Jan 29, 2008

Popular Discussion of Yvor Winters

Alain De Botton published a short piece on the web site of the Philosopher’s Magazine (U.K.) on “Opening the Big Tent,” which concerns his attempt at the popularization of philosophy. De Botton has apparently taken a good deal of heat from academics for his books, as he recounts in the article. The reaction to his endeavors seems ridiculously strong in his description of the matter:

... the response from the holders of the philosophical flame was outraged and hysterical. I was denounced from most pulpits as a vulgarian who had willfully betrayed the mission of philosophy in the name of making money.

My goodness. If that is a fair characterization of what happened, it’s ludicrous. De Botton’s short article can be found at:


In case you didn’t realize it, the central purpose of this blog has been to popularize the ideas and art of Yvor Winters. I am not an academic or a scholar. I am a working man who has limited time for the scholarly study of Winters, which might not be my chief interest in any case. I do enjoy reading literary scholarship and consider it highly beneficial, but my goal with this blog and my Yvor Winters web site has been to get Winters’s ideas in front of more people, give people ways to make quick, provisional assessments of Winters’s critical theories. My overarching objective is to get more people interested in reading him. Unlike De Botton, I have aroused no anger among scholars with this blog. Rather, I have been wholly ignored by those who know Winters.

Yvor Winters himself appears to have been entirely uninterested in his popularity, though he did hope for a modest measure influence among critics, scholars, and writers. He truly was an elitist in many ways. It is quite clear that he believed that there was little that non-scholars could do to fathom his theories or the serious literature he championed. Winters had no desire to be “popular,” which I would define here as being “somewhat well known to ordinary people who love to read.” Not a single word in all his writings that I have ever read betrays any desire or expectation that his ideas would enjoy popularity in this sense. On the contrary, he wrote a few times in his essays that his ideas were for the few who could rightly comprehend and apply them. Here is one such comment, from one of his most popular essays, on his general critical principles, “Preliminary Problems” (from In Defense of Reason):

... although the critic should display reasonable humility and caution, it is only fair to add that few men possess either the talent or the education to justify their being taken very seriously, even of those who are nominally professional students of these matters.

Nonetheless, Winters did appear to think (I don’t have the time to chase down quotations, for which I am sorry) that those who carry on the classical tradition in modern literature would have some sort of trickle-down effect, in which the “mob” (don’t take offense: Winters would consider me a member) would be better prepared to live because modern poets wrote more classical poems. These subjects -- 1) how elitist are Winters’s theories, and 2) how harmful or beneficial is that elitism? -- need to be addressed by Wintersians, those writers who can be considered members of the Stanford School, though they have been passed over. The discussion of reactions to the work of Alain De Botton might provide a good starting place for a discussion of the elitism of Yvor Winters.

Yet, though I would like the academics of the Stanford School, if there are any, to write to this blog, they are not essential. Whether Winters’s theories are elitist or not, I’ve been trying to start a popular discussion, a non-academic discourse, on Winters. Little has happened since I started this, my second try at a Winters blog. Certainly, I have aroused no hostility or anger. I receive a handful of emails from years to year, but very few comments directly on this blog. It appears that the time has not yet arrived for the ideas and theories of Yvor Winters to become even a tiny bit more popular. I guess I still hope for more (though it seems against all hope, as we say).

I think the De Botton piece is worth reading in this context. It’s very short; it won’t take long.

Jan 22, 2008

Evaluating the Winters Canon: Poem 5

I have been remiss in getting to the next poem in the Winters Canon, but here it is:

“Varium et Mutabile”
by Thomas Wyatt

Is it possible
That so high debate,
So sharp, so sore, and of such rate,
Should end so soon that was begun so late?
Is it possible?

Is it possible
So cruel intent,
So hasty heat and so soon spent,
From love to hate, and thence for to relent?
Is it possible?

Is it possible
That any may find
Within one heart so diverse mind,
To change or turn as weather and wind?
Is it possible?

Is it possible
To spy it in an eye
That turns as oft as chance on die,
The truth whereof can any try?
Is it possible?

It is possible
For to turn so oft
To bring that lowest that was most aloft,
And to fall highest, yet to light soft
It is possible.

All is possible,
Who so list believe;
Trust therefore first, and after preve,
As men wed ladies by license and leave,
All is possible.

