239. (Matthew Arnold)

Matthew Arnold suggests how a thoroughgoing Platonism might help us think through art, criticism, and more: “the application of ideