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TITLE: 'Morning. A Litterary [sic] Miscellany' (1)
THIS VERSION: Copyright © 2002 Carol Adlam; all rights reserved. Notes by Carol Adlam and Robert Russell. Redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the translator.

Introduction to the text

[...] What is meant by the theory of pure art, or art for art's sake, has nothing to do with the requirement made of literary works that idea, form, and the external, artistic finish should correlate; this theory has not the slightest bearing on the wish to see in the writer both a lively attentiveness and warm sympathy towards natural, living phenomena, and an ability to represent and to transfer these feelings into the reader. No, any sensible-thinking person will make such demands, and it is on the basis of these demands alone that any critic, even the most ordinary, may deliver his judgement on the author's talent. The advocates of 'art for art's sake' do not make such demands: they want no more and no less than that the artist writer should withdraw from all questions concerning life, should have no rational beliefs, should avoid philosophy like the plague, and, as Goethe says, should sing like a bird on a branch (2) (their constant refrain), whatever happens. Nevertheless, the remnants of common sense did not allow the worshippers of pure art to state their demands too frankly and freely. They had enough sense to understand that these demands, openly expressed, would appear to require the writer to remain an utter fool for eternity. This is why they have until now attempted to soften their theory through various circumscriptions and poetic circumlocutions. At the same time they have tried to present their opponents as skinflints, Chichikovs, or at least Sobakevichs, (3) who cannot understand anything beautiful and who have no elevated passion for anything other than the acquisition of material goods. It is thanks to such strategies that their opinions have acquired a fairly respectable appearance, and have fooled even those who are not entirely stupid.

Mr Almazov (4) acts otherwise: he does not desire any sort of concealment or circumscription, and expresses his heartfelt ideas en toutes lettres. Not for nothing was the sincerity of criticism hailed in the Moskvitianin! (5) It is with complete sincerity that Mr Almazov declares that the practical life, or indeed any sort of life, stands in opposition to poetry, since life is a series of continuous changes, while the true poet must speak of that which is constant. 'He speaks only of that of which he is called to speak: of God, beauty, the human heart, of that which is unchanging, eternal, and which is required in all ages and by all peoples' (p. 163). Mr B.A. (6) expresses himself even more sharply on the same subject in his article 'A Look at Litterature [sic] of 1858'. Having reminded us that nowadays everyone is taking up the case for improvements in society, and that arguments about issues of real-life significance are to be heard in literature, Mr B.A. continues: 'But however salutary these efforts, however beautiful the hopes that resound in these noisy disputes, poetry will still flee from them, incapable of supporting any such bother and demands' (p. 57). Later, when attacking utilitarian literature, Mr B.A. caustically remarks: 'But worshippers of pure art must bear all this without a murmur, and must console themselves with the following rephrasing of words from Krylov's Fable 'Singers' [that is, not in fact 'Singers' but 'Musicians'] (7) when they think of the current state of our literature:

yes, they do irritate a little
but they always intend well.

And this well-turned sarcasm is directed at contemporary literature not because it is weak (it is in fact weak), but simply because it is concerned with social issues. Mr B.A. decidedly does not want to admit that there might be anything poetic in social life: he finds poetry only in the immutable, that is, in that which is static and dead. [...]