LAURA (RIDING) JACKSON AND
CHRISTOPHER C. NORRIS
CHRISTOPHER C. NORRIS ON THE TELLING:
‘IRRELEVANCY AS CRITICAL ECONOMY’
Language And Style, Volume 11, No.3, 1978
In Volume 11, No. 3 of Language and Style (Summer 1978), there was published a treatment by Mr. Christopher C. Norris of my book The Telling (it bears the authorial name "Laura (Riding) Jackson," ignored by Mr. Norris—not "Laura Riding"!), which exhibits a peculiarity of intellectual policy that has become the mark (the trademark, indeed) of intellectual advancedness, in areas of scholastic professionalism of this era. Specialization in a purposeful narrow-mindedness, for the reduction to technicalities of problems hitherto considered importantly inseparable from particular fields of intellectual concerns, has converted traditionally sedate exploratory operations in them into curt, bristling, short dealing with everything previously presumed to have a right to invite minds to linger with it attentively. "We are busy people," the professionally narrowed minds of this new scholasticism announce, as they enter into the environment of their subjects: "We are not here for conversation." Instead of coming prepared for conversation, they come prepared for the application of a technique that narrows their attention to predetermined features of concern. Mr. Norris's report on The Telling is an exercise in this invention of our century of short-cut intellectual operations. He has had no conversation with The Telling—has responded to its conversational language with a hearing-aid attuned to the terminological patterns of his technique economies: he is professionally deaf to everything that speaks itself, rather than lends itself to use as a sounding-board reinforcing his ready-made pronouncements. I do not draw this picture as a personal portrait, but in delineation of a type of mind-narrowing scholarly conventions that has come into repute as of a salutary modernism, though it represents a new bigotry in intellectual judgement-practice.
I shall point one-by-one to the errors of Mr. Norris's commentary on The Telling: they are characteristic of the strictures of the new no-nonsense intellectualism I have described (and of all thinking contracted to the dimensions of a narrow common-sense) in their carelessness. Mr. Norris plunges immediately into transformations of my activities of thought reported in my writings—my accounts of understandings arrived at, amplifications and orderings of knowledge experienced—into terms of description that altogether misreport them; he accommodates them to the constrictions of his critical terminology of rough abbreviations, crude generalizations, itself a synthesis of various terminologies of modern intellectual expediency in the construction of systems of formulation. His very first sentence has me admitting consciousness of writing "on the edge of impossibility" in my taking language as "the basis of the known." His supporting reference for this is, in his note, The Telling. He supplies no textual support for this statement. Nowhere have I characterized language as "the basis" of the known. Next sentence: "Language is truth, she believes." Nowhere have I identified language and truth. Nowhere have I ascribed a special language to "the poets, philosophers, or peddlers of a specialized rhetoric" as being not truth as other language is.
Nor do I anywhere dismiss poetry as "a precious affair of literary `diction' or charge it, as he has me doing, quoting from something of my writing published in 1964, with "concealing" "the close relation . . . between poetry's verbal character and its spiritual ineffectuality." Mr. Norris's note 2 supplies a reference for "the close relation . . . between," etc., with incorrect page number given for it in the magazine in which the article from which it is quoted appeared. But this is a minor fault compared with the attribution to me of charging a composite language of poetic, philosophic, and rhetorical invention with "concealing" the close relation. I made no charge of "concealment"; nor did I, as I am further represented in Mr. Norris's first paragraph, in the immediately following sentence, call poetry a "stylish institution." I do speak (on p. 41 of the article, not p. 44) of poetry's "stylized `failure-of-expression'." But nowhere in that article do I heap a polemicistic scorn on poetry, as Mr. Norris represents me as doing, or identify poetry as using what is mere "rhetoric", carrying out a "will to substitute false embellishments for a missing truth." I do say that there is a "tragedy of human failure concealed in poetry." But there is no implication that it is concealed by nefarious purpose to "substitute false embellishments for a missing truth." I call poetry "a hidden institution." I say that nothing generally wrong can show in it until it is "turned inside out." And that "the burden of discovery rests upon poets." I report a discovery I made after long loving devotion to the practice of poetry as potentially favorable to the employment of language for the sake of truth. Nowhere do I commit the idiocy which Mr. Norris, with his quickie reportorial apparatus, repeatedly attributes to me, of arguing language to be truth.
