Nothing is more symptomatic of the enervation, of the decompression of the Western imagination, than our incapacity to respond to the landings on the Moon. Not a single great poem, picture, metaphor has come of this breathtaking act, of Prometheus' rescue of Icarus or of Phaeton in flight towards the stars.
He is no true reader who has not experienced the reproachful fascination of the great shelves of unread books, of the libraries at night of which Borges is the fabulist. He is no reader who has not heard, in his inward ear, the call of the hundreds of thousands, of the millions of volumes which stand in the stacks of the British Library asking to be read. For there is in each book a gamble against oblivion, a wager against silence, which can be won only when the book is opened again (but in contrast to man, the book can... Read more »
It is not the literal past that rules us, save, possibly, in a biological sense. It is images of the past.... Each new historical era mirrors itself in the picture and active mythology of its past or of a past borrowed from other cultures. It tests its sense of identity, of regress or new achievement against that past.
Cheap music, childish images, the vulgate in language, in its crassest sense, can penetrate to the deeps of our necessities and dreams. It can assert irrevocable tenure there. The opening bars, the hammer-beat accelerando of Edith Piaf's Je ne regrette rien - the text is infantile, the tune stentorian, and the politics which enlisted the song unattractive - tempt every nerve in me, touch the bone with a cold burn and draw me into God knows what infidelities to reason, each time I hear the song, and hear it, uncalled for, recurrent inside me.
The poet's discourse can be compared to the track of a charged particle through a cloud-chamber. An energised field of association and connotation, of overtones and undertones, of rebus and homophone, surround its motion, and break from it in the context of collision .. in Western poetry so much of the charged substance is previous poetry.
To a degree which is difficult to determine, the esoteric impulse in twentieth-century music, literature and the arts reflects calculation. It looks to the flattery of academic and hermeneutic notice. Reciprocally, the academy turns towards that which appears to require its exegetic, cryptographic skills.
I believe that a work of art, like metaphors in language, can ask the most serious, difficult questions in a way which really makes the readers answer for themselves; that the work of art far more than an essay or a tract involves the reader, challenges him directly and brings him into the argument.
The capacity for imaginative reflex, for moral risk in any human being is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room. Thus there may be a covert, betraying link between the cultivation of aesthetic response and the potential of personal inhumanity.
The new sound-sphere is global. It ripples at great speed across languages, ideologies, frontiers and races. The economics of this musical Esperanto is staggering. Rock and pop breed concentric worlds of fashion, setting and life-style. Popular music has brought with it sociologies of private and public manner, of group solidarity. The politics of Eden come loud.
Monotheism at Sinai, primitive Christianity, messianic socialism: these are the three supreme moments in which Western culture is presented with what Ibsen termed "the claims of the ideal." These are the three stages, profoundly interrelated, through which Western consciousness is forced to experience the blackmail of transcendence.