It would be near impossible to write an inspired text while being critical of it - as if a writer could simultaneously pen creative ideas and mark any repetition, lack of clarity, sloppiness in red. So does it not follow that if an age, not just a text, is bent on being critical, it is less likely to be creative? Thus conjectures S.G. Ward, in his essay in Aesthetic Papers. Modern man is too conscious and doubtful to be creative.
Historic criticism was taught to Thucydides by Clio; it is this approach that is also said to differentiate East from West. Clio, the muse of history, was daughter to Zeus and the goddess of memory. It is curious to think from today's perspective about a muse of history, when it seems that we have voluntarily stepped into a Lethe of our making: Lapham's Quarterly, in this context, is presented as the antidote to buzzfeed, "a highly selective search engine for the wisdom of the past" - for, as ancient texts are made available to us online, our thirst for such knowledge diminishes.
But many popular and contemporary sources that try to bring us the past bring us pieces of the past - like Ward criticizes the formless "pieces" in journalism, "whereof no whole could be constructed!" By contrast, and ideally, the review is supposed to "hold a middle place between the buzz of the newspapers and the mature judgement of the historian". How ideal it would be to paint a bigger picture, and better yet, one that sings freely - with the poesis Heidegger found lacking in a technological society.
What is keeping us from such song... Ward writes it is the illusion that "harmonizing the passions" that "foundation of all poetry, dream of youth" can be achieved "viz a destructive criticism of the old, and a theory of a new social state based not on experience or criticism, but upon 'exact science'". Oh that pesky "exact science"! As if man was the automaton Heidegger feared would result.
But we are not automatons, and meanwhile, the wind is blowing all the beautiful yellow leaves outside to the ground, bringing winter close. And I think back to Clio, and notions of authorship of the past: the author was to be a mouthpiece to messages that belonged to more people than himself.
I think, too, of how all of the muses were born of memory - how the Greek word for muse resembles the Sanskrit mantra. If the muse is the "key to life" and words capable of "creative transformation" - which muses' names, which words do we want to repeat throughout our lives? When we look to find those words, will we look to the past?
Ward uses the word "reconstructive" a lot in his essay; to reconstruct sounds promising, it implies some sort of critical selection, and building from what has already been established, yet also leaves space for further inspiration.