By the close of his first paragraph, Mr. Norris has established himself in his own view as having delivered enough punches to sensitive spots in my intellectual constitution to send me, in the eyes of his readers, staggering against the ropes of the ring of his imaginary combat with me (already a palpable knock-out in the making) like a fighting fool for whom punishment is the material of victory. The first sentence of his second paragraph begins: "The Telling is therefore. . . ." The Telling, with this "therefore," is being referred to Mr. Norris's muddle of misconstrued quotations from an article on poetry of eight years before, and misattributions to me of ideas presented as the underlying sense of that article. The "therefore" is crowned by "a history of the ascesis of style as diction." The Telling is not a history of anything. It consists of a core-part and a much longer commentary in which the general theme of the core-part is considered in a number of separate close treatments of important features of it, questions raised by it, subjects related to portions of the text. The Telling commits no flat synonymical identification of "style" and "diction." (Speaking of the style in which it is written, I say that it is more accurately describable in terms of diction—that diction is "the actual substance of style" and style a vague identification of, "literary name for", diction.) It engages in no account of a historical process of "ascesis" of either. It is not a project in any respect comparable to any project of Wittgenstein's as Mr. Norris goes on to report of it—with a madness of resolution to put me in a place sensibly assignable by him with the apparatus of terms of reference of an ideology of literary analysis that has no provision in it for dealing with anything except as forcibly compressible within its categories of identification.
Mr. Norris, with gross indifference to the laws of congruity governing rational comparison, misidentifies my homage-doing, in The Telling, to the principle of the use of words to effects of truth with Wittgenstein's anathematized philosophical forms of utterance. My characterization of the inherent limitations of poetic forms of utterance for the use of words to the full effects of truth-expectation of which the entire linguistic mood of poetry (each individual word of special moment) invites he reports as "Riding also speaks of poetic rhetorics in which. . . ." I nowhere speak of "poetic rhetorics." Mr. Norris becomes entangled in the connecting strings of his comparison, and, struggling to maintain it while dimly perceiving a something of possible folly in it, labors on stubbornly to paragraph lengths, twisting his comparison argument this way and that to squeeze out of it a most of disproof of there being a sound basis in my thought while squeezing himself out of the thought-paralyzing grip of his argument.
Paragraph 2 is a flop, as Paragraph 1 is a waste; and every further paragraph of this article is doomed to come to nought. Its author has nothing to offer but a system of criticism that fits nothing but the kind of invented bogies for the rout of which it was contrived. Mr. Norris mixes up my conception of truth as the product of words used with fidelity to the meanings. they have as components of language, the human mind's instrument of unity of thought, my pointing to the evasions that poetry allows of, and stimulates, of "the natural linguistic difficulties", with Wittgenstein's impatience with the tendency to extravagant intricacies of verbal play in philosophical disquisition. But, since I am concerned, in what I say, with my finding poetic modes of word-use evasive of the full potentiality of language for employment for truthful utterance, and Wittgenstein, in what he says is concerned with—to quote Mr. Norris on Wittgenstein—the elimination of specialistic philosophical engagement in "vain disputes over ultimate truth", Mr. Norris finds himself faced into some extreme straining of his muscles of argument to end Paragraph 2 without admitting it to be a flop.
