229. (Erich Auerbach)

Is it possible to grow into a critic of literature? Immediately, the question ought to be revised: is it possible to grow into admiring another reader of literature? The answer is unequivocally yes, just as it is possible to grow into admiration for an author of imaginative literature. The difference lies in the means available for growth: we can learn to appreciate an author partly … Continue reading 229. (Erich Auerbach)

228. (John Donne)

Among the tissues of judgments that compose a poem will be a judgment about what a poem plays at doing (“Plays at” because poets, like novelists and playwrights, being concerned with what is possible in this bodily experience, write utterances that correspond to the fictions of narrative). The excitement of a poem can depend on the ambitions of its play, including what it judges itself … Continue reading 228. (John Donne)

227. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

The Victorians, who were much taken with “progress,” were also, unsurprisingly, devoted to imagining its opposite: being left behind. In Tennyson’s poetry, abandonment recurs as the occasion for utterance: Oenone, Mariana and Angelo, Tithonus and Aurora, The Lotos Eaters (who would like to be left behind), Tennyson and Hallam, the speaker of Locksley Hall and Amy, the speaker of Maud…these are poems about people who … Continue reading 227. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

226. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

A few generations ago, the starting point of a discussion about Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the writers of his time and place, seems to have been about the possibility or difficulty of American literature. For a long time, I couldn’t make heads or tails of that discussion; there was Fenimore Cooper, but he was an exception, either a derivative of Scott or else accomplishing something others … Continue reading 226. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

225. Suspending Words

Within David Runciman’s rapidly swirling, but nonetheless breezy, work of political science, How Democracy Ends is an ethical anxiety, and hope, that he has explored in at least one earlier work on American politics, but that emerges with a force and appeal that feels more at home in a tradition of continental philosophy. In part, this is because the idea comes into focus in his … Continue reading 225. Suspending Words

224. (Emily Dickinson)

In this third and last in a series of posts on Emily Dickinson and decorum, I’ll try to bring decorum into contact with another preoccupation of the blog in the last few months: the sustained awareness of the body that serves as limit and horizon for the an imaginative experience that, I’ve suggested, characterizes what we refer to as “literature” and even “art.” I don’t … Continue reading 224. (Emily Dickinson)

223. (Emily Dickinson)

To begin with recapitulation and self-remonstration: poetry must, in F.H. Bradley’s persuasive formulation, get within the judgment the condition of the judgment. So much is true for Donne, Milton, Clare, Browning, and Ginsberg, to sample from all directions. The interpretive task of a critic becomes not an explication of meanings or “readings” but a working out of the judgments a poet makes in the choice … Continue reading 223. (Emily Dickinson)