"Finding their intelligence enslaved," wrote George Santayana in that remarkable essay on the "Intellectual Temper of the Age" which indicted alike evolution and pragmatism, determinism and irrationalism, "our contemporaries supposed that intelligence is essentially servile; instead of freeing it, they try to elude it. Not free enough themselves morally. . . they cannot think of rising to a detached contemplation of earthly things, and of life itself and evolution; they revert rather to sensibility, and seek some by-path of instinct or dramatic sympathy in which to wander. Having no stomach for the ultimate, the burrow themselves downwards towards the primitive." It was a just indictment of the irrationalists and the primitivists, of that whole school of thought and emotion represented variously by Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, Henry Adams and Robinson Jeffers.
In a broad way, this school subscribed to the philosophy which commanded the allegiance of London, Norris, Crane, and Dreiser and arrived at much the same conclusions, but the inspiration was somewhat different. Dreiser, whose "An American Tragedy" appeared in 1925, was probably the last of the naturalists whose determinism stemmed from Darwin and Haeckel, and the last, too, who ostentatiously confessed the influence of Nietzsche. Even as he was hammering out his iron novels, a new school of poets and novelists, who owed allegiance to Vienna rather than to Down, began to formulate a variation on Darwinian determinism. Man, as they dissected him, was still the creature of uncontrollable forces, but the forces which they recognized as sovereign were not outside but within man. Not the stars in their courses but the glands in their secretions fixed the destiny of men. Darwin and Haeckel had rejected the sovereignty of reason; Freud, Pavlov, and Jung, whose praises the new school sang, rejected its very existence and placed unreason upon the throne.
The attack upon reason, meaning, coherence, normality, grammar, and morality was the distinguishing characteristic of this new school of literature. Romanticism had challenged rationalism, and from that defiant gesture conservatives like W. C. Brownell, humanists like Irving Babbitt, and classicists like Paul Elmer More were to date the beginning of chaos while, with mounting pathos, they tried to recall a heedless generation to ethical and artistic standards that had stood the test of time. The Transcendentalists had exalted intuition over logic, insisting with Pascal that the heart has its reasons which reason does not know, and while practically the Transcendentalists observed ethical standards with utmost scrupulousness, philosophically they rejected them. Darwinian biology had confounded free will, and the new physics had unhinged the firmament itself. Yet reason had survived all these, and the rules of logic and grammar had held fast. Poe had indulged in symbolism, but he had been, too, the creator of the scientific tale of mystery; Emerson had appealed to a higher law than that framed in the laboratory but only to enhance the dignity of man. Even those novelists who read in Haeckel or Jacques Loeb the doom of free will and of progressive evolution were able to report their surrender in coherent and logical terms.
Not so the novelists and poets of what may, for convenience, be called the psychological school-Sherwood Anderson and Waldo Frank, Evelyn Scott and Gertrude Stein, E. E. Cummings and William Faulkner, Hart Crane and Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and Conrad Aiken, and a host of others equally abandoned to irrationality. For the new attack upon reason was more insidious than any that had heretofore been launched. It confronted man not with the implacable forces of Nature but with the uncontrollable forces of human nature. It left him not the victim of circumstances or environment but of vagrant impulses, and conditioned reflexes that made a mockery of everything that he had formerly called mind and spirit. . ." pg. 120,121 Henry Steele Commager "The American Mind"
- Music:Russian Circles "Empros"