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)

105. (Thomas Carlyle)

A featherless bipedal puzzle, but with wings: that Carlyle seems a distinctly queer, yet central, Victorian voice; that the word “queer” proves nebulous in theory and evasive in practice. Let me begin with an orientation. Rather than turn to Foucault and Butler, I’ll enlist two social scientist cousins, one an anthropologist and the other a sociologist, to characterize what “queer” might mean: First, the sociologist, … Continue reading 105. (Thomas Carlyle)

99. (William Empson)

Whatever else its relationship to genre, wit is a particular way of coping with the world’s fragility, its tendency to waste and isolation. Wit happens when the intelligence detaches itself from a situation in which that fragility is keenly felt and is able, by virtue of that detachment, not only to extract from it those dispersed and discordant elements that threaten to waste and isolate life, … Continue reading 99. (William Empson)