Swimming with the Tide

The following comment was received  from a visitor to this site and is published at his request..

Although I was not taught by Leavis I have long been an admirer and close reader of his work. Your useful site has determined me not to join the Leavis Society, whose existence I discovered at much the same time (I have been doing a little detective work about it). Over the years I have read several of your essays and those of people who, I believe, belong to what I think of as your circle: they include Mr Ian Robinson and Mr Duke Maskell. Your comments on the pseudo-critical nature of the Leavis Society I echo entirely. Likewise the commentaries by Mr Maskell and Mr Scribbler. The Society’s newsletters seem to me indeed overblown. Worse, however, they suggest (to me at least) a lack of real interest in and understanding of Leavis’s work. Do any of them have a thoroughgoing knowledge of the many authors on whom Leavis wrote? The committee’s motives seem to me to lie mainly in other fields of interest, Leavis’s name providing them simply with convenient departure points. Leavis rarely discussed such general propositions as ‘Why literature(s) matter” and would have dismissed the absurd pluralism of this one.

Can it really be the case that all the names listed as committee members genuinely endorse the direction the Society is taking? Or are some of them (respected names) simply there as makeweights? Do they really know what they are supporting? It was once the case that in the academic world you took a risk in identifying yourself as a ‘Leavisite’; now it seems that the risk is more likely to lie, not in expressing admiration for Leavis, but in being associated with the Leavis Society. Is there a literary executor of the Leavis estate and can the Society really have secured the blessing of such a person?

I notice that a former pupil of Leavis’s, whose fictions the latter would surely have abjured, has been somehow enlisted in the cause of the Society. He is the creator of a political caricature called Pussy (I have seen mountains of this book recently in Blackwell’s, but whether that means they are selling rapidly or hardly at all I cannot tell). Political propaganda dressed up as fiction relies of course on what Leavis in a splendid turn of phrase called a “flank rubbing consensus” – flank rubbing being defined, I believe, as the creation of a group smell. Anyone minded to lay down good money for this book would, in my view, be well advised first to listen to Sir Roger Scruton’s intelligent and well informed review of the circumstances that lay behind the defeat of Mrs Clinton. Called ‘The Trump Card’, it can be heard at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b081tkmc

Leavis of course maintained, I believe rightly, a staunchly apolitical position as a critic as he maintained an agnostic (but sensitive one) one in matters religious.