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The Uses of Division

Unity and Disharmony in Literature

By (author) John Bayley
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Vintage Publishing, London, United Kingdom
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Published: 31st Mar 1976
Dimensions: w 140mm h 220mm
Weight: 432g
ISBN-10: 0701121440
ISBN-13: 9780701121440
Barcode No: 9780701121440

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Kirkus US
John Bayley reveals his strategy in the first sentence: "Criticism is mainly a matter of transferring a set of ideas from life to literature." This prepares the reader to follow Bayley's search for the clues to literature in ordinary experience rather than in abstract theory. He finds these clues in what he calls "divisions." These are the unwilled waverings of purpose, ambivalences of desire and need, and inconstancies of mind and emotion which muddle thought, action, and artistic creation. Bayley argues, against "the usual critical instinct," that the artist is at his best not when he masters these divisions with an aesthetic design but when he lets them frustrate his design, even if "a total disunity" results, because it is "confusion that brings life to art." With an erudition that can be daunting but is never arcane, Bayley explicates the workings of this confusion in the novel, poetry, and drama, taking his chief examples from Dickens, Kipling, Lawrence, Forster, Lowell, Berryman, Larkin, and abundantly from Keats and Shakespeare. He shows, for example, that Keats conveys the embarrassments of boyish sexuality not through an artful choice of images but through an ingenuous use of "vulgar" and poetically "bad" phrases; and Shakespeare portrays the complexity of behavior by unconsciously subverting the unity of drama with a novelistic attention to motive, character, and background. This is a spirited work of criticism which, amplifying suggestions in Bayley's earlier essays on Pushkin, Tolstoy, love, and Romanticism, elucidates literary creativity with exceptional insight, modesty, and affection. (Kirkus Reviews)