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The Mail


To the Editors of the Crimson:

Mr. Jencks, in his review of Harry Levin's Contexts of Criticism, made some perceptive criticisms of the validity of the academic approach to literature; however, Mr. Jencks has drawn some remarkable moral conclusions from his aesthetic arguments. Mr. Levin, it seems, has committed a "sin" against mankind in pursuing his career in his particular fashion.

What, precisely, is Mr. Levin's "sin?" It is living in a world of words which is "neither dangerous nor implacable;" living in a world in which "nobody suffers more than the loss of a promotion;" living in a world in which "only truth is moral." So, it would seem, Mr. Jenck's desideratum is a dangerous world, a world of considerable suffering, a world in which, apparently, falsehood is moral--in short, the "workaday world."

Now, what is Mr. Levin to do in this "workaday world?" There are those who belive the masses of the world are guided by greed, power, emotion; those who believe that the "workaday world" is dull, vapid, inessential. There are those who believe that "the world of words," rather than a tissue of shadows and reflected passions," is the only source of intensity, vitality, truth. If, indeed, as Mr. Jencks says, the world is irrational, of what use is the constructive mind, save perhaps to depict it, to "breed one work that wakes." Mr. Jencks' fundamental error, I believe, was in allowing an aesthetic criticism of the proundity of Mr. Levin's method of literary analysis to develop into a moral issue denouncing withdrawl into the world of words as a sin of deprivation against mankind. Far from sinning, the men of words produce perhaps one of the greater goods to be found in this world. They create a world of beauty and intensity, to escape from that world which neither wants them, heeds them, nor can benefit from them. One will no doubt accuse them of fiddling while Rome burns--but perhaps they will create a little music before being consumed in the holocaust. Richard Zaffron '58

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