The Writer And Commitment,
Seeker & Warburg. 25s.
it is a brave man who will confront contemporary literature armed only with this unwieldly weapon, the word “commitment”. My reservations about entering the discussion in this way are not dispelled by John Mander’s interesting examination of the limitation of the term in his first chapter to The Writer And Commitment. He is aware that there are other questions involved in the relation of literature to society than “showing the flag” or joining the Party; that it is not merely “commitment to a concept or a cause”; that commitment is more relevant to the artist’s work than to his life. Mander’s purpose is to enquire into “the possible meaning of the term in relation to certain English writers of the past thirty years”. Since many of these writers have been “committed” in the obvious sense—from Auden to Wesker—the examination seems perfectly legitimate. Yet the doubts continue to nag.
The word “commitment” was taken over into English from Sartre, but no theory of literature was provoked to life by it. Was this so important? I think it was. For without such a theory, there was little to prevent the term being used as a simple, crude rallying cry. It is a pity that Mander does not offer a more detailed analysis of the genesis of the term in its English setting, particularly in the post-1956 period, for this might have helped to clarify some of the confusion.
The source text was Lindsay Anderson’s “Stand Up! Stand Up!”, published originally in Sight And Sound and reprinted in the first issue of ULR. But here the confusion begins. Anderson’s piece was a clarion call to critics. It asked them to reject the notion of the neutrality of criticism, and to declare in more forthright terms the point of view from which judgments were being made. A view of the cinema—and of literature—was implicit in the article. The cinema or the novel or the drama, Anderson appeared to be arguing, deals with human situations and values. The task of the critic is to engage those values openly with his own “commitments” declared.