215. (Marcel Proust)

In the fifth volume of Recherche, The Captive, Baron de Charlus refers to a visit he has recently paid to the famed writer, Bergotte, who has been for some time dead. Even after reading the explanatory note, I wanted to believe that the Baron was supposed to be shown in a lie, but even the aging Charlus would not commit such a blunder. Neither, though, … Continue reading 215. (Marcel Proust)

213. (Marcel Proust)

Aristotle, whose “hexis” is not passive habit, but whose thought of human happiness and nature turns on habituation, tells us that tragedy differs from history in that the latter is concerned with the actual and the former with the probable. By probable, he is taken to mean and likely did mean, something that could have taken place, given what we know through probabilistic reasoning. But … Continue reading 213. (Marcel Proust)

206. (Vladimir Nabokov)

Coming to grips with Dostoevsky at all means coming to grips with the other half of the burden of art, philosophy, the study of history. I’ve always found his novels extraordinarily painful to read, and been inclined to think Nabokov’s assessment must be in part right, even while recognizing that Nabokov was being insolent and disingenuous in not going further than he does in examining … Continue reading 206. (Vladimir Nabokov)

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)

164. (Herman Melville)

When T.S. Eliot characterized that peculiar mental life we and he call wit, he had in mind a metaphysical poet of the seventeenth century, Andrew Marvell, for whom “wit” would have encompassed “intelligence”; for Eliot, though, the wit of the seventeenth century was the highest species of intelligence: With our eye still on Marvell, we can say that wit is not erudition; it is sometimes … Continue reading 164. (Herman Melville)