Spurious Quotes

Authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Categories: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Apocalypse is a part of the modern Absurd. This is testimony to its vitality, a vitality dependent upon its truth to the set of our fear and desire. Acknowledged, qualified by the scepticism of the clerks, it is-even when ironized, even when denied-an essential element in the arts, a permanent feature of a permanent literature of crisis. If it becomes myth, if its past is forgotten, we sink quickly into myth, into stereotype. We have to employ our knowledge of the fictive. With it we can explain what is essential and eccentric about early modernism, and purge the trivial and stereotyped from the arts of our own time. Great men deceived themselves by neglecting to do this; other men, later, have a programme against doing it. The critics should know their duty. Part of this duty, certainly, will be to abandon ways of speaking which on the one hand obscure the true nature of our fictions-by confusing them with myths, by rendering spatial what is essentially temporal-and on the other obscure our sense of reality by suggesting that fictions represent some kind of surrender or false consolation. The critical issue, given the perpetual assumption of crisis, is no less than the justification of ideas of order. They have to be justified in terms of what survives, and also in terms of what we can accept as valid in a world different from that out of which they come, resembling the earlier world only in that there is biological and cultural continuity of some kind. Our order, our form, is necessary; our skepticism as to fictions requires that it shall not be spurious. It is an issue central to the understanding of modern literary fiction, and I hope in my next talk to approach it more directly.

Frank Kermode
There is a degree of emotional impact in the nature poetry of the eighteenth century which marks a shift in sensibility towards what came to be called 'the sublime'. The concept, from classical Greek, came to England through the French of Boileau, and reached its definitive explication in Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757-59). This is a key text of the times, displaying an emphasis on feelings and on imagination, which is almost the antithesis of the neoclassical insistence on form and reason. Burke's idea of the sublime goes beyond natural beauty (although the beauty of nature is very much a part of it) and goes into the realms of awe, or 'terror'. The sublime is, for Burke, 'productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling'. Terror, emotion, feeling: all these represent a break from the intellectual rigours of the Augustan age, and are in one sense a reaction against the new pressures of society and bourgeois concerns... The link between the sublime and terror is most clearly seen in the imaginative exaggeration of the Gothic novel - a form which concentrated on the fantastic, the macabre and the supernatural, with haunted castles, spectres from the grave and wild landscapes. It is significant that the term 'Gothic' originally had mediaeval connotations: this is the first of several ways of returning to pre-Renaissance themes and values which is to be found over the next hundred years or so. The novels of the 1760s to the 1790s, however, gave the term 'Gothic' the generic meaning of horror fantasy. The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole (son of the prime minister Sir Robert Walpole) was the first of this kind, and the sub-genre has flourished ever since... .. Like many texts of its times, Walpole's novel purported to be a translation of an ancient manuscript dating from the eleventh or twelfth century. There was a strange fashion for these mediaeval rediscoveries, Thomas Chatterton and James Macpherson (Ossian) being notable contributors to the trend. Whether this was a deliberate avoidance of boastful originality or an attempt to give the works involved some spurious historical validity is not clear. Peter Ackroyd's novel Chatterton (1987) examines the phenomenon.

Ronald Carter
Darwin singled out the eye as posing a particularly challenging problem: 'To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.' Creationists gleefully quote this sentence again and again. Needless to say, they never quote what follows. Darwin's fulsomely free confession turned out to be a rhetorical device. He was drawing his opponents towards him so that his punch, when it came, struck the harder. The punch, of course, was Darwin's effortless explanation of exactly how the eye evolved by gradual degrees. Darwin may not have used the phrase 'irreducible complexity', or 'the smooth gradient up Mount Improbable', but he clearly understood the principle of both. 'What is the use of half an eye?' and 'What is the use of half a wing?' are both instances of the argument from 'irreducible complexity'. A functioning unit is said to be irreducibly complex if the removal of one of its parts causes the whole to cease functioning. This has been assumed to be self-evident for both eyes and wings. But as soon as we give these assumptions a moment's thought, we immediately see the fallacy. A cataract patient with the lens of her eye surgically removed can't see clear images without glasses, but can see enough not to bump into a tree or fall over a cliff. Half a wing is indeed not as good as a whole wing, but it is certainly better than no wing at all. Half a wing could save your life by easing your fall from a tree of a certain height. And 51 per cent of a wing could save you if you fall from a slightly taller tree. Whatever fraction of a wing you have, there is a fall from which it will save your life where a slightly smaller winglet would not. The thought experiment of trees of different height, from which one might fall, is just one way to see, in theory, that there must be a smooth gradient of advantage all the way from 1 per cent of a wing to 100 per cent. The forests are replete with gliding or parachuting animals illustrating, in practice, every step of the way up that particular slope of Mount Improbable. By analogy with the trees of different height, it is easy to imagine situations in which half an eye would save the life of an animal where 49 per cent of an eye would not. Smooth gradients are provided by variations in lighting conditions, variations in the distance at which you catch sight of your prey-or your predators. And, as with wings and flight surfaces, plausible intermediates are not only easy to imagine: they are abundant all around the animal kingdom. A flatworm has an eye that, by any sensible measure, is less than half a human eye. Nautilus (and perhaps its extinct ammonite cousins who dominated Paleozoic and Mesozoic seas) has an eye that is intermediate in quality between flatworm and human. Unlike the flatworm eye, which can detect light and shade but see no image, the Nautilus 'pinhole camera' eye makes a real image; but it is a blurred and dim image compared to ours. It would be spurious precision to put numbers on the improvement, but nobody could sanely deny that these invertebrate eyes, and many others, are all better than no eye at all, and all lie on a continuous and shallow slope up Mount Improbable, with our eyes near a peak-not the highest peak but a high one.

