Alan Gouk

#22. Alan Gouk writes a critique of T.J. Clark’s “Farewell to an Idea”

Jacques-Louis David, “The Death of Marat”, 1793.

Jacques-Louis David, “The Death of Marat”, 1793.

“An institutionalised counterculture condemns individuality as archaic and depreciates intellectual values, even in the universities.” Harold Bloom “The Anarchy of Influence”, 2011.

“Literature is always personal, always one man’s vision of the world, one man’s experience, and it can only be popular when men are ready to welcome the visions of others. A community that is opinion-ridden, even when these opinions are in themselves noble, is likely to put its creative minds into some sort of prison….” W.B. Yeats, 1904.

“Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not persuade, which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible.” W.B. Yeats, 1910.

In one of the last “crits” I took part in before quitting St. Martins in 1990, a hapless student, when asked what he thought he was doing in presenting a large blown-up photograph of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace underneath which there ran a Silk-Cut purple band with some trite non-sequitur of a written slogan, rather like the tapestries partially glimpsable behind the chair of committee hearings at Portcullis House, said student in his defence offered the banal: “I want to manipulate, seduce, and control”. I was quite unaware at the time (why should I have been?) that in doing so he was quoting verbatim the sayings of one Jeff Koons, who was becoming – had already become – one of the reference points for any aspirant fashionista of the day.

“Manipulate, seduce, and control”… there’s a lot of it about; indeed for a Marxist or lapsed neo-marxist or pseudo-marxist critic, that’s all there is. For Terry Eagleton, whose book “Literary Theory” I stumbled across in my local Oxfam shop, there is no such thing as literature, only what many readers feel inclined in their delusional subjectivity to read; literary criticism has therefore no reason to be, and should be replaced by the study of rhetoric, or the diabolic arts of persuasion, the strategies by which writers dupe the reader into the illusion that their fantasies of coherence and “liberal-humanist” epiphanies offer consolation from the brute realities of power.

Here the paranoidal suspicion so beloved of the perpetual adolescent that all utterances are irremediably riven with endorsements of the prevailing world order, complicit in the structures of mind control which support it, and that all art is a policing of experience, corralling it in ways supportive of the oppressive ”father”, is given the seductive lure of an outré cult of transgression, with sexual-political undertones backed up by an assumption of intellectual pedigree that goes all the way back to G.W.F. Hegel, and K. Marx in his Hegel influenced period.

It is always best to read such books as Eagleton’s and T.J. Clark’s (I’ll come to him soon) backwards from conclusion to introduction, to reveal just how fatuously inadequate are their solutions to the problems they claim to have discerned through their critiques.