Ashok R. Kelkar, Pune.





Literary judgements, whether evaluative or interpretative, have a praraoxial nature—they are specific and subjective, but at the same time they will be mere impressions rather than judgements proper unless they work their way towards critical positions,  are inevitably comparative and intersubjective.  Leavis’s is a classic case of an author of explicit literary judgements whose writings very much point towards a critical position by consciously refrain form giving an explicit account of it.  This creates false opportunities to his detractors or true difficulties for his admirers, (During his life-time you had to be one or the other.)


            This note offers an explicit but schematic account of his critical position.  This should be of help both in saying which elements in Leavis’s critical position one would endorse and which elements in his critical position one would have serious reservations aobut, so that one need not be an undiluted admirer or an undiluted detractor.  To begin with, there is a set of nine variables each of which can be present or absent.


(a)    Social variables

  (a1)  an inherited organic community; if not, then at least a self-constituted civilized community

  (a2)  sharing the values of the organic community; not necessarily through continuing inheritance or influence

  (a3)    using one’s own language; especially, remaining close to its spoken form


(b)   Personal  variables

  (b1)     participating in contemporary sensibility and so being representative in a rich sense

  (b2)        sharing the strength and adult standards of a tradition

  (b3)        expression of individual sensibility


(c)    Creative variables

  (c1)         critical , discriminating intelligence

  (c2)          concrete, enactive realization of intensity of emotion and thought in fusion in sensuous or concrete terms

   (c3)         critical, discriminating intelligence


next, we can take up the network of relationships; the network could b4e set out as follows.  (Note the overall progression from a1 to c3 in the network.)








                                 a2                                        b1



                            a3                                    b2                                    c1




                               b3                                           c2






The arrows in the diagram could be read in either of two ways:  'x           y'   is read either as ' x accounts for the occurrence of y' (x explains y, in short) or as  ' x  accounts for the worth of y' (x enhances y, in short).  This ambivalence of the relationship in a special and unusual feature of this critical position.


Finally, we flesh out this network with some characteristic evaluate literary judgements of Leavis.  (Naturally, the following two accounting relations are not open to being fleshed out by literary judgements as such namely, a1              a2 and  a2             a3.  Leavis on Mill on Bentham and coleridge and Tonnies on Gemeinchaft and Gesellschaft will be more  to the point.)  The judgements may offer examples of concurrent presence or concurrent absence: the presence of x              the presence of y; the absence of

 x          the absence  of y.  literary judgements, positive or negative, thus support the critical position rather than the other way round.


A1                      b1     : positively, Elizabethans; negatively,  Eighteenth Century English           writers


A2                     b2      :  positively, Ben Jonson; negatively, Dryden


A3                     b3      : positively, Milton’s ‘comus’, negatively,


Milton ‘grand style’


B1                      b2      : We need to look further for examples 


   B2                     b3       : positively, we need to look further for examples;                  negatively, Auden


   B1                     c1       :  we need to look further for examples


B2                     c2          : positively, Pope, Johnson; negatively, Swift, the later Blake


B3                     c3          : positively, Shakespeare; negatively , we need to look further for examples


C2                    c3           : positively  Blake; negatively, Shelley


Presenting Leavis position in this manner should make us realize that he was no mere camp-follower of Richards or Eliot (as he is sometimes made out to be), what is more to the point, it also permits us to interrogate Levis a little more fruitfully.  For example, one could ask whether a1 ‘explains’ b1 because a1 is a necessary condition of b1 or because a1 is a sufficient condition of b1; whether a1 may explain b1 without enhancing it or whether a1 may enhance b1 without explaining it; whether certain specific judgements (thus, the highly positive judgement of Lawrence) support something extraneous to critical judgement (as , bias for the masculine gender); whether certain specific revisions in judgement (thus, Dickens the ‘great entertainer’, except for Hard Times; was later evaluated more positively) reveal some weakness in the network; and so forth.


            If literary judgements work their way towards critical positions, debates between critical positions (also of the ‘Yes but’ variety), when they don’t lead to persuasion or consensus, are defined within some meta-critical position on the part of the critic.  The possibilities at this point are the following:


(1)               Absolutism (literary judgements work their way to universality and intersubjectivity)


(2)               Objective relativism (critical positions are relative to shared specificity such as genre, period)


(3)               Subjective relativism (critical positions are relative to shared specificity such as ‘Englishness’, Romanticism)


(4)               Anarchism (literary judgements are irreducibly specific and subjective)


It must be borne in mind that one’s meta- critical position is logically independent of one’s critical position.  In Leavis’s case, his meta-critical position happened to be Absolutism.  But it is open for one to subscribe to Leavis’s critical position without sharing his meta-critical position.  L.C. Knights is probably a case in point: he largely holds by the foregoing network, but at the meta-critical level his position is probably one of objective relativism.  At least some detractors of Leavis are in reality detractors of his Absolutism.


Shorn of the more extreme aspects of his Absolutism (the more extreme aspects of currently fashionable Nietzschean Anarchism are just as distasteful) and shorn of certain extraneous aspects of his critical position (as, bias for the masculine gender, the romantic medievalist aspects of his ‘organic community’), Leavis is of continued ‘relevance’.  (If he is not invoked very often today this is in part because many of his ideas now represent accepted wisdom.)




            Written around 1984, this has remained unpublished.  Professor C. D. Narasimaiah (Mysore) once said to the author that F.R. Leavis once said to him in conversion that his reluctance to spell out a critical position had probably been a mistake on his part.