Richard Dawkins
It happens that in our phase of civility, the novel is the central form of literary art. It lends itself to explanations borrowed from any intellectual system of the universe which seems at the time satisfactory. Its history is an attempt to evade the laws of what Scott called 'the land of fiction'-the stereotypes which ignore reality, and whose remoteness from it we identify as absurd. From Cervantes forward it has been, when it has satisfied us, the poetry which is 'capable, ' in the words of Ortega, 'of coping with present reality.' But it is a 'realistic poetry' and its theme is, bluntly, 'the collapse of the poetic' because it has to do with 'the barbarous, brutal, mute, meaningless reality of things.' It cannot work with the old hero, or with the old laws of the land of romance; moreover, such new laws and customs as it creates have themselves to be repeatedly broken under the demands of a changed and no less brutal reality. 'Reality has such a violent temper that it does not tolerate the ideal even when reality itself is idealized.' Nevertheless, the effort continues to be made. The extremest revolt against the customs or laws of fiction-the antinovels of Fielding or Jane Austen or Flaubert or Natalie Sarraute-creates its new laws, in their turn to be broken. Even when there is a profession of complete narrative anarchy, as in some of the works I discussed last week, or in a poem such as Paterson, which rejects as spurious whatever most of us understand as form, it seems that time will always reveal some congruence with a paradigm-provided always that there is in the work that necessary element of the customary which enables it to communicate at all. I shall not spend much time on matters so familiar to you. Whether, with Luke¡cs, you think of the novel as peculiarly the resolution of the problem of the individual in an open society-or as relating to that problem in respect of an utterly contingent world; or express this in terms of the modern French theorists and call its progress a necessary and 'unceasing movement from the known to the unknown'; or simply see the novel as resembling the other arts in that it cannot avoid creating new possibilities for its own future-however you put it, the history of the novel is the history of forms rejected or modified, by parody, manifesto, neglect, as absurd. Nowhere else, perhaps, are we so conscious of the dissidence between inherited forms and our own reality. There is at present some good discussion of the issue not only in French but in English. Here I have in mind Iris Murdoch, a writer whose persistent and radical thinking about the form has not as yet been fully reflected in her own fiction. She contrasts what she calls 'crystalline form' with narrative of the shapeless, quasi-documentary kind, rejecting the first as uncharacteristic of the novel because it does not contain free characters, and the second because it cannot satisfy that need of form which it is easier to assert than to describe; we are at least sure that it exists, and that it is not always illicit. Her argument is important and subtle, and this is not an attempt to restate it; it is enough to say that Miss Murdoch, as a novelist, finds much difficulty in resisting what she calls 'the consolations of form' and in that degree damages the 'opacity, ' as she calls it, of character. A novel has this (and more) in common with love, that it is, so to speak, delighted with its own inventions of character, but must respect their uniqueness and their freedom. It must do so without losing the formal qualities that make it a novel. But the truly imaginative novelist has an unshakable 'respect for the contingent'; without it he sinks into fantasy, which is a way of deforming reality. 'Since reality is incomplete, art must not be too afraid of incompleteness, ' says Miss Murdoch. We must not falsify it with patterns too neat, too inclusive; there must be dissonance.

Frank Kermode
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