3] “rate”: quality, pace
14] “as weather and wind:: proverbial
18] “die”: dice, with quibble on the verb "die"
24] “to fall highest”: being highest, in falling.
26-30] The punctuation and segmentation are editorial. Different interpretations may be obtained by pointing these lines differently. E.g., one might read
All is possible.
[For] Whoso list believe
Trust therefore first and after preve,
As men [who] wed ladies by licence and leave,
All is possible.
27] “Whoso list”: whoever please to.
28] “preve”: prove, find out if true.


Winters discussed this poem very little during his career. It is possible only to guess at his reasons for including it in Quest for Reality. Is it one of our greatest poems, or is it a particularly salient example of the rational, controlled style that he venerated and wished to foster in modern times? I cannot say for certain. No Wintersian has discussed the poem, at least that I am aware of[1]. John Fraser does include the poem in his New Book of Verse without explanation.

Despite Winters's lack of comment, I think we can say that the poem appears to be a superior example of the classical rational structure that Winters highly approved in poetry. Let’s look at the progression of thought in this poem. It starts in stanza 1 with a general idea about differences of opinion. Stanza 2 moves to the passions of debate, which is a rational step in the development of the theme as we know it so far. In stanza 3 the poem turns to the waywardness of discussion and belief, an aspect of the theme which follows clearly and strongly from the discussion of the passions. Then the poem studies one aspect of human waywardness in stanza 4. This sharpens the central theme by illustration. In stanza 5 comes the first change in the lines repeated. Here the poet gives a general answer to the question he has posed in the opening stanzas: yes, human intellectual and moral waywardness is bound to happen. The poem then concludes with its “moral” in stanza 6: the poet gives sound, welcome advice that we should prove what we first believe.

The rational structure is lucid and sound. Though the poet could have explored his broad, abstract theme much more deeply, the sharp, condensed manner in which he covers the theme, rationally moving from idea to insight -- and concluding with a sharp and moving close -- is ideal, in Winters’s classical view.

Despite the taut form and the controlled, nonfigurative language, the poem expresses the emotions proper to the statement it makes through its tightly controlled diction and metrical movement. We feel the poet’s frustration, feeling even a hint of his longing to live according to the truth rightly and properly.


I mostly agree with Winters, as I suppose his position to be, that this is a striking examination of the mutability of human belief and action. It is a sound, moving warning that people can change their minds, sometimes greatly and often without rational soundness -- and sometimes very rapidly. The diction is strong, the metrical control superb. It is moving in the way of classical poetic statements. The thoughtful emotion does not burst outside the bounds of rational understanding.

However, I think the poem too general and abstract. It does not delve deeply enough into its theme, which is a common weakness of poems from the English Renaissance, as Winters pointed out several times in his essays on the period.


The poem feels a little dull, far too abstract, until one fully concentrates on each word and line. Its moral import has struck me when I have attended closely to the meaning and the rational movement of the verse. The emotions are almost mute, but they gather great power because they are under such strict control. The emotions are expressed through Wyatt’s word choices and the metrical variations of the iambic lines. This style surely was a model for Winters of classical rationality, the proper control of the emotions, which he and all classicists prize. The lines in stanza 4 about beliefs turning as often as a die, as oft shown in the eye, gather considerable power after several readings. As Wyatt teaches, I acknowledge that I like all people wander in my endeavors to believe and live according to truth. Wyatt’s poem is an expression of the waywardness of intellectual and moral commitment.

“Varium et Mutabile” reminds me in style and thematic treatment of a number of poems that Winters judged as great. For example, the poem has echoes with “Church Monuments” by George Herbert (I agree with Winters strongly that Herbert’s is one of our greatest poems). In that poem Herbert similarly reaches a rational conclusion about preparing to face the circumstances of life that the poet has perceived -- in the case of Herbert’s poem, knowledge about one’s own death. To me, the Wyatt poem also feels similar in theme to Edwin Arlington Robinson’s two poems on human folly chosen for Winters’s anthology Quest for Reality, “Veteran Sirens” and “The Wandering Jew.” Both of these poems concern aspects of human folly, in particular our determined adherence to foolish ideas. Wyatt is exploring a different aspect of human intellectual waywardness, but I see important similarities in theme and treatment.


[1] I do not have the time to check thoroughly on whether anyone in the Stanford School has written about each of the poems published in Quest for Reality, as I hope you have understood. I do my best to examine the main sources on such matters, such as Grosvenor Powell’s Bibliography of Yvor Winters (which covers essays written to 1982), and to recall from memory. I hope people will send me additional information about Wintersians or classicists I might have missed who have written about the poems I am considering in this series.

