Let me begin by saying whom I don’t write for. I don’t write for poets or literary critics. I don’t write for readers of any particular faith, politics, or aesthetic. It seems a grave danger to write only for people who share your own ideology – a kind of psychic laziness. I can’t imagine writing just for Catholics. A religious poem, for instance, should speak to an atheist as much as a believer. It might speak differently perhaps, but it needs to transcend any system of belief and touch some common humanity. Maybe “transcend” is the wrong word. “Exceed” might be better. John Donne’s “divine” poems have such an excess of meaning that their appeal isn’t limited to Anglicans. The same is true of Dante, Hopkins, Eliot, Auden, or Dylan Thomas.
I write for other human beings who both resemble me and differ from me in ways I can’t predict. I hope for readers who are alert and intelligent, though not necessarily learned. I speak to deeply felt experience rather than to higher education, though I do usually conceal a few jokes that only the erudite will catch. I still believe in what Samuel Johnson called “the common reader,” who is not an unintelligent reader but one open to pleasure and surprise. I was raised among the working poor, and I know that intelligence and creativity are found in every class and race and region. A poet should entice rather than exclude.
“We do not need definite beliefs because their objects are necessarily true. We need them because they enable us to stand on steady spots from which the truth may be glimpsed.” (Dana Gioia again)
“When history is killed, myth survives.” (Keith Windshuttle on Mars Hill Audio Journal volume 31, 1998)
[Ayn] Rand’s fiction sucks for the same reason so much Christian fiction sucks. It is endlessly didactic, so busy preaching it forgets to pay close attention to life. Her characters deliver lectures. You don’t have to look closely to see they are puppets with Rand’s own lips moving eerily under the mask, her angry eyes staring out through holes in the rubber face. The bad guys in her books are straw men called collectivism, and altruism and they speak only in bromides and Rand gleefully bats them down.
Vic Sizemore, The Unbearable Badness of Ayn Rand, at the Good Letters blog.
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