Kenneth Wain and the Lifelong Engagement with Education
14. Tall Buildings, Taller Orders, or, the Immodesty of Literature
In 1968, Kenneth Wain published Tall Buildings, a collection of 13 short stories that dates from a period that precedes his formal training in philosophy but which is nevertheless revealing about the man and his thought. It is revealing, too, about sociocultural and literary contexts prevailing in Malta at the time, not least in its demonstration of how a generation of well-read young men and women discovered in literature—both the received international tradition on which they grew up and that emergent local strain of individual talent that they sought to assert—an outlet for the expression of that angst that is the birthright of youth in any age but which, in 1960s Malta, burnt with an intensity further energized by post-Independence hopes and postcolonial hang ups. Those were contexts open to the suggestion, insuppressible in any aspiring writer, that the time was right for a literary revival. Fictional and poetic chronicling, it seemed, had a part to play in the representation and reshaping of contemporary “culture and society”—to use the phrase that Raymond Williams (1958) had, 10 years earlier, made so influential for Wain’s generation as it sought to rethink the relations between literature and the sociocultural, between politics and the history of ideas, and also, quite simply, between thought and action. It is against that backdrop that Tall Buildings is discussed here, in an essay that also considers (a) Wain’s relation with the literary, (b) the collection’s capacity to prompt reflections on broader correspondences between the literary...
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