Blast from the past

Young Possum

Young Possum

Henry James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it…. In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought…. Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks. James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation.

–T.S. Eliot

I reread “The Beast in the Jungle” today, after being reminded of it by reading John McGahern’s “The Wine Breath,” which was first published in The New Yorker in 1977. So I was led back to this quote from Eliot, which I’ve always loved. We need more and more painters who have that same kind of intelligence.

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