The CentralrnIntelligence Agencyrnby ].0. TaternEssays of Four Decadesrnby Allen TaternWilmington, DE: ISl Books;rn640 pp., $29.95rnThere are historical reasons —historicalrnin more than one sense —whyrnwe should be glad to see this work back inrnprint. Since I can so well rememberrnowning the editions of 1959 and 1968rnand absorbing their contents, the thoughtrnthat these essays will reach new readers inrnthe new millennium is a pleasant one.rnAnd that in itself is remarkable in ourrnnew age.rnl l i e first historical reason that comesrnto mind is that these essays, written fromrnthe earl- 30’s to the late 60’s, are a recordrnof the intellectual progress of one of thernmost remarkable writers and personalitiesrnin the story of American literature. Asrna member of the Fugitives, a leader of thernNashville Agrarians, a distinguished poetrnand even a novelist, as a professor andrnman of letters, Allen Tate made his markrnin the unfolding of the New Criticism.rnThese essa’s record, among other things,rnthe establishment of a “weak modernist”rnview of literature that has been the mostrninfluential way of reading and teaching literaturernin the last centur)’. This meansrnthat flie next historical reason for readingrnthe essas is to absorb their hedged ahistoricism.rnhi “Miss Emily and the Bibliographers,”rnthe critic concludes (as he dismissesrnthe sterility of bibliography andrn”the historical method”), “[T]he literaturernof the past lives in the literature of flie presentrnand nowhere else; that it is all presentrnliterature.” Yes, but we have noted thatrnthis view, a radical one, is qualified.rnAnd this brings us to a contradiction, Irnhope —namely that these essays are alsornvaluable, or ever more invaluable, forrntheir historical consciousness —I did notrnsav “historical method.” Or perhaps Irnshould say that the historical consciousnessrnis a philosophical one, or even a remarkablernsophistication:rnI have wished only to observe thatrnbefore the Christian dispensation,rnand well into it, the professors ofrnspecial knowledge tried to be responsiblernfor the public use of theirrntechnicjues. We have not, so far asrnI know, a record of any of their reasonsrnfor what we should considerrnan illiberal suppression of the truth.rnBut if we think of the Greek worldrnof thought as having lasted aboutrnnine hundred years, down to therngreat pupils of Plotinus—Jamblichusrnand Porphyrins—we mavrnsee in it a sense of the whole of lifernthat must not be too quickly disturbedrnfor the procreation of specialrnscientific interests.rnI would call such a perspective indispensable,rnif I did not know that in fact it hasrnbeen dispensed with by the educationalrnsystem of this country. Therefore, wernmust today read Tate’s 50 pieces as the}-rnhave not been read before —not so muchrnas instruction as a record of losses. Hernhad already implied as much when he insistedrnon the necessitv of cultural perspective,rnconcluding his “UnderstandingrnModern Poetr” as follows;rn[MJodern poetr’ is difficult becausernwe have lost the art of readingrnany poetr’ at all that will notrnread itself to us; that thus our troublernis a fundamental problem ofrneducation, which may be morernfundamental than education. Wernmay be approaching the time whenrnwe shall no longer be able to readrnanything and shall be subject tornpassive conditioning. LJntil thisrnshall happen, howexer, we mightrnpossibly begin to look upon languagernas a field of stud, not as anrnimpressionistic debauch. If wernwish to understand anything, therernis only the hard way; if we wish tornunderstand Donne and Eliot, perhapsrnwe had better begin, voung, tornread the classical languages, and arnlittle later the philosophies. Therernis probably no other way.rnSo yes, the literary interest is paramountrnin these essays, and there is littlernneed to cite the titles and subjects andrnvarious treatments of poetic and functionalrntopics. The word “tension” mustrnremind us of a certain examination of poetr)’,rnand the names of Emily Dickinson,rnEdgar Allan Poe, John Donne, HartrnCrane, and even Longinus must remindrnus of Tate’s essays about fliem. Then, ofrncourse, there is the matter of Tate’s essaysrnon the South, which everyone knows andrnquotes and attempts to refute. These arernindispensable as w ell, and like the literaryessays,rnthey not only instruct us but forcernus to consider the kind of man it was whornVulture Acresrnby Timothy MurphyrnHe started with half a pasturernand a grove of Soil Bank ashrnwhen farms were selling fasterrnafter a market crash.rnHe posted “Vulture Acres”rnby the dirt tract to his shackrnon land no other takersrnsought at the auction block.rnLeasing fields from neighborsrnwho were old or going broke.rnhe shouldered barnvard laborsrnas an ox shoulders a yoke.rnHe built a cedar smokehousernwhere his culled sows were curedrnand added a redwood ranch housernwhen his cash flow was assured.rnBut he also bought the scripturernthat told him all was dust,rnhowever lush the pasturernwhere someone else went bust.rnJANUARY 2001/33rnrnrn