, for they
he is a
mere impressionist unconcerned with the affective fallacy, the heresy
of paraphrase, and the distinction between intent and intention; but
they might look into his book to see what a genuine writer can do with
the English language.
Irving Howe
the hans hofmann school of fine art
52 west 8th street
new york city
phone gramercy 7-3491
morning • afternoon • evening
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