Jan 14, 2008

Enclave Extremism

A recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Chronicle Review offered an essay pertinent to the study of Yvor Winters. It concerned the issue of enclave extremism. The author, Cass Sunstein, a Princeton scholar, opined in the piece that the Internet is fostering excessive social divisions and intellectual hardheadedness in our society because it allows people to create ossified enclaves of the like-minded. This, in some cases, can breed foolish theories and practices, inane ideas, and sometimes dangerous movements that are hard to break up because their adherents and their views are closed off from challenge, criticism, evaluation, and even doubt. Though protection and associations of the like-minded have their benefits, as Sunstein admits and I will argue below, they also have dangers. The essay can be found at:


I find this essay pertinent because I have opined a couple times on this blog that the best hope for the strong development of modern classicism in our day, what I keep calling Wintersian or Stanford School literature, is the creation of some sort of intellectual enclave in which the reasonably like-minded can share ideas and develop a movement. In the case of Wintersian classical theories and practices, I believe that the making of an enclave of some sort is the only hope for significant progress in Wintersian studies and modern classicism. For the academy shows not a single sign that it will change from its profligate modernist and postmodernist ways any time in the near future.

Let’s say 25 years. Will American literary culture in general in the next 25 years come around to a classical way of thinking? The chances are extremely close to ZERO that neither the academy nor the literary marketplace will foster the development of modern classicism in any significant way for a long time to come, if ever (and I admit that it will likely be never).

It is little remembered that there was a notable time that the Stanford School had created an enclave for the advancement of modern classicism of the Wintersian variety. This nebulous enclave took the form of

A. the graduate seminars that Yvor Winters taught at Stanford over some 30 years;

B. the publication of some modern classical poetry through the Swallow Press run by Alan Swallow, who published the major works of both Yvor Winters and his wife Janet Lewis; and

C. the critical essays, poetry, stories, and reviews published in the Southern Review, Second Series under the reliably erudite editorship of LSU scholar Donald Stanford (1965-1983).

The Southern Review did fine work in keeping alive the small but strong classical tradition of the Stanford School in the years just before and after Winters’s death in 1968. That enclave has mostly dissolved. Winters died nearly 40 years ago and no one at Stanford University or anywhere else teaches as he did any longer; Alan Swallow long died more than 40 years ago, and the Swallow Press, purchased by Ohio University Press, though it still publishes Wintersians or keeps them in print, does so without much verve; and the Southern Review has become another organ of American postmodern writing in the 25 years since Donald Stanford retired. Yet great work was done in that enclave. Some of the greatest literature ever written in our language was written in it. Perhaps the creation of a journal like Donald Stanford’s Southern Review will carry on the work of Winters and his “disciples.”

In my extensive reading in his letters and essays, I have found little reason to believe that Yvor Winters truly hoped to convert literary culture en masse to classicism or to create a large enclave of the like-minded who would foster his critical theories. He did make a few comments in his essays that that expressed a vague hope to start a revolution in taste with his controversial and heretical writings, but the comments seem like little more than wishful dreaming. His letters, published in 2000, in which I expected to find stronger aspirations, betray almost no hint of hope for revolution. Consider this representative passage from a 1957 letter to Malcolm Cowley, written near the end of Winters’s career and life; the occasion is his resignation from a prominent literary society:

There are only three or four members of the [National] Institute [of Arts and Letters] (literary members, I mean) whose work interest me even a little, and they and I have no critical principles or judgments in common as far as I can see. I live too far away to meet other members and try to persuade them by conversation; I have no time to try correspondence; and neither method is worth anything anyway.

This sounds to me much like almost all the comments Winters made on such matters in his letters. He expresses little desire to change the world, to spark a revolution, as we might say. Indeed, his hopes appear rather small, as also shown in comments to Cowley a few months later about teaching:

If there were more brute historical knowledge among the great of my generation, there would be much less bullshit written about what poetry is. I have read a good many of the best books and have directed a good many of the best dissertations. I am not ignorant. I have been grubbing in this stuff professionally, while you people have been agreeing privately and publicly with each other. [¶] But I can’t convince any of you by this kind of letter, and even if I could, none of you will be around much longer. I would rather work with my boys, some of whom are bright and most of whom have a good many years before them.