Paragraph 2 puffs and creaks to its close. I am described as presenting—"(contrary to Wittgenstein)"—a philosopher's engagement in exploration of yet uncovered depths of the possibilities of intricate verbal play of the order that Wittgenstein hoped would be allowed to pass into oblivion. No! "Riding, on the contrary, predicts with confidence that. . . ." What follows—the final substance of Paragraph 2—should, by the ominous intonations of Mr. Norris's argument-course, reveal me to be headed for the very opposite to Wittgenstein philosophy-extinguishing common-sense. My quoted words do not fulfil the dire prediction for which Mr. Norris fancies himself to be preparing his readers. Riding does not speak from way down in the sunken levels of philosophic verbalism, grubbing there for arcana of truth for museum wisdom-display. The whole sentence, of which Mr. Norris quotes only the second part, goes: "If you find something to tell, tell it to your truest, though that make little to tell; the truer you speak, the more you will know to tell." By suppressing the background of the words he quotes and giving them for background what Wittgenstein hopes, Mr. Norris expects them to read like philosophical jargon—although the sentence in its entirety presents counsel that in its simplicity might be rated as a natural corollary to the common-sense dictum "Who pledge themselves to speak only truth need not lack things to say." But we have, here, a procedure in which the best policy is taken to be the least painstaking depiction of what the object of scrutiny is like. And therefore Paragraph 3 begins with a crow of triumph over the quick tricks employed in Paragraph 2 to fit my thought of the article referred to, and the entire book The Telling, into the strait-jacket of a technique that is not an apparatus of judgement but an apparatus for dealing with the object of scrutiny not otherwise than as a "case" coming within the scope of its special methodology.
No descriptive account of the content of The Telling is provided in Mr. Norris's article presented as a critical treatment of the book. The book has no other part in the article than that of serving as an excuse for Mr. Norris's hasty, prejudiced, skimming through, or rather over, it, and deciding that it would make a good dumping-ground for his load of methodological equipment—a favorable site for an exhibition of what a good job he can do of tying up the book and my thought and myself in his knots of analysis, beyond all escape-possibility. But Mr. Norris has tied up nothing in his knots, in his article, but himself.
The first sentence of Paragraph 3 goes: "Philosophies resting on language are always ambiguous in this respect." "In this respect" refers to the second half of a sentence in The Telling with which he concludes Paragraph 2. The Telling is not a work of philosophy. As to "philosophies resting on language": everything spoken, every written unit of utterance, rests on language. Charges of ambiguity slung in aimless show for mere effect of belligerence are sorry kid-stuff for writing offered with ostensible earmarks of scholarly responsibleness. Before commenting on Mr. Norris's references to the writing of W. M. Urban, I shall quote a little of what I say on philosophy in The Telling:
A philosophy would treat of all things, but succeeds in treating only of the appearance of things in its time: it is not a work of vision of mind, but of mind-sight only. It leaves vacancies behind and ahead, which are taken over on the one hand by history, and by poetry on the other. How our story has been divided up among the truth-telling professions! Religion, philosophy, history, poetry, compete with one another for our ears; and science competes with all together. And for each we have a different set of ears. . . .
But Mr. Norris is not concerned with describing what The Telling holds. He has dipped into it looking sharp for matter suitable for his particular specialty of rapid critical assault: to render the subject of criticism incapable of speaking for itself by raining blows upon it till the time (or space) allotted for spending on it is all used up. Lo! She shows concern with 'truth', and rates language highly, as the instrumentality of `truth', and regards words as the crux of the power of human beings to think their way to knowledge of themselves, and of the story of existence. Bring up the weaponry of the new anti-language linguistics, and the new anti-philosophic philosophies. For any one who talks of 'truth' in these times surely identifies herself categorically as a devotee of philosophy and philosophical linguistic unreality. W. M. Urban will be good, here, for two strikes against her. He, "a metaphysician, believing in the self-authenticating, high truth of philosophic language," distinguished between "high and low valuations of the Word. Urban's part in Mr. Norris's strategy is to identify me with belief in this "high truth of philosophic language", and the linguistic religiosity of the myth of the Word, with neither of which has The Telling, or my thought generally, anything whatever to do. But his part is also—with Orwell brought in for assistance—to associate me in Mr. Norris's reader's mind with the irrational, what "may have a rhetorical bias of its own". The association only vaguely infers that there is false reasoning, an arbitrary logic, in the make-up of The Telling. Paragraph 3 leaves this phase of Mr. Norris's assault to be conducted in Paragraphs 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 and 8 and 9.
