175. (Lord Byron)

An answer to the question, “Why does Don Juan incite laughter?” will not take the form of verbal criticism, because verbal criticism, the close analysis of language, will murder the life of the jokes by dissection even as it succeeds in revealing what cognitive elements the jokes arrange and order. The question needs to be approached differently, and I’ve made notes towards doing so: but the … Continue reading 175. (Lord Byron)

161. (William Gaddis)

Though The Recognitions may have overwhelmed more powerfully, submerging and clinging with an undercurrent, JR (so far; nearing a half-way mark) is the more astonishing novel, for the technical challenge it confronts, overcomes, and redeems—redemption being necessary because a novel depending on a limitation of form or technique alone needs, for success, to prove that the challenge opened a new horizon, accommodated feeling and thought … Continue reading 161. (William Gaddis)

152. (Wallace Stevens)

When you start out with a feeling of alienation—from an unspoken, blank, or meaningless past—from a mass of others, or even single others, in the present–or from a future defined by a fraudulent and thin promise—the risks are either cynical withdrawal, refusing to believe that the estrangement can be overcome, or else sentimentality, the insistence that a momentary, blazing common feeling be allowed to outshine … Continue reading 152. (Wallace Stevens)

142. (Marguerite Yourcenar)

These days especially, everyone ought to know the closing paragraphs of the opening essay, “Faces of History in the Historia Augusta” (1958), in Yourcenar’s collection The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays: It is not for us, so myopic when it comes to evaluating our own civilization, its errors, its chances of survival, and the opinion of it the future will have, to be astonished that … Continue reading 142. (Marguerite Yourcenar)

132. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

What to do with meter? The question for poets is simple: employ it, reinvent it, or leave it alone. For critics, the question is answered with greater difficulty, though critics might be said to fall into three corresponding camps: employing it (by relating it to the poem’s subject matter, or investing it with political and cultural significance), reinvent it (devising new schemes and notations for … Continue reading 132. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)

127. (George Eliot)

This post will open with George Eliot and then drift, possibly to return. For a starting point, consider one of the most beguiling and frustrating of passages in nineteenth-century British literature: Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great … Continue reading 127. (George Eliot)