Words: “The Bastard Muses … Propaganda, Sentimentality, and Pornography”

Cleanth Brooks - quote Bastard Muses

In the age of social media when we are overwhelmed by too much information and too many ultra compelling stories from questionable sources with untold or dubious purposes, it’s helpful to remember Cleanth Brooks’ warning about the “Bastard Muses ” and be wary of “Propaganda, Sentimentality, and Pornography.”

Excerpt from Literature in the Age of Technology11th annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, 1985:

“Such is the service rendered by great literature throughout history. It provides dramatic accounts of men and women in conflict with nature, and with other human beings, and often with themselves…

The conflict within the heart — the tug between two loyaities, two evils, or what appear to be two equally precious goods — is probably the most instructive of all…

The humanities cannot be eliminated from our culture, but they can be debased. They cannot be eliminated because as long as mankind remains human, his yearning for the song, the story, and the drama cannot be suppressed. People are interested in accounts of human behavior, in suspense and conflict of interests, in the expression of emotion, in motivation. If they don’t have Shakespeare or Jane Austen or Melville to read…

… when the true muses retire from the scene, the bastard muses are ready to take over. Their names are Propaganda, Sentimentality, and Pornography. The shared trait that proves their sisterhood is this: all three are bent on distorting the human dimension. Propaganda does so by pleading, sometimes unscrupulously, for a special cause or issue at the expense of total truth. Sentimentality does so by working up emotional responses unwarranted by and in excess of the occasion. Pornography does so by focusing upon one powerful human drive at the expense of the total human personality. In short, the spurious muses offer partial and biased accounts of life in its fullness. Their productions do not nourish, but are debilitating.”

Cleanth Brooks - quote Bastard Muses~~ Cleanth Brooks, Literature in the Age of Technology

(1906 – 1994)
Husband, teacher, author
Philosopher, literary critic



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