the imaginative conservative logo


All below taken from Russell Kirk, “English Letters in the Age of Boredom,” Shenandoah 7 (Spring, 1956): 3-15.

“It is quite within the realm of possibility that the Age of Eliot will be succeeded by a long gulf of vacancy in the history of literature.…Universal war and social dissolution might bring this calamity upon us, a dismal prospect: and yet the calamity may come in a fashion still worse—I mean the degeneration of letters into the condition of mere mass–propaganda, for the ends of the impersonal and conscienceless mass–state. I think it would be better, if the choice could be made, for society to be dissolved into its constituent atoms then for the society to become one featureless bulk of production–men and consumption–men, whose reading, such as it might be, would come from the typewriters of the miserable creatures who sit, alternately listless and trembling, at the tables in the Chestnut Tree Café of 1984.” (Page 4).

“Regeneration, literary or material, is possible only when the causes of an affliction have been properly apprehended. People who hope for renewed vigor in English and American letters need, then, to ascertain just how far the present apparent lassitude in the world of literature really is the product of social boredom, and what are the conditions that have brought such boredom into being.… Literature thrives in an age of variety; it sickens in a time of uniformity. It seems to me that we have been working with the perverse will to reduce our civilization to an equalitarian uniformity.” (Pages 11–12)

“It is my conviction that the present tendencies of society, supposing they continue unchecked, will putting into elevated literature. The culmination of the equalitarian dogmas will repress that proliferating variety among individuals and classes which stimulates the imaginative writer and gives him and inquiring public.” (Page 13)

“Men read and write only because they are convinced that certain great subjects are worth reading and writing about. Four great themes, it seems to me, have been the inspiration of most important imaginative literature from the dawn of Greek civilization down to our own age. The first of these is religion: the description of the relation between divine nature and human nature, as in Hesiod and Dante and Milton. The second is heroism: the nobility of strong and earnest men, as in Homer or Virgil or Mallory. The third is love: the devotion beyond mere appetite, as in classical legend or medieval romance. The fourth is the intricacy of character and class, ranging all the way from Chaucer to Conrad. Now a society which has lost its religious convictions and its society denies itself the first theme. A society which denies the right to greatness and to distinctions among men deprives itself of the second theme. A society which takes love for no more than the carnal appetite cannot attach real significance even to the novel of adultery. A society which looks upon men as mere production and consumption units of interchangeable value cannot understand the subtle shadings of personality and rank of a different sort of age. The springs of the imagination thus are dried up. For a time, satire can exist by pointing out the decay of faith and heroism and love and variety; but when even the memory of these themes fade, then satire, too, comes to an end. Then boredom triumphs in life and art.” (Page 14)

“Imaginative literature is not the whole realm of letters. History, biography, and criticism, together with philosophy and theology and the sciences, to some extent remain independent of the sources for fiction in poetry and prose—though not wholly independent. Most imaginative writers, indeed, derive their postulates from the preacher, the scholar, and the chronicler.” (Page 14)

“As Dante made the arguments of the Schools into great poetry, or as Scott metamorphosed the principles of Burke into the novel, so the poets and novelists of the latter half of the 20th century may find purpose in existence through the inquiring scholarship of this day; and those new works of poetic imagination, in turn, may help to convince the mass of men that life has more in it than mere gratification of appetite and acquisition of creature–comforts.” (Page 15)

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Print Friendly
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."

Leave a Reply