Thursday, February 11, 2010

`Lots of Things Which Should Not Be Subverted'

“I listen to Dylan and I listen to Haydn. I listen to quite a lot of music but I never have any ideas about it.”

The taste – eclectic but not stupidly so. Modest – but not proudly so. A discerning mind, one accustomed to making fine distinctions. No hint of snobbery but clearly a critical mind, one that weighs and assesses rigorously, with wit. One might say a civilized mind. Here he is again:

“We need people to remind us that the good is the enemy of the best and we need people to remind us that the best is the enemy of the good. We need to protect ourselves from the dangers from both flanks.”

This is Sir Christopher Ricks in The Literateur, a new online journal. Go here for Part 1 and here for Part 2 of the interview. His gift for conversationally articulating ideas is refreshing, in part because for so long we haven’t associated intelligence with members of the professorial class. Reading him, one is reminded in several ways of Dr. Johnson – the broad learning, of course, and the drive to articulate thought, but also a deep humanity, a sense that books matter terribly but people matter more. For instance:

“So I’m not one of those people who use the word ‘subversive’ as if it’s automatically a good thing: ‘The great thing about literature is that it’s so subversive’. There are lots of things which should not be subverted. The idea that you have shown that someone is a good writer because you have shown that he or she has challenged the orthodox opinion… Orthodox opinion is often immensely to be valued.”

And here is Ricks in the mode of Johnson the common-sensical moralist:

“The reason I admire Johnson and Eliot and Empson so much – the thing that holds them together – is that they all think that doing the right thing is steering between two equally dangerous opposite bad things.”

1 comment:

Gaw said...

Ricks and interviewer: what a superb discussion. Thanks.