Time passes and the pendulum of taste swings. In the mid-twentieth century, Paul Valéry, T.S. Eliot, and Yvor Winters would attack what the latter called the fallacy of expressive form, but this is itself a fallacy. All form in literature is expressive. All expression has its own form, even when the form is a deliberate quest of formlessness. (The automatic writing cultivated by the Surrealists, for instance, suffers from the excessive formalism of the unconscious mind and is far more stereotyped than the poetry of the Neoclassicist Alexander Pope.) Form simply refers to organization, and critics who attack form do not seem always to remember that a writer organizes more than words. He organizes experience. Thus, his organization stretches far back in his mental process. Form is the other face of content, the outward, visible sign of inner spiritual reality.
Throughout literary history, many great critics have pointed out that it is artificial to make a distinction between form and content, except for purposes of analytical discussion. Form determines content. Content determines form. The issue is, indeed, usually only raised at all by those critics who are more interested in politics, religion, or ideology than in literature; thus, they object to writers who they feel sacrifice ideological orthodoxy for formal perfection, message for style.
Extended prose fiction is the latest of the literary forms to develop. We have romances from classical Greek times that are as long as short novels; but they are really tales of adventure vastly extended anecdotes. The first prose fiction of any psychological depth is the attributed to Petronius Arbiter (died AD 65/66). Though it survives only in fragments, supposedly one-eleventh of the whole, even these would indicate that it is one of the greatest picaresque novels, composed of loosely connected episodes of robust and often erotic adventure. The other great surviving fiction of classical times is the (known as ) by Apuleius (2nd century AD). In addition to being a picaresque adventure story, it is a criticism of Roman society, a celebration of the religion of Isis, and an allegory of the progress of the soul. It contains the justly celebrated story of Cupid and Psyche, a myth retold with psychological subtlety. Style has much to do with the value and hence the survival of these two works. They are written in prose of extraordinary beauty, although it is by no means of classical purity. The prose romances of the Middle Ages are closely related to earlier heroic literature. Some, like Sir Thomas Malorys fifteenth-century are retellings of heroic legend in terms of the romantic chivalry of the early Renaissance, a combination of barbaric, medieval, and Renaissance sensibility which, in the tales of Tristram and Isolt and Lancelot and Guinevere, produced something not unlike modern novels of tragic love.
The forms of satire are as manifold as those of literature itself from those of the mock epic to the biting epigram. A great many social and political novels of today would have been regarded as satire by the ancients. Many of the great works of all time are satires, but in each case they have risen far above their immediate satirical objectives. The sixteenth-century medieval satire on civilization, the of Rabelais, grew under the hand of its author into a great archetypal myth of the lust for life. Cervantess often called the greatest work of prose fiction in the West, is superficially a satire of the sentimental romance of knightly adventure. But, again, it is an archetypal myth, telling the adventures of the soul of man of the individual in the long struggle with what is called the human condition. by Murasaki Shikibu has sometimes been considered by obtuse critics as no more than a satire on the sexual promiscuity of the Heian court. In fact, it is a profoundly philosophical, religious, and mystical novel.
Lyric poetry never gets far from its origins, except that some of its finest examples Medieval Latin, Provençal, Middle High German, Middle French, Renaissance which today are only read, were actually written to be sung. In the twentieth century, however, popular songs of great literary merit have become increasingly common for example, the songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill in German, of Georges Brassens and Anne Sylvestre in French, and of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell. It is interesting to note that, in periods when the culture values artificiality, the lyric becomes stereotyped. Then, after a while, the poets revolt and, usually turning to folk origins, restore to lyric poetry at least the appearance of naturalness and spontaneity.
Stevenson detailed his three cruises and adventures in the letters he wrote to his friends, exulting in his newfound health, relating incidents of life on the open sea, and capturing the flavor of life lived away from Western civilization. From 1889 to 1894 his attitude toward the islanders in his letters gradually changed from paternalism to sympathy for their troubles with Western imperialism. He studied South Seas politics to espouse plans that he believed would ensure harmony between the whites and the indigenous races of the South Pacific. The naiveté of his early letters is absent from his remarkable book of essays on the various island groups and their peoples--. Written from material he had collected on the three cruises, the book reveals a much shrewder observer of human nature and politics than the man who had written . He viewed the islanders as humans who were not without a valid culture of their own. They were not all cannibals, nor were they all noble savages. As for politics, he advocated self-rule for the islands, a view that did not always make him popular with contemporary travelers and settlers in the Pacific. But he was never predictable. While he was in Hawaii, for example, Stevenson felt himself drawn to the royalists--those who wanted the United States out of Hawaii. But he resisted becoming involved in their intrigues because he did not fully trust the royalists themselves.
