243. (Franz Kafka)

Kafka’s The Trial revolves around the parable of the law; it is the hermeneutic puzzle that promises to be a key to the larger work, though no doubt others have approached the situation conversely, whereby the larger puzzle of the novel is the key for the parable. Whether or not it is appropriate to handle a puzzle as if it were a key, it demands scrutiny: … Continue reading 243. (Franz Kafka)

238. (Matthew Arnold)i

One of Matthew Arnold’s most famous, or infamous, phrases as a critic comes in “The Study of Poetry” where he mysteriously describes poetry as consisting in “the application of ideas to life.” Because of the frequency of “ideas” in our daily conversation, it is easy to overlook the peculiarity of that word, along with the word “application.” It is also easy to take “idea” to … Continue reading 238. (Matthew Arnold)i

234. (William Empson)

William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity is an acknowledged classic of literary criticism, but it is also among the most difficult to approach and appreciate as a whole, as a coherent statement of intellectual intent, and not just as a bundle of brilliant analyses. The seven types of ambiguity, Empson tells us, are as follows: first, when words can have several possible meanings contributing to … Continue reading 234. (William Empson)

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)

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)