Munich - History Repeated as Farce in Stotesburiland

Wed, 25/10/2017 - 14:26 -- hewardwilkinson

In Stotesburiland a merry jape is afoot

A strained comparison to the Munich Agreement of 1938 seems to be the theme. 

History repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, according to Karl Marx:

But what is Stotesburiland you may ask? 

In discussions concerning the heretical nature, or otherwise, of the Leavis Society

the blog representing Stotesburiland

has zealously attacked the intent of the Leavis Society to engage with other (on some Leavisian interpretations) intellectual-cultural positions, ones which are regarded as unacceptably contentious by them. Their position is tantamount to a rejection of academic freedom, and a killer of any dialogue:
"This is not only attested by its use of Leavis’s name to promote crude political propaganda that is antithetical to the spirit of his work, but also by its sponsorship of such conspicuous anti-Leavisians as Professor Belsey, for whom it has provided a platform in accordance with the insidious policy of ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘dialogue’ articulated by the editor of its newsletter. In these circumstances, an accommodation with the Leavis Society is no less than appeasement of the enemy, as I indicated in my title."

The spirit of academic freedom is implied in the option they dismiss: "it is as if Leavis had given over the pages of Scrutiny to Tillyard, Grigson, Spender and C. P. Snow." 

Well, now! would that he had done!! 

They even claim the support of someone who, they claim, is simultaneously seeking to encourage them to enter dialogue with the Leavis Society:

"There is nothing more to add, except to say that I am grateful to my correspondent for challenging me to justify my position towards the Leavis Society; and also to thank him for his kind assurance that he ‘very much’ enjoyed the material this site has published and has a ‘great deal’ of sympathy with ‘most of’ it, especially ‘the criticism of (the newsletter’s) first editorial’. These supportive comments are greatly appreciated."

For the first editorial, and comments on it:

One would not credit that Mr Stotesbury, also, was actually invited to put his own point of view at the recent Leavis Society Conference at Downing College, and that there was also a call for papers, so that any of his acolytes could have put themselves forward to speak at the Conference, as others did, had they so chosen. One hesitates to think they were wishing to substantiate the claim of their anti-tolerance tendencies.  

One position or point of view on the issues of substance in all of this is as follows:

Leavis articulated a conception of the poetic character of literature as enactment, as he indicates in Johnson and Augustanism in The Common Pursuit (scroll to p.110-111 ff):

"Johnson cannot understand that works of art enact their moral valuations. It is not enough that Shakespeare, on the evidence of his works, 'thinks' (and feels), morally; for Johnson a moral judgment that isn't stated isn't there. Further, he demands that the whole play shall be conceived and composed as statement. The dramatist must start with a conscious and abstractly formulated moral and proceed to manipulate his puppets so as to demonstrate and enforce it.

Here we have a clear view of the essential tendency of the Augustan tradition. Such a use of language, so unchallenged and unqualified in its assumption of omnicompetence (how it came to prevail with this completeness would be a large and complicated inquiry, taking in more than the English scene) must tend to turn forms and conventions from agents of life into debilitating conventionalities, such as forbid the development of the individual sensibility and set up an insulation against any vitalizing  recourse to the concrete."

Leavis, a great European mind, bequeathed us this vast generative nuclear concept, what he called 'enactment' and analogues, which he himself developed in four major ways:

1. envisioning poetic (Revaluation, New Bearings in English Poetry, Judgement and Analysis)

2. envisioning the novel and drama in terms of poetic (The Great Tradition, DH Lawrence: Novelis. Dickens the Novelist);

3. envisaging the English canon in the light of the historicity of this conception (e.g., English Literature in Our Time and the University,;

4. and articulating a hugely important concept, a general philosophical concept, the 'third realm' and 'the human world', as overarching meta-concepts of various aspects of his later work (for instance in his Clark Lectures, English Literature in Our Time and the University), - which he did not even see, till very late, was actually doing philosophy.

As Leavis might say, it is obvious that this application of Enactment Theory can be taken further (exploring latent potentiality, perhaps in the spirit of Mr Stotesbury's 'virtual critic'); this potential for 'further' expansion exists in the context of, at least: historicity, anthropology, philosophy, psychotherapy, aesthetics, theology, nihilistic literature as well as organic literature (because there are hidden forms of creativity within what I am calling, in deference to Stotesburiland the nihilistic traditions, for instance in Proust and Dostoievsky - but one would have to accept a degree of deconstruction to recognise this), as well as cultural criticism; the concept has huge, and very wide, applications, and opens up areas of deep potential contact with several other traditions, including post-modernism.

This is the dimension that Stotesburiland finds heretical, and considers 'appeasement' of anti-Leavisian trends within other cultural thought.

A storm in an academic teacup? or an index of the difficulty of disagreement in our time?

NOTE: the previous URL ( now only contains a moribund and out of date version of the website, and the up to date website is now at: