196. (Marcel Proust)

In trying to describe the relationship between instinct and intention, convention and originality, which characterizes literary creation, few notions are as helpful as Pierre Bourdieu’s description of “habitus.” It does not do any special work but it clears a space between two extremes as no other term does; it prevents us from moving too strongly to the notion that an individual artist is essentially an … Continue reading 196. (Marcel Proust)

150. (Cao Xueqin)

This morning, I deleted, for the first time, one of the posts on this blog, the most recent, on Marguerite Yourcenar. Then, meandering through Easter Sunday with a book, I finally finished, somewhat exhausted, the second volume in Cao Xueqin’s The Story of the Stone.  It’s an extraordinary novel, in five volumes, not only like Proust because it spans thousands of pages, but because of the … Continue reading 150. (Cao Xueqin)

58. (Leo Tolstoy)

Rather than say anything about Tolstoy, I want to try to explain what I think would be the sort of criticism on Tolstoy I’d like to read. I’ve always been averse to criticism about characters; too often, it feels like gossip. But Tolstoy is set apart from everyone else by his characters. They seem like real people. But saying that, the criticism rings hollow, both … Continue reading 58. (Leo Tolstoy)

57. (Willa Cather)

Willa Cather invented a new sort of novel, as innovative as anything by her modernist peers, and distinguished from theirs in several ways—including, I think, how much her novel lets her successfully do. She has more than two great novels, but two of the indisputably great ones, Death Comes for the Archbishop and its precursor in publication and preoccupation The Professor’s House, stand apart and together for … Continue reading 57. (Willa Cather)

20. (Marcel Proust)

Still reading, slowly, the second volume of Recherche. I’ve leapt from the Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright to the new James Grieve translation without wincing. Reading today, I came to a passage that seemed at first to go against what I’d written earlier, in post 14. (John Ruskin), about Proust and the hearts of others. There, I’d quoted the narrator blissful in the thought of absorption into his grandmother’s heart, … Continue reading 20. (Marcel Proust)

14. (John Ruskin)

The twentieth-century author most often summoned as the sibylline guide to the depths of Ruskin’s oeuvre is Proust. Guy Davenport, who might also be called on for a tour of those often dead-end, more often unstably provisional Ruskinian labyrinths, writes  of the French Master and the Victorian Sage: Ruskin may have also shown Proust, by bad example, how to write an enormous book into which everything … Continue reading 14. (John Ruskin)