Sunday, June 8, 2008

Know Your Onion!

"'Literary! Literary!' complained Ford Madox Ford in a letter to an acquaintance who had sent him a volume of her poems. 'Now that is the last thing that verse should ever be, for the moment a medium becomes literary it is remote from the life of the people, it is dulled, languishing, moribund and at least dead.' … These sentiments are likely to strike us as unexceptionable, for the cultural dispensation under which 'literature' operates as an honorific term and 'literary' as a vaguely pejorative one is well established; but the negative connotation of 'literary' and the coinage of 'literaryism' belong to the late nineteenth century, and by calling upon literature to avoid not the characteristics associated with other types of writing but precisely the things that give a text the appearance of being literature, those terms state the conditions of what would become a familiar avant-garde problem. For a thing that is suspect for looking like itself is an onion that can be peeled indefinitely." 

— Louis Menand, Discovering Modernism: T.S. Eliot and His Context, 55