Allen Tate

I’ve had by my bedside for a few weeks an anthology of essays by Allen Tate, one of those in the orbit of the Fugitives and Agrarians at Vanderbilt in 1920s and 30s. Here are a couple of excerpts from “The Man of Letters in the Modern World” (his Phi Beta Kappa address delivered at the University of Minnesota, 1952):

“[A]t our own critical moment, when all languages are being debased by the techniques of mass control, the man of letters…has an immediate responsibility, to other men no less than to himself, for the vitality of language. He must distinguish the difference between mere communication…and the rediscovery of the human condition in the living arts. He must discriminate and defend the difference between mass communication, for the control of men, and the knowledge of man which literature offers us for human participation.”

And later:

“It is a tragedy of contemporary society that so much of democratic social theory reaches us in the language of ‘drive,’ ‘stimulus,’ and ‘response.’ This is not the language of freemen, it is the language of slaves. The language of freemen substitutes for these words, respectively, end, choice, and discrimination. Here are two sets of analogies, the one sub-rational and servile, the other rational and free…

In the triad of end, choice, and discrimination, [the man of letters’] particular responsibility is for the last; for it is by means of discrimination, through choice, towards an end, that the general intelligence acts. The general intelligence is the intelligence of the man of letters: he must not be committed to the illiberal specializations that the nineteenth century has proliferated into the modern world: specializations in which means are divorced from ends, action from sensibility, matter from mind, society from the individual, religion from moral agency, love from lust, poetry from thought, communion from experience, and mankind in the community from men in the crowd. There is literally no end to this list of dissociations because there is no end, yet in sight, to the fragmentation of the western mind.


5 responses to “Allen Tate

  1. Hey, I just stumbled across your site and was surprised to find my name linked. I guess that’s just further proof that there’s always someone watching what you do! It seems that you’re a pretty big reader, so I thought I might direct you to my little publishing company, as we’ll have some good stuff coming out this summer: (not to shamelessly self promote or anything…)

  2. Thanks for stopping by.

    I’m aware of the publishing venture. Of particular interest, to me at any rate, is the volume of Communion meditations that you have in the works. We need more of exactly that sort of thing, if you ask me.

    Anyway, do you know Dan Greeson? I found your blog through him.



  3. I do know Dan, although I haven’t kept up with him too well since his years at FC—just off and on through pleonast. For a while, when he was still in high school, he wrote for my other venture (

    I’m really excited about ‘Beneath the Cross’ as well, although I have had the fortune of reading it through in the draft forms a time or two. With any luck, that will be available in early June. I really do think it will be an asset to many people… I just hope that, if it is successful in sales, it doesn’t end up being turned into some sort of catechism. That’d be unfortunate.

  4. Well, I hardly expect that to happen. We’re not catechism people, really. (At least, we don’t write them down!)

    Anyway, I gather that you are a few years out of FC and now in publishing. How do you like it? I am “in publishing” myself. I am a copy editor here:

    Funny, now that I say that I’m going back and looking at my Allen Tate post and noticing that it’s riddled with typos. Sigh. Hopefully, I can chalk that up to having two newborns occupying my attention!

  5. Yeah, I was at FC from 97-99 for the AA, off to USF for a BA, and then back as an employee (still am). While working here, I took Bible classes and got the biblical studies degree. The publishing this is a relatively new development, and is still really small, but I’m enjoying it so far. We’ll see where it goes from here, I guess.

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