194. (Erich Auerbach)

Literature only happens at a distance from the ideology it depends on for its making; that is why ideological critique of any literary work is possible, without our having to cease reading it as literature, and yet without doing literary criticism. In any work of literature, that is, there is an unresolved debate–playful or savage–between some set of claims to what is and to what … Continue reading 194. (Erich Auerbach)

193. (Marius Bewley)

Marius Bewley is probably little remembered nowadays; a literary critic of the mid-century, whose critical principles were indebted mostly to Lionel Trilling and F.R. Leavis, he wrote mostly, and most penetratingly, on American literature. His book length studies of the American novel, The Eccentric Design and The Complex Fate, are concerned with authors from Cooper to Fitzgerald, with special attention in the latter to Hawthorne … Continue reading 193. (Marius Bewley)

187. (Charles Williams)

When anyone remembers Charles Williams these days, it is probably for one of two reasons. Either they know of Williams through his association with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He was a brief but dazzling member of the Inklings and features centrally in the enjoyable recent biography of that group, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski. Otherwise, they know of Williams … Continue reading 187. (Charles Williams)

181. (William Empson)

Empson’s final words on the poem “Bacchus,” a poem about drink, in one of his statements on it: “I think it sufficiently intelligible to sympathize with.” The trouble, with the poem and with Empson’s apologetic, uneasy defense, is that the relationship between intelligibility and sympathy is not as direct as this. A middle term, “understanding,” is missing, and what “understanding” requires is what Empson in … Continue reading 181. (William Empson)

171. (T.S. Eliot)

  Among Eliot’s staunchest and nimblest readers, Christopher Ricks was unrelenting in his 1978 attack on Eliot’s late essay, “What is Minor Poetry?”  I offer first a series of quotations from Ricks’ piece, published in Ploughshares: Eliot is probably the only important critic who has bent himself to—or on—the distinction between major and minor, and yet even this master of elusiveness found himself out-eluded. For his … Continue reading 171. (T.S. Eliot)

166. (Christopher Ricks)

Ricks’ idiosyncratic, essentially inimitable (though it is irresistible, and can be valuable, to imitate its more superficial mannerisms and habits) critical intelligence is manifest nowhere more than in his writing so well on a poetical figure that he was first to discover: the anti-pun. The term features centrally in his essay on Robert Lowell, where he hears echoes of violence in words that Lowell intimates … Continue reading 166. (Christopher Ricks)