I pause here to refer to the term "irrelevancy" of the subtitle of this examination of Mr. Norris's critical procedure in what is supposed to be read as commentary concerned with my book The Telling. Here and there, in his article, Mr. Norris quotes a little from The Telling—a phrase, a portion of a sentence, in only one instance an entire sentence, and this a rather short one (of thirteen words). But none of these quotations are to the point of The Telling—and they are fewer than the quotations contained in his article drawn from the writings of others: they, and everything besides quoted by him, and everything he brings into his argument against the title of The Telling to very serious reading and consideration, is relevant only to a collection of ideas of others, literary critics, philosophical critics, proponents of a psychology of linguistic behaviorism, fashioned into an academic substitute for direct experience of subjects chosen for learned comment. What Mr. Norris hands out as a product of serious reading and consideration of The Telling has relevancy only to the material he has made his security of critical authority, to meet standards of the stale, staler, staler, new, newer, staler and staler, critically correct. The point of The Telling is presented in unmistakable terms in its earliest passages, and is never in any part of it other than the presiding point. A few quotations from it of substantial length would have brought its point into view, if Mr. Norris had felt some obligation of telling what The Telling is about, instead of being exclusively preoccupied with the material of his not so very old but hardened critical dialectics (Wittgenstein and Empson, the latter still to figure in the article, both already name-antiquities).
But, on to Paragraph 4, to fulfil the threat of Paragraph 3 of demonstrating—by sheer force of unhesitant brandishing of charges against me—my irrational conception of the nature of reason. My describing reason as a human `ability'—not, as Mr. Norris misquotes, 'capacity'—to achieve the utmost in thought by employing the comprehensive thought-ordering properties of language—this utmost and the utmost of language's capability of serving thought thus organically related—is dismissed as a highfalutin tautology. And, not to spend time on my identifying reason as an agency of thought by which human beings, employing language to the full of its resources, can function to the mind's full, I am posthaste denounced as reducing reason "to a matter of purely verbal or contextual definition". I denounce such rushing along with distracting verbiage not relevant to the sense of what I have written as an attempt to bully readers into acceptance of the insinuation that I am a writing fool.
To make his ridicule of me stick, he jumps from the words he has quoted to forty-nine pages ahead. "Reasoning occurs in knowledge, not in the vacuum of ignorance." I made this statement there in a long bracketed comment on something I quote from a book expressive of a sentiment I considered to correspond, as I said, "with much in the contemporary mood." The author of it wrote: "Blank ignorance is our portion. In reasoning from the experience of nature and ourselves, we have all the evidence there is . . . there remains, then, the reasoning itself, which is philosophy." Mr. Norris has torn my statement about reasoning and knowledge and ignorance, which is an honorable candidate for common-sensible agreement, from its special relevance to a sentiment it contests only because it has the word 'reasoning' in it, and he cannot resist the temptation to put it to some use of mocking of my good sense, my rationality, for Paragraph 4's final crushing blow. This consists in his interpreting it, in his sentence following the statement, as indicating that, for me, " 'knowledge' reposes on the metaphysics of language: it elevates the received forms above the immediate process of 'rational' thought". "Knowledge" is presented in quotation-marks to signify "her foolish idea of what knowledge is". He then crams the accusation into his reader's craw, with implication that he has unchallengeable evidence in what he has encountered in The Telling that, for me, knowledge reposes on what he calls the "metaphysics of language". All of which, with the second half of his Paragraph 4's last sentence, is, as report my thought—on what I say in The Telling—made in the spirit of pedantic lying, with confidence in its immunity from challenge.
