Friday, November 4, 2011

VN on commonsense

Essay "The Art of Literature and Commonsense," in Lectures on Literature

In the fall of 1811, Noah Webster, working steadily through the Cs, defined commonsense as “good sound ordinary sense…free from emotional bias or intellectual subtlety…horse sense.” This is rather a flattering view of the creature, for the biography of commonsense makes nasty reading. Commonsense has trampled down many a gentle genius whose eyes had delighted in a too early moonbeam of some too early truth; commonsense has back-kicked dirt at the loveliest of queer paintings because a blue tree seemed madness to its well-meaning hoof; commonsense has prompted ugly but strong nations to crush their fair but frail neighbors the moment a gap in history offered a chance that it would have been ridiculous not to exploit.


Tulkinghorn said...

Seems to me that ideology -- the opposite of commonsense in the political world -- has been responsible for much more "crushing" than commonsense. At least since the Great War.

At any rate my prejudices are a pretty boring basis for an argument, since I have no interest in defending them.

Nabokov is right that commonsense is a bad basis on which to judge art, but I never brought it forward as an aesthetic principle. Quite the opposite.

Tulkinghorn said...

I will say that the phrase beginning with 'gentle genius' tastes more than a little of the vulgarity that in most contexts Nabokov abhorred.

He had a gay brother who was killed by the Nazis and I think we can forgive him the lapse of sternness.

More here:

David Chute said...

Key "Fear of Music" quote:

Vladimir, by contrast, was almost pathologically insensitive to music, which he once described as “an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds.”

Tulkinghorn said...

Your 'fear' locution presumes way too much.....

As did Kael's original coinage.

Sometimes people disagree with one. And it's not always because they don't have one's courage.

In fact, it's never because they don't have one's courage.

David Chute said...

In some cases I'd agree with you.