In Defence of Art:
Critical Essays & Reviews

by Louis Dudek,
302 pages,
ISBN: 0919627706

Post Your Opinion
The Proof Of The Pudding
by T. F. Rigelhof

THIS IS a gem of a book: polished and multi-faceted, hard, cutting and brilliant, it reflects more light than is easily assessed on first viewing, But the metaphor shouldn't be pressed too far because unlike an actual jewel, this book is neither costly nor precious nor lacking in reality.

Although Louis Dudek made it abundantly clear in 1960 in Literature and the Press that he regards the popular press as generally, corruptive of culture, he has persistently believed that it is possible to use the media of mass communication with wit and intelligence, in order to reach enough people to generate the kind of creative arguments that lead to discussion and reflection upon the deeper questions posed by the arts in our time. In Dudek's own case, this tension between distaste for popular opinion and the perception that a large, informed, and argumentative general audience is essential to the health of our culture has fuelled him with enormous energy. in addition to poetry, scholarship, translation, and academic criticism, Louis Dudek has written extensively for newspapers. This volume gathers together more than 200 short essays and reviews, written principally for the Montreal Star, the Montreal Gazette, and the Globe and Mail between 1958 and 1988.

Aileen Collins (who was Dudek's collaborator in CIV/n and DC Books and much else) has selected judiciously from a much larger body of work, grouped pieces under four subheadings - "Essays on Contemporary Culture," "Reviews of Literary Modernism," "Reviews of Canadian Literature," "Reviews of the Sister Arts" and arranged them in nonchronological sequences that create startling unities amid great diversity. She has also written an admirable introduction that makes plain the uniqueness and importance of this collection in Canadian letters: "It is a book for the general public, not the academic community; yet it is the work of a scholar, and it is written from a serious critical point of view. It is not ephemeral journalism.... We simply do not have this kind of criticism, substantial humanist criticism, in Canadian newspapers as a general rule."

No, we don't. And it can be argued that we don't have nearly enough of it elsewhere - in literary quarterlies, in the academic community, on CBC-FM. Louis Dudek understands quite clearly why this is so and what must be done about it: cut off from our past, we're like amnesiacs for whom everything is possible but nothing has meaning. We must challenge the dehumanizing process that robs our lives of richness and induces an anaesthesia that demands crudity and violence in order for us to feel anything; we must connect art with life. And how is this to be done? We must make a beginning by remembering that art is every educated person's occupation. And then we must insist on having newspapers and radio and television that educate their audience. We must also insist that our colleges and universities assume responsibility for shaping artists and audiences. But most of all, as individuals in society we must work at acquiring good taste and promoting it through true judgements. "No one," he says, can prove anything, in art. And no two people, no matter how well prepared, ever agree in their critical evaluations and tastes, unless they have learned from each other or been subjected to the same influences. Taste is a matter of emulation and education. A great deal goes into the rationalization of taste, some of it fairly objective, some of it personal, some of it merely the fashion of a culture. There is a hierarchy of judges, and there is such a thing as "excellent taste" and "abominable taste. How do I prove all this? Simply by stating it. In the long run, if enough people agree, I am right. If not, no proof can be of any use. But listen to me long enough, and perhaps you will think as I do.


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