It was plain to me on my first reading of Mr. Norris's article, sent to me by an English friend who came upon it long after its publication, that its author was mentally steeped in the prejudicial terminology of the school of contemporary critical pragmatism, in which—for example—"metaphysics" is an automatically damning term of identification. As such, it is of a glib accusatoriness that, apart from its inapplicability to my procedures of thought and the linguistic formulation of them, dishonors a tradition of intellectual theory in which many minds took shelter from the difficulties of submitting their thought-procedures to the verification of the rational practicalities of language. For these, metaphysics was a system of chosen metaphors to which an intrinsic reality was attached, used as a governing coherence, a principle of rationality. This gave an effect of formal intellectual competence. Mr. Norris's contempt for traditional metaphysics is surely in part related to the annoyance of an impatient methodological pragmatist with a painstaking philosophical routine of orderly diagrammatic ratiocination. The care that Mr. Norris has perceived me to exercise, in what he has read of my writing, for using words in ways that make the purpose of integrity of thought and that of integrity of expression one and the same purpose, and the two integrities one and the same integrity, provokes him to obloquy of the order ready-made on the tip of his tongue of anti-traditionalist critic. My comprehending of a principle of linguistic nicety in the problem of truth as an inescapable responsibility of the human mind compares for him in vulnerability to exposure as essentially nonsensical with the austere precision of intellectual fantasy of metaphysics—which has become the butt of a quasi-scientific cult of literary criticism to which academic literature-specialists feel obliged to pay some court, in order not to be thought of as old-fashioned.
I knew from Mr. Norris's address given at the close of his article that it was written as from the University of Wales at Cardiff—that the intellectual temper of his article has a base of actual academic practice. And I knew from indications given in his article that he has drawn force for his practice of new-fashioned literary criticism from doses of Empson's practice of literary criticism as sheer bravura, protected from scrutiny by the intimidating disguise it wears of involving intricacies of analysis themselves the proper subject of interest. As with Empson generally, so it is with Mr. Norris in what he presents as an analysis of The Telling : the criticism offered is a criticism that is all talk of itself, and talk to itself, that does not have to pass tests of communicative explicitness because the critic, the prompter of the talking, proceeds in a self-benign self-confidence of knowing what he means. Of course, no one knows what he means—knows more than very vaguely—if he phrases his talk for the shadowy witness of his private understanding. With Empson, nothing is ever spelt out, talked out into the light of common understanding. All is completely resistant to other simplification than simple acceptance of it as `naturally'—that is, to private understanding—complex.
The mind, the thinking consciousness with which human beings are peculiarly endowed, has been steadily losing its character of being the distinctive human endowment, in the century's experiments in scientific analysis as the only fool-proof instrument of learning: the mind has been reduced to a biological peculiarity of the individual human being by psychological scholarship, a complex of private dispositions of conscious¬ness, with only very crude features of biological homogeneity marking minds as of a natural human common identity of functioning principle. The invasion of this conception of mind of the field of literary-criticism sensibility has caused judgement to be replaced by processes of private mental caprice, enabled to simulate the processes of judgement—the validity of which rests upon the power of reason, naturally common to human minds—by employment of terms of analysis that impose on the chaos of arbitrary individual responses presumed to be adequate material of criticism an arbitrary coherence of techniques of formulation irrelevant to occasions of criticism as occasions of judgement.
William Empson was an early contributor to the transformation of literary criticism in this century into a practice pursued in private mental laboratories and given public status by the use of terminologies of psychological flavor, for credentials of intellectual respectability. All the pretension to the dignity of scientific scholarliness of those who have introduced new terminologies, new techniques of judgement-imitating evaluation, into the traditionally urbane regions of literary criticism is based on appropriation of conceptions of human functioning from psychology, the most intellectually impoverished of the sciences (this because it aims at identifying the intellectual nature of the human mind as a phenomenon of biological eccentricity isolatedly present in the individual makeup of human beings). In their entire course, the late-modern innovations in attitudes to language and literature-and-language manifested in specialistic linguistical ideology and specialistic critical ideology, these forced into a loose kinship by the loose ascription of each to itself of the identity of a science, have been dependent on the intellectually skimpy content and correspondingly skimpy linguistic facility of psychological scholarship for their own show of scholarly distinction.