Once again, these comments betray no hope or desire to take over literary culture, no expectation that he or his classical ideas could or would have wide influence. Judging from all his writings, I believe that Winters realized that he must spread his ideas mostly though his teaching. The work of devising a new history of poetry that he mentions in this letter yielded his last book, Forms of Discovery, which has had almost no influence on general literary culture that I can discern. (Most interestingly in that book, Winters speaks very briefly of his forlorn, nearly hopeless desire to upend the understanding of the history of English poetry in general literary culture.) The reference to “the boys” in the letter to Cowley means his students, of course, whom he also discussed in an earlier letter (1950) to a publisher named Harry Duncan:

Most of my poets will never be poets, but they know a damned sight more about poetry right now than most of their critics. Meanwhile I taught [James Vincent] Cunningham, [Helen] Pinkerton, [Edgar] Bowers, and [Lee] Gerlach. They are better poets than the imitators of Tate, Ransom, and Eliot, such as [Robert Penn] Warren, Randall Jarrell, and [John] Berryman. When somebody else comes up with a better kennel-full I shall be glad to see it.

True, true: it was quite a kennel-full, however much the kennel remains overlooked right up to our time. But again, my point here is that Winters betrays hopes only for a small educational enclave, not wide influence. Even earlier, in 1946, in a letter to John Frederick Nims (who went on to a distinguished career as a New Formalist poet and critic), Winters expresses no desire for revolution when writing about trying to get his ideas across to a wider audience:

It has been my experience that if one explains ten ideas in the greatest of detail and with the fullest of illustration, one is lucky to learn that one idea from the lot has been approximately grasped by the most learned and talented audience that one can discover. One can do better with a university class, because the class has to pay attention or fail. Most contemporary criticism has been written according to the formula which you recommend in your letter; and as a result, most contemporary criticism, including that in “Poetry,” is in a fog.

In all his correspondence, Winters appears to have felt that he was doing just about all he could do to change literary culture in teaching his classes, training new poets, and publishing his obscure essays. He seems to have seldom felt any hope that his ideas would achieve wide influence, especially after the immediately hostile reactions to his earliest writings that announced his rejection of Modernist-Romantic aesthetics.

There are dangers in creating enclaves, as we all suspect and some know well. Wintersians could lose even more credibility. Wintersians could become insular and then isolated, hardened in wrongheaded views. But though all the world think we’re extremists, I believe that it is best to create some kind of enclave, in the hope that some significant part of literary culture will some day see things differently and more truly great literature, classical literature, will be written. An enclave would best keep this hope alive.

I found Carl Sunstein’s discussion of “enclave extremism” on the Internet to be thought-provoking and relevant to all such issues, particularly to the intellectual and social dangers of creating enclaves. The short essay is worth reading for those interested in the writings of Yvor Winters and the future of his critical theories and of modern classicism.

Jan 10, 2008

Does a Fish Have Utility?

Quick Note:

A lengthy, twisting, and turning discussion of whether humanities have any “utilitarian” purpose has erupted at the New York Times. The discussion among Times readers, which circles around widely varying definitions of the word “utility,” followed upon the publication of a short opinion piece by Stanley Fish, that famous, erudite, genially argumentative, and endlessly inventive literary theorist. Much of the discussion has direct bearing on the writings and ideas of Yvor Winters, who defended a theory of literature that was in some wide, generous sense one of utility (depending on the definition of that term, of course), which Fish opines the humanities do not have:

The premise of secular humanism (or of just old-fashioned humanism) is that the examples of action and thought portrayed in the enduring works of literature, philosophy and history can create in readers the desire to emulate them. Philip Sydney put it as well as anyone ever has when he asks (in “The Defense of Poesy,” 1595), “Who reads Aeneas carrying old Anchises on his back that wishes not it was his fortune to perform such an excellent act?” Thrill to this picture of filial piety in the Aeneid and you will yourself become devoted to your father. Admire the selfless act with which Sidney Carton ends his life in “A Tale of Two Cities” and you will be moved to prefer the happiness of others to your own. Watch with horror what happens to Faust and you will be less likely to sell your soul. Understand Kant’s categorical imperative and you will not impose restrictions on others that you would resist if they were imposed on you. [¶] It’s a pretty idea, but there is no evidence to support it and a lot of evidence against it. If it were true, the most generous, patient, good-hearted and honest people on earth would be the members of literature and philosophy departments, who spend every waking hour with great books and great thoughts, and as someone who’s been there (for 45 years) I can tell you it just isn’t so.
And yet, Fish, strangely, goes on to talk about how the humanities increase knowledge, without admitting that increasing knowledge is a “utility” of some sort. The piece and the discussion can be found at:


Winters wrote extensively, even repetitively, about the purpose of art and literature, the art’s final cause as he put it (employing the terminology of Thomistic philosophy). He wrote a good deal about literature’s final cause in a long essay entitled “Problems for the Modern Critic of Literature” (found in The Function of Criticism). It’s one his best but most difficult and bothersome essays, since its overall objective was to demonstrate the superiority of poetry over other forms of literature as a means of communication (a conjecture which has never been properly reconsidered by anyone in the Stanford School, either in defense or approval). Here are a few of Winters’s comments on the “utility” of literature, which stand as some of the most profound words he wrote:

For what, after all, is a poem, if we approach it in my own innocent state of mind? It is a statement about an experience, real or imagined. The statement must follow the experience in time: Donne, for example, could not have written "The Ecstasy" while engaged in the experience described. The poem is a commentary upon something that has happened or that has been imagined as having happened; it is an act of meditation. The poem is more valuable than the event by virtue of its being an act of meditation: it is the event plus the understanding of the event. Why then should the poet be required to produce the illusion of the immediate experience without the intervention of the understanding? Perhaps the understanding is supposed to occur surreptitiously, while the poet is pretending that something else is occurring. But what is the value of such deception? Is it assumed that understanding itself is not a "real" form of experience?

The rhetorical question that ends the passage had an answer so obvious in Winters’s mind that no further comment on final cause was required at this point. But this passage is only a brief sample of Winters’s thoughts on the central topic. This “Problems” essay has much more on final cause (and by extension “utility”), in addition to all you can find in countless other essays of varied occasion and purpose. Check out Stan Fish’s very short opinion piece and sample the massive reader comment. The discussion brings about an opportunity to reflect deeply on one of the fundamental ideas of Yvor Winters.

Jan 7, 2008

Modernism as Endless Heresy

Peter Gay, that fine scholar of modern times, has put out a book that has pertinence to the study of Yvor Winters. The Lure of Heresy has been called Gay's most ambitious work since his widely praised book on Sigmund Freud. The subject of more than a dozen reviews in the major journals, the book explores the once-shocking modernist rebellion that, beginning in the 1840s (as is thought), transformed art, literature, music, and film through the rejection of traditional forms. The publicity on the book calls this rejection an “assault” (though I do not think this word is quite accurate). The subject is an important one because Yvor Winters played a small role in the movement with his early poetry and criticism. Few poetry readers realize nowadays that he did so, though his early work still attracts and inspires many poets and critics to this day. Indeed, many critics and poets who know something of Winters prefer his early work to the later classical writings. I would say that Winters wrote some of the finest modernist poetry at the height of the era, which also has been the claim of a few prominent poet-critics, such as Robert Lowell. I have quoted a couple of these poems on this blog, but to illustrate this phase of Winters’s career, let me offer another early free-verse poem that I find striking and powerful:


Frigidity the hesitant
uncurls its tentacles
into a furry sun.
The ice expands
into an insecurity
that should appall
yet I remain
astray in this
oblivion, this
inert labyrinth
of sentences that
dare not end. It
is high noon and
all is the more quiet
where I trace
the courses of the Crab
and Scorpion, the Bull,
the Hunter, and the Bear --
with front of steel
they cut an aperture
so clear across the
cold that it cannot
be seen: there is no
smoky breath, no
breath at all.

Winters wrote a lot of poems in this style and a lot about this sort of experience -- Gay argues that this turn to personal introspection was central to modernism -- before he became a classicist in the late 1920s. Still, even after his turn to classicism, he was trying to keep alive whatever was valuable in modernism, particularly the intensity of perception that the movement fostered (which is nicely illustrated in many of Winters’s poems from the early period). Peter Gay begins his study with Baudelaire, whose poetry was central to Winters’s thought and art, especially in his change of direction to modern classicism. Gay finds Baudelaire’s poetry “lurid,” and it did scandalize the French cultural leaders of his day. But I encourage you to read Winters to comprehend how Baudelaire’s work in many ways was actually a development of classicism, not an “assault” upon it. This is a subject much in need of reconsideration. Even John Fraser in his New Book of Verse tries to reclaim at least some of Baudelaire’s major work for modern classicism.

Gay traces the revolutionary path of modernism from its Parisian origins to its emergence as the dominant cultural movement in such major cities as Berlin and New York. Winters first tried to develop his art within this movement, but soon rejected it because of its limitations. Gay’s book appears, upon a skimming, to have breadth and brilliance, but it’s hardly unique, as some have claimed, in surveying modernism, which has been the subject of many studies of greater breadth and depth than Gay’s. It parades a typical pageant of “heretics” before us: such as Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, and D. W. Griffiths; James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot; Walter Gropius, Arnold Schoenberg, and (oddly) Andy Warhol. I find much of the achievement of these artists to have been pretty thin, but some are the authors and artists Winters took seriously, often argued with or against, and remain worth knowing.

