Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Nige draws my attention to this very sane piece on drinking by Roger Scruton. In the midst of this Roger makes a startling point - 'When we speak of an intoxicating line of poetry, we are not referring to an effect in the person who reads or remembers it, comparable to the effect of an energy pill. We are referring to a quality in the line itself.... Likewise, the intoxicating quality that we taste in wine is a quality that we taste in it and not in ourselves.' This is entirely consistent with the argument, but it's an astonishing claim. Years ago I remember somebody attacking F.R.Leavis for claiming that the values he found in great literature were, in effect, inherent in the works themselves, prior to readers. Leavis denied he was saying this, pointing out that this was like saying whisky was dead drunk in the bottle. But this is, in fact, precisely what Roger is saying about wine and poetry - it is, somehow, intoxicating in itself, independent of or prior to the drinker or reader. I suppose the point is that the long human traditions behind their production have become embodied in wine and poetry and that, therefore, their power is independent of any individual experience. But, against that, one could say there must be individual experience at some point if the word 'intoxicating' is to mean anything at all. I have no conclusion to draw. It's just one of those arguments that seems right, feels right, should be right, but, somehow, resists complete acceptance.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 5:28 am