As readers of my commentary on what is in literary actuality a six-years delayed review of The Telling will have been perceiving, it has been impossible for me to deal with Mr. Norris's late treating of the book without exposing the ground of motivation from which his interest in treating it issued. Coming upon it accidentally, it must be presumed, as a book published six years before the publication of a book of his having the title William Empson and the Philosophy of Literary Criticism (the two books having the same publisher!), he found himself provided, it is obvious, with a useful occasion for a display of the routines of the criticism he had adopted as his professional point d'appui. In my first stages of acquaintance with his article, I did not know of his having written a book on Empson (which is of the same publication-date as his article on The Telling). But that he should be preoccupied to this extent with the transformations Empson made of the chaotic intricacies of his private understandings into a would-be systematic (i.e., philosophic) programme of critical elucidation of literary productions had no surprise in it for me. The kind of literary criticism invented by Empson, in which a multiplicity of elaborations on postulates of extremely tenuous plausibility are crowded within an extremely narrow compass of corroborative argument could not but attract Mr. Norris in the search in which, as his article on The Telling makes evident, he has been zealously engaged for a method of criticism that would, as the case is generally with scientific methods, be itself the central interest, rather than the subject under study.
I have also, in the course of my examining Mr. Norris's article, which first became known to me in 1981, seen a review he wrote of a book of post-structuralist theory, The Origin of Language by Eric Gans, published in an October 1981 issue of the Times Literary Supplement. What the review revealed of Mr. Norris's position as a specialist in matters of literature and language confirmed the impression his article of itself makes of one who has confined his intellectual faculties and concerns within an area of professional activity the entire traffic of which is in a dialectic of discourse private to itself. For example, in his review of the book on language, his procedure is exactly consonant with that of his procedure in his article on The Telling: he has no position, himself, on the nature of language, and no position on the theme of The Telling, which is the capability of human beings, by their nature, as beings of languaged mind, of articulating the meaning of their existence and, in so doing, of the meaning of the universal actuality of being. All his movement of critical attention in the review of the Gans book, and the article on mine, is an internal back-and-forth in a closed court of argument-play, to fixed points of reference-making. The crucial matter for him is not, in the case of the book on language, to offer an intellectually coherent, judicious, opinion of the value of Mr. Gans's idea of the beginnings of language in the ritual substitution of verbal acts for acts of ritual violence, or, in the case of my book, to offer an opinion of this calibre of the theme the human capability of speaking the sense of personal being, and, relatedly, universal being. Mr. Norris has nothing to say on the question of what may be deducible as to the coming to be of language, and nothing to say on the account The Telling gives of reason for crediting human beings with the capability of which I endeavor to show them, there, to be possessed.
Mr. Norris's position on any matter he may take under his critical wing is bound to be of the excathedra character of an expert who reserves the right to offer nothing but evidence of his skill in the use of newer-fashioned terms of critical argument. He is, that is, altogether without experience of the subjects toward which he adopts the position of critic: he knows nothing but a cant of critical discourse with which his private mind has furnished itself, as of a kind having a respectable professional status of unexhausted novelty. Functioning from artificially created positions of critical prestige has become so common in our literary times that it escapes recognition as intellectual and, therefore, personal impudence.
