226. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

A few generations ago, the starting point of a discussion about Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the writers of his time and place, seems to have been about the possibility or difficulty of American literature. For a long time, I couldn’t make heads or tails of that discussion; there was Fenimore Cooper, but he was an exception, either a derivative of Scott or else accomplishing something others … Continue reading 226. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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)

223. (Emily Dickinson)

To begin with recapitulation and self-remonstration: poetry must, in F.H. Bradley’s persuasive formulation, get within the judgment the condition of the judgment. So much is true for Donne, Milton, Clare, Browning, and Ginsberg, to sample from all directions. The interpretive task of a critic becomes not an explication of meanings or “readings” but a working out of the judgments a poet makes in the choice … Continue reading 223. (Emily Dickinson)

222. (Emily Dickinson)

This post is the second of a series of evolving sketches about “decorum” in poetry. This is the messiest of the bunch, conceptually and historically. Dickinson was the provocation rather than the central subject. But it gets to her in the end, as does the next post, which is again, on Emily Dickinson, hopefully in much clearer terms. One of the pleasures of Tudor poetry … Continue reading 222. (Emily Dickinson)

217. (Ishmael Reed)

Even though it is frequent in contemporary fiction, present-tense narration is not easily justified. People and place are no more immediate in present than in past tense; time progresses and spins out, back on itself, and suddenly forward, in any tense. The present tense, maybe, pretends that something is not settled, that the fixity of the past has been surmounted by the possibilities carried along … Continue reading 217. (Ishmael Reed)

193. (Marius Bewley)

Marius Bewley is probably little remembered nowadays; a literary critic of the mid-century, whose critical principles were indebted mostly to Lionel Trilling and F.R. Leavis, he wrote mostly, and most penetratingly, on American literature. His book length studies of the American novel, The Eccentric Design and The Complex Fate, are concerned with authors from Cooper to Fitzgerald, with special attention in the latter to Hawthorne … Continue reading 193. (Marius Bewley)

169. (Willa Cather)

At least in her four masterpieces–My Antonia, The Professor’s House, Death Comes for the Archbishop, and Shadows on the Rock–Willa Cather is as expansive, sensitive, generous, and understanding towards human life as a novelist could be.  To plot more than she does, it comes to feel, would be to set an agenda; and she has none, though her characters, and the habits and traditions they live by, … Continue reading 169. (Willa Cather)