- Ferocious Alphabets by Denis Donoghue
Faber, 211 pp, £8.95, October 1981, ISBN 0 571 11809 7
Denis Donoghue begins, a little self-indulgently, by reprinting six short BBC talks on ‘Words’. The excuse is that such radio talks offer a simple if incomplete model for Donoghue’s conception of literary discourse: as an address to an invisible audience, or dialogue for ever aborted by the absence of a second party. Print, unlike radio, is silent. But the writer also seeks a ‘communion’ which is never achieved, and ‘style’ is his compensation for the lack, as ‘culture is a compensation for the frustrations attendant upon biological life.’
Vol. 4 No. 13 · 15 July 1982
SIR: Reviewing Re-Reading English, Tom Paulin describes its contributors as ‘frustrated sociologists who believe that sonnets and beer mats ought to be treated on an equal footing and examined as interesting “cultural artefacts” (this stupidly philistine term is favoured by David Lodge and other members of the new critical generation).’ ‘Cultural artefacts’ seems to me a descriptive term that is neither stupid nor philistine, and I may well have used it on occasion, though I cannot recall a specific instance offhand. The implication that it is a key item in my critical vocabulary, and that I practise a kind of criticism which could be described, even with philistine stupidity, as equating beer mats with sonnets, is a ludicrous misrepresention, which undermines Mr Paulin’s credibility as a commentator on the contemorary ‘crisis’ in English Studies. This, by the way, is the second occasion in recent weeks when one of your contributors has introduced a gratuitous sneer at my expense into a review of someone else’s book expressing views quite distinct from my own. (The first was Claude Rawson’s review of Denis Donoghue’s Ferocious Alphabets, LRB, 4 March.) Is this – to use a phrase which has appeared in your correspondence columns before – quite cricket?