257. (T.S. Eliot)

Since the age of 16 or 17, when I discovered the criticism of T.S. Eliot for myself, I’ve met with respected voices discouraging me from its allurements as well respected voices encouraging me to see it’s greatness. Among the critics and readers who have mattered most to me, Empson, Davie, Ricks, and Hill, there is a common belief in Eliot’s greatness as a critic, his … Continue reading 257. (T.S. Eliot)

254. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

Thackeray’s Vanity Fair doubles that charge: the novel is braced by a simultaneous awareness of Regency and Victorian foibles, of Regency and Victorian hypocrisy, and Regency and Victorian euphemism (I shorten early-mid Victorian to “Victorian” throughout; I refer to the Regency and also the rein of George IV as “Regency”). In that double-ness lies its singularity: a sense for the history of satirical judgment itself, … Continue reading 254. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

252. (Hart Crane)

It’s been more than fifteen years since I’ve taken a surprisingly beat-up copy of The Complete Poems of Hart Crane off the bookshelf and my memory is mostly of the feeling and of my Australian teacher’s skepticism at R.W.B. Lewis’ pronouncement on the back cover that “he ranks with Eliot as one of the two finest poets of the century; a cut above Stevens and … Continue reading 252. (Hart Crane)

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)