205. (William Empson)

That great literature balances great forces judiciously, that it calms a turbulence of mind, and that it communicates truths that otherwise could not be communicated is never left in doubt by Empson’s criticism, but he is distinguished by never panting after the proof, by not worrying over ranking or finding the right terms of praise. The puzzle for him is in working out what his … Continue reading 205. (William Empson)

203. (Aristotle)

Aristotle begins his Art of Rhetoric How do we reason in general about what is possible, probable, not necessary; he approaches rhetoric not as a determinate science, not as a particular domain of knowledge and judgment, but as a domain of knowledge and judgment that, determined by any number of situations, is nonetheless not determined by a set of knowledge claims (though it may often … Continue reading 203. (Aristotle)

202. (William Wordsworth)

Unlike Samson, whose strength returns with his hair and whose blindness, though indignity and infirmity, is not absolute impotence, Wordsworth’s lack of visionary powers seems to the poet in the Intimations Ode to be a total loss. It takes little effort to read Wordsworth’s “Ode” as his response to Milton’s Samson Agonistes, as much in its premises as in its verbal texture: Samson, whose capacity for … Continue reading 202. (William Wordsworth)

190. (Sebastian Rödl)

Close kin in to his near-simultaneous monograph Self-Consciousness, Sebastian Rödl’s Categories of the Temporal: An Inquiry into the Forms of the Finite Intellect (publ. in German, 2005; in English, translated by Sybille Salewski, 2012) is a book that, despite its daunting title, non-Philosophers would enjoy. The reach of its ambitions, its elegance and efficiency of argument, and the sense of style born of necessity and urgency rather than self-awareness or … Continue reading 190. (Sebastian Rödl)

188. (William Shakespeare)

Many of Shakespeare’s plays involve a recurring movement or transformation, which I will describe in terms that are broadly metaphysical and mostly instinctive. Backing them up, explaining them, might happen in some later posts. For now, I’ll set out the nature of the shift. The transformation happens in the plays when the superfluous is recognized to be irreplaceable. Or rather, that recognition happens in the … Continue reading 188. (William Shakespeare)

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)

182. (Herman Melville)

Like many exciting periods in literary history, the middle of the nineteenth century saw in American authors intense and often implicit debates over how to read the world; literature is often, for Emerson, for Hawthorne, for Melville, for Thoreau, not a representation of the world, but a transcription and guide to how it is to be read. Hawthorne explored the method of typology, the logic … Continue reading 182. (Herman Melville)