The Business of Self-Betrayal

from Marc Robinson's review of The Long Voyage: Selected letters of Malcolm Cowley, 1915 - 1987, edited by Hans Bak:

After reading Malcolm Cowley's first collection of verse, Blue Juniata (1929), Conrad Aiken asked: "What do you think or feel which is secretly you? Shamefully you? Intoxicatingly you? Drunkenly or soberly or lyrically you?" In the poems, to Aiken's eye, "this doesn't come out", their creator having "avoided the final business of self-betrayal". 
"[Malcolm Cowley:] It's really easier to give your life to a cause than to hold out for a particular sentence that embodies your way of looking at life -- yet if you surrender on the wording of a sentence, and another sentence, pretty soon you find yourself living for the opposite cause to the one you had intended to die for." As a description of "self-betrayals" possible in style alone, this can hardly be bettered.


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