I add a little more to the preceding, which stops with my commentary gone only part-way. I had written beyond that point to the length of four substantial paragraphs; but I left them in their manuscript state, feeling that my account of the incongruities of Mr. Norris's report on The Telling, as far as it went, covered the main general scholarly defects and critical vices of his article's treatment of my book. Nevertheless, returning now in 1985 to my treatment of that treatment, I am resurrecting those paragraphs for incorporation with my resurrected commentary, which has lain inactivated for several years, now—initial correspondence on it between the editor of Language and Style and myself having suffered misadventures. With these paragraphs added, my commentary is still short of being a coverage of Mr. Norris's treatment in all its particular features, from beginning to end. But I have judged that my 'new' points of criticism of his criticism substantiate, and broaden usefully, my preceding description of it. I am still, in the 'new' material, dealing with the general attitude that Mr. Norris has revealed himself to bear toward The Telling.
As Mr. Norris reaches the beginning-point of his fifth paragraph, he begins to feel himself to have got over the main difficulty in the task of locking The Telling, or, rather, its author, in a position of utter helplessness to be, in appearance to the reader, other than as represented, that far, in his article. He has The Telling or/and its author wholly at the mercy of his sense of security in the potency of his technique of dependence on certain critical orientations of his choice. These orientations, however irrelevant to particular subjects taken in hand, are so much relevant to one another, because clamped together as a system of critical commentary, as to be applicable to every subject taken in hand by him. He becomes loquaciously expansive in mood, within the limits of his system's contraction of its serviceability to that of blustering dismissal of the target subject. In Paragraph 5 he rings in Kenneth Burke as one who has shown how language gets immersed in its use in theological discourse as peculiarly given to paradox. The doctrines of religion, says Kenneth Burke, says Mr. Norris, are intrinsic to Order verbally guided. Mr. Norris indulges here in a little intellectual love-affair with Kenneth Burke, delighted in their agreement over the identity of language as the villain of theological discourse. "Negation," says Mr. Norris, "is at the heart of language as of theological sanction." I, the author of The Telling, say that whoever says that negation is at the heart of language, which is made for assertion, including the assertions of negation, has narrowed his mind to exiguities of understanding, in its apprehension of things, that limit its faculty of descriptive statement to that of negation—as Mr. Norris's account of The Telling demonstrates.
Mr. Norris has been incapable of describing my book as what it is because of his being mentally tied to a system of inverted criticism, which derives from an inverted conception of the nature of language that has come into vogue in this century. The Telling employs language in a way that contravenes this conception of its nature. It uses words to mean what they mean, for my saying with them what I mean to say. But meaning came to be feared as involving the intellect in commitments it might want to reject. Mr. Norris's intellectual behavior in his treatment of The Telling exhibits the intellectual ideal of non-committedness that has been an escape-route, for those presenting themselves as engaged in the performance of the intellectual functions of the mind, from responsibilities of meaning—of binding oneself to what one says in pledge of its not being a negation in disguise. The enactment-places of contemporary intellectual behavior of the escape-from-commitment-to-meaning genre are full of examples of it of literary pertinence. But the example that Mr. Norris provides in his display of purportedly scholarly treatment of The Telling is among the worst, in its intellectual fecklessness and personal aggressive¬ness, that I have encountered, in a wide reading-experience of performances in this genre.
Before leaving Paragraph 5 behind, in order to do full justice to the extensive use that Mr. Norris makes of his technique of irrelevant accusation as device of critical argument, I must note (1) that The Telling is not an exercise in 'theological discourse' ; and (2) that there is dragged in, here, reference to W. M. Urban, of Paragraph 3, for a comparison between Kenneth Burke's skeptical view of religious argument and Urban's attitude "towards such self-authenticating structures". There is no reference to The Telling in this paragraph. But Mr. Norris is content, in it, in revelling in the presumedly devastating implication of "self-authenticating verbal structures" as to my The Telling. And, to intensify the force of implication, he reverts to Orwell (of Paragraph 3 also) as of like mind with Kenneth Burke in being especially interested in the motives that established such 'logics'. confident now, with this, that he has smeared The Telling with undetachable insinuation of the taint of false rationality and (of course) imbecilic reliance on language as an instrument of intellectual coherence, he is ready for the plunge into some slapstick, scornful tossing of certain terms, phrases, proper names in my and The Telling's direction.
