The City in Literature
SIMPLICITY, at least in literature, is a complex idea. Pastoral poetry, which has been written for more than two thousand years and may therefore be supposed to have some permanent appeal, takes as its aim to make simplicity complex. With this aim goes a convention: universal truths can be uttered by plebeian figures located in a stylized countryside often suggestive of the Golden Age. In traditional or sophisticated pastoral these plebeian figures are shepherds. In naive pastoral they can be dropouts huddling in a commune. Traditional pastoral is composed by self-conscious artists in a high culture, and its premise, as also its charm, lies in the very “artificiality” untrained readers dislike, forgetting or not knowing that in literature the natural is a category of artifice. As urban men who can no more retreat to the country than could shepherds read the poems celebrating their virtues, we are invited by pastoral to a game of the imagination in which every move is serious.
With time there occurs a development or decline from sophisticated to romantic pastoral, in which the conventions of the genre are begun to be taken literally, and then to naive pastoral, in which they are taken literally. Yet in all these versions of pastoral there resides some structure of feeling that seems to satisfy deep psychic needs. Through its artifice of convention, the pastoral toys with yet speaks to a nagging doubt concerning the artifice called society. It asks a question men need not hurry to answer: Could we not have knowledge without expulsion, civilization without conditions?
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