Critical theories of literature in the Orient, however, have been more varied. There is an immense amount of highly technical, critical literature in India. Some works are recipe books, vast collections of tropes and stylistic devices; others are philosophical and general. In the best period of Indian literature, the cultural climax of Sanskrit ( 320-490), it is assumed by writers that expressive and constructive factors are twin aspects of one reality. The same could be said of the Chinese, whose literary manuals and books on prosody and rhetoric are, as with the West, relegated to the class of technical handbooks, while their literary criticism is concerned rather with subjective, expressive factors and so aligns itself with the pseudo-Longinuss sublime. In Japan, technical, stylistic elements are certainly important (Japanese discrimination in these matters is perhaps the most refined in the world), but both writer and reader above all seek qualities of subtlety and poignancy and look for intimations of profundity often so evanescent as to escape entirely the uninitiated reader.
Other writers have sought to use language for its most subtle and complex effects and have deliberately cultivated the ambiguity inherent in the multiple or shaded meanings of words. Between the two world wars, ambiguity became very fashionable in English and American poetry and the ferreting out of ambiguities from even the simplest poem was a favorite critical sport. T.S. Eliot in his literary essays is usually considered the founder of this movement. Actually, the platform of his critical attitudes is largely moral, but his two disciples, I.A. Richards in and William Empson in carried his method to extreme lengths. The basic document of the movement is Charles Kay Ogden and I.A. Richardss a work of enormous importance in its time. Only a generation later, however, their ideas were somewhat at a discount.
Thus, at the beginning of Western literary criticism, the controversy already exists. Is the artist or writer a technician, like a cook or an engineer, who designs and constructs a sort of machine that will elicit an aesthetic response from his audience? Or is he a virtuoso who above all else expresses himself and, because he gives voice to the deepest realities of his own personality, generates a response from his readers because they admit some profound identification with him? This antithesis endures throughout Western European history Scholasticism versus Humanism, Classicism versus Romanticism, Cubism versus Expressionism and survives to this day in the common judgment of our contemporary artists and writers. It is surprising how few critics have declared that the antithesis is unreal, that a work of literary or plastic art is at once constructive and expressive, and that it must in fact be both.
Certainly, William Blake or Thomas Campion, when they were writing their simple lyrics, were unaware of the ambiguities and multiple meanings that future critics would find in them. Nevertheless, language is complex. Words do have overtones; they do stir up complicated reverberations in the mind that are ignored in their dictionary definitions. Great stylists, and most especially great poets, work with at least a half-conscious, or subliminal, awareness of the infinite potentialities of language. This is one reason why the essence of most poetry and great prose is so resistant to translation (quite apart from the radically different sound patterns that are created in other-language versions). The translator must project himself into the mind of the original author; he must transport himself into an entirely different world of relationships between sounds and meanings, and at the same time he must establish an equivalence between one infinitely complex system and another. Since no two languages are truly equivalent in anything except the simplest terms, this is a most difficult accomplishment. Certain writers are exceptionally difficult to translate. There are no satisfactory English versions, for example, of the Latin of Catullus, the French of Baudelaire, the Russian of Pushkin, or of the majority of Persian and Arabic poetry. The splendor of Sophocless Greek, of Plato at his best, is barely suggested even in the finest English versions. On the other hand, the Germans insist that Shakespeare is better in German than he is in English, a humorous exaggeration perhaps. But again, Shakespeare is resistant to translation into French. His English seems to lack equivalents in that language.
The same love for the exaggerated world of romance and adventure informs the essays "A Gossip on Romance" (1882) and "A Gossip on a Novel of Dumas's" (1887). Again Stevenson maintains that the better end of reading and writing is entertainment, a claim that led some critics to accuse him of escapism. French realists, such as Émile Zola, had begun to explore the harsher sides of reality in their fiction. To some extent English realists, , for example, and Americans, including and , agreed in practice with the tenets of realism. But the bulk of Stevenson's literary criticism is explicitly in favor of the romance. He saw himself as the literary descendant of . The best storytelling, he felt, had the ability to whisk readers away from themselves and their circumstances.