There is no mention of Yvor Winters in the book -- I would admittedly have been shocked to find one. Gay does not study anyone from the Stanford School, though you could study the Southern Review, Second Series under Donald Stanford’s editorship (1965-1984) to gain just about as fine an overview of modernism as Gay’s -- and partly from the perspective of modern, Wintersian classicism. As far as I have been able to discern in skimming the book, Gay does not look at reactions to modernism’s so-called heresies, though many artists and critics besides Winters opposed or disparaged the movement for one reason or another.

In the area of poetry, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” interests Gay most -- ho hum. I just realized something about that poem: if it really had as much influence as is regularly claimed, it succeeded well in creating the “waste land” it supposedly described (created it in poetry at least; thus, the poem might have been a self-fulfilling prophesy). Gay also offers little on Ezra Pound, which seems an oversight. And he has almost nothing to say about Wallace Stevens or any American poet besides Eliot. He doesn’t even mention William Carlos Williams, who is responsible for so much in the direction modern poetry took, in my view.

Yvor Winters wrote about moderns writers and critics extensively, but he had little to say about “modernism” as a movement. He appears to have thought that what we call modernism was simply an outgrowth of Romanticism, as a form of self-expression. Just to whet your appetite to reconsider the views of Yvor Winters on the subject, here is a sample of his commentary on such matters from the "Foreword" to In Defense of Reason:

The Romantics, however, although they offer a relatively realistic view of the power of literature, offer a fallacious and dangerous view of the nature both of literature and of man. The Romantic theory assumes that literature is mainly or even purely an emotional experience, that man is naturally good, that man's impulses are trustworthy, that the rational faculty is unreliable to the point of being dangerous or possibly evil. The Romantic theory of human nature teaches that if man will rely upon his impulses, he will achieve the good life. When this notion is combined, as it frequently is, with a pantheistic philosophy or religion, it commonly teaches that through surrender to impulse man will not only achieve the good life but will achieve also a kind of mystical union with the Divinity: this, for example, is the doctrine of Emerson. Literature thus becomes a form of what is known popularly as self-expression. It is not the business of man to understand and improve himself, for such an effort is superfluous: he is good as he is, if he will only let himself alone, or, as we might say, let himself go. The poem is valuable because it enables us to share the experience of a man who has let himself go, who has expressed his feelings, without hindrance, as he has found them at a given moment. The ultimate ideal at which such a theory aims is automatism.

There is a lot in that passage to take in and to discuss. But for now I will leave it to your own study. My point is that the “heresy” of modernism did not seem to Winters to have been a heresy at all. It was a consequence and outgrowth of Romanticism. That’s a theory that someone in the Stanford School should find worth re-evaluating.

Gay's book also examines the hostility of totalitarian regimes to modernist freedoms. This is a troublesome topic, for Winters was often unfairly suspected or accused of being some sort of weird fascist because of his rejection of modernist aesthetics. Such scurrilous charges, I believe, damaged his reputation and played a part in keeping Winters from wider influence. I suspect that they still affect his reputation.

Finally, I find Jacques Barzun’s recent delineation of modernism in From Dawn to Decadence to be stronger than Gay’s. Even the use of the word “heresy” in the title doesn’t quite ring true in my ears. Modernism wasn’t exactly heretical, a purification, as heresies have usually been. Though it seems wholly experimental, a seeking of complete freedom, I think Winters was onto something more important in seeing it as a foreseeable development of Romanticism. For his part, Barzun calls the overarching concept that formed modernism and many of the movements leading up to it “Emancipation,” one of Barzun’s main intellectual “themes” of the last 500 years in the cultural history of the West. Here is a snippet of what Barzun says about what he calls the decadence that seeking Emancipation has engendered:

All that is meant by Decadence is “falling off.” It implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense. On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. The loss it faces is that of Possibility. The forms of art as of life seem exhausted; the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result. Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces.

I think Barzun’s Emancipation theme and his lengthy discussion of it more clearly reflect what the moderns were after than Gay’s term “heresy.” It would require a long essay to make my case, but I do not have the time or inclination to write about this issue at the moment. But comments on this and all other matters pertaining to modernism and Peter Gay’s study of it are welcome, as always.