Discussing the way fairy tales have moved in and out of oral culture over time, Marine Warner cites the medieval story of Saint Dympna, which provided an archetype for a whole category of tales:
"this is a story which enjoyed a wide circulation in different languages and was directed at audiences of different social registers and occupations, from the tavern to the parish church. The migration, from the vernacular to Latin and back again, itself casts doubt on glib distinctions between high and low culture."
I mention this mainly to highlight that last point. I'd been reading an article on The Argotist by Adam Fieled: Century XX After Four Quartets. This article claims that T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" is the high-water mark of twentieth century poetry in English, and that nothing that came after measures up to it; a proposition so absurd that I'm still not sure it isn't a joke. Field's argument hinges around the notion that Eliot's poem is an example of "High Art", and that the motley crew of American poets who came after failed to achieve this level. What are we to make of such an argument? We could remind Fieled that the playhouses of Elizabethan England were regarded as vulgar entertainment by contemporaries. Plays were barely regarded as literature, and Ben Jonson was roundly mocked for publishing his collected plays in book form. Fieled would no doubt regard these plays as the highest of High Art. As for "The Four Quartets", more on that dreary sermon in a later post.