mad or frivolous destroyers of sacred tradition

Living art, like anything else, stays alive only by changing. The young artist must constantly examine the forms and aesthetic theories he has inherited; he must reject most of them, and he must search for new ones. Literature is all the more alive today because it is changing so rapidly. In fact it’s adjusting to the possibility that the printed page is no longer the chief disseminator of ideas, and that authors must find ways to bend the new technological media to artistic purposes. The rebels and experimenters who are forcing these changes are, of course, having to fight the same battles against the same kind of academic critics who attacked the literary revolutionaries of the last generation. In the beginnings, Joyce, Kafka, Rimbaud, Rilke, Pound, Brecht, even Eliot, were pooh-poohed or ignored as cheap and sensational, as mad or frivolous destroyers of sacred tradition. Now these men are the ancient great - and the young writers who find them inadequate are getting the same treatment. Of course, many literary movements in every generation turn out to be blind alleys, but no critic should think himself so perceptive he can always tell the passing fashion from the significant breakthrough. I don’t know exactly where the literary DEW [Distant Early Warning] line is this moment, but I’m sure it lies somewhere in the complicated world of today’s little-little magazines and small-press chapbooks.

- Earle Birney, Why Poetry? (II), from The Creative Writer, 1966.

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