Mr. Norris presents himself in the first sentence of Paragraph 6 as having put me on the spot of "seeking to establish faith in these properties of what Burke calls the logology' of language." Because Mr. Norris knows nothing, evidently, of the kind of direct experience of the realities of existence accessible to human minds, there is no treatment of The Telling in his article as a report of a fellow-mind on the potentialities of such experience. He knows nothing but paraphernalia of terms of reference for literary criticism organized for strategies of polemical argument on the model of Marxist and neo-Marxist systems of dialectical warfare. It was from these systems that the structuralists, and all their intellectual fraternity, and endlessly popping-up progeny, derived their militant disrespect of language, and literature, and the arts, religion, laws of human relations, and every other form of manifestation of the functioning of human intelligence (the mind in its character as soul of reason and the organ of spiritual sensibility). Mr. Norris, in his assaults on The Telling, draws at reckless random from the lexicon of anti-linguistic, anti-literary scholarship. Demolition is the dynamics of Marxian-fathered theory, structural analysis, explication by deconstruction, and all the sciences of self-denominated critical humanism. Mr. Norris's energies in his criticism of The Telling are engrossed in the object of reducing The Telling to a ruin—a trophy of a critical victory.
I have now brought my later paragraphs into my commentary. Reflecting on the whole, I am moved to add a little more.
I was conscious, throughout all this writing on Mr. Norris's treatment of The Telling, and I am here alike conscious, of the possibility of producing with my terms of description of the treatment an impression of indecorous ferocity, where, it might seem, judgement visited upon a book of mine and my authorial self was inspired and governed by doctrines of intellectual, linguistic, and literary criticism that have won respectable status and not a little general cultural prestige. Mr. Norris is of rank in this society of special thinking; it is a power in contemporary society in the large, and Mr. Norris has, in it, his powers. Circumspection in dealing with this special society's doctrines and dignitaries has prevailed as the rule of intellectual common-sense. Good manners are a time-honored protection where there is no certainty as to how rough the other will play in controversy.
These are times, moreover, in which, in the interest of moral convenience, all matters of opinion, idea, principle, are assembled in differentiated subject-categories, so that strains of disagreement can be, at choice, avoided. Different views of a subject—as, the subject of language—are treated as constituting different subjects. Embarrassments of evaluating, arguing, from a common standard of judgement are eliminated by the subject-boundaries dividing different views into separate knowledge-fields. The vaunted 'pluralism' of twentieth-century intellectual life is, in actuality, a covenant of intellectual immoralism, providing that, while each intellectual unit of specialized knowledge may be, in some sort of progressively deferred last analysis, wrong in its political-party-like platform of opinion, none is guilty of propagating untruth, nor its supporters, individually, of being at moral fault. We have, thus, a regime of intellectual custom (socially and legally fortified) that sanctions all manner of indirect intellectual assault while prohibiting moral criticism as an element of intellectual criticism. By this ethical code I am grossly out of order in my upbraiding of Mr. Norris.
I have brought moral criticism to bear on the judgement that Mr. Norris has made of The Telling as indispensable for a just evaluation of its intellectual character. I find the judgement to be intellectually slack to the extent of being morally slack: I find it to be morally reprehensible. It disregards what it owes me of correct reporting of my book, and what it owes the reading public.
If in my charges I seem to commit an abnormity of critical writing, the reason should be sought in how little the exercises of pluralistic intellectual privilege are held to moral account in our time. I recognize that my article on Mr. Norris's article may cause discomfort to readers. I make mention of this not in any sense of apology, but to place my severity in the context of my deploring the atmosphere of intellectual performance that allows of such disregard of moral responsibilities as Mr. Norris has exhibited in his treatment of The Telling to pass for the intellectually civil, or civilized.
LAURA (RIDING) JACKSON