Wednesday, March 01, 2017


The Historical Sense

D.S. Carne-Ross (1921-2010), "T.S. Eliot: Tropheia," Arion 4.1 (Spring, 1965) 5-20 (at 17):
If the study of literature is a moral activity (and if it isn't, we are all spending far too much time on it), a means of getting at those regions of consciousness out of which we live but which mostly remain half hidden from us, the regions where motives take shape and character and ideas are formed, then this study should mean a naked confrontation of the text, undertaken with all the sincerity that we possess. There is no room here for posturing in borrowed clothes, in borrowed beliefs. With a modern writer, inhabiting the same moral universe as ourselves, we need only be equipped with intelligence and sincerity. But if our curiosity takes us to the literatures of the past, we must bring more to the texts, we must acquire the historical sense. We need simply to know certain things about Dante's or Shakespeare's universe before we can, in any real sense, read their poetry.

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