In any case, we must make no mistake as to the difficulties such a revolution will encounter. They are considerable. The entire caste system of our literary life (from publisher to the humblest reader, including bookseller and critic) has no choice but to oppose the unknown form that is attempting to establish itself. The minds best disposed to the idea of a necessary transformation, those most willing to countenance and even welcome the values of the experiment, remain, nonetheless, the heirs of a tradition. A new form will always seem more or less an absence of any form at all, since it is unconsciously judged by reference to the consecrated forms. A Canadian critic dismisses contemporary craft as “certified by use of fragmentation, layered texts, collage, and the embrace of—why not say it?—nonsense. [A t]heoretically self-pleasuring […] zoo of rampant esotericisms.” This brief judgment is to be found in an anthology of poetry, evidently written by a specialist.
The newborn work will always be regarded as a monster, even by those who find experiment fascinating. There will be some curiosity, of course, some gestures of interest, always some provision for the future. And some praise; though what is sincere will always be addressed to the vestiges of the familiar, to all those bonds from which the new work has not yet broken free and which desperately seek to imprison it in the past.
For if the norms of the past serve to measure the present, they also serve to construct it. The writer herself, despite her desire for independence, is situated within an intellectual culture and a literature that can only be those of the past. It is impossible for her to escape altogether from this tradition of which she is the product. Sometimes the very elements she has tried hardest to oppose seem, on the contrary, to flourish more vigorously than ever in the very work by which she hoped to destroy them; and she will be congratulated, of course, with relief for having cultivated them so zealously.
Hence it will be the literary specialists (novelists, poets or critics, or over-assiduous readers) who have the hardest time dragging themselves out of its rut.
Even the least conditioned observer is unable to see the world around her through entirely unprejudiced eyes. Not, of course, that I have in mind the naïve concern for objectivity which the analysts of the (subjective) soul find it so easy to smile at. Objectivity in the ordinary sense of the word—total impersonality of observation—is all too obviously an illusion. But freedom from observation should be possible, and yet it is not. At every moment, a continuous fringe of culture (psychology, ethics, metaphysics, etc.) is added to words, giving them a less alien aspect, one that is more comprehensible, more reassuring. Sometimes the camouflage is complete: a word vanishes from our mind, supplanted by the emotions which supposedly produced it, and we remember a landscape as austere or calm without being able to evoke a single outlines, a single determining element. Even if we immediately think, “That’s literary,” we don’t try to react against the thought we accept the fact that what is literary (the word has become pejorative) functions like a grid or screen set with bits of different coloured glass that fracture our field of vision into tiny assimilable facets.
And if something resists this systematic appropriation of the visual, if an element of the world breaks the glass, without finding any place in the interpretative screen, we can always make use of our convenient category of “the experimental” in order to absorb this awkward residue.