Amis fils Gets it Right
Martin Amis, from The War Against Cliche:
You proceed by quotation. Quotation is the reviewer’s [or, for our purposes, critic’s] only hard evidence. Or semi-hard evidence. Without it, in any case, criticism is a shop-queue monologue. Gallingly, for the lit crit imperialists, there is no means of distinguishing the excellent from the less excellent. The most muscular literary critics on earth have no equipment of establishing that
“Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears…”
is a better line than
“When all at once I saw a crowd…”
— and, if they did, they would have to begin by saying that the former contains a dead expletive (“do”) brought in to sustain the metre. Yet quotation is all we have. To idealize: writing is a campaign against cliche. Not just cliches of the pen but cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart. When I dispraise, I am usually quoting cliches. When I praise, I am usually quoting the opposed qualities of freshness, energy, and reverberation of voice.
Puts me in mind of what Orwell said about poetry: “There is no argument by which you can defend a poem. A poem defends itself by surviving, or it is indefensible.” Or course, even with this in mind, Orwell would then proceed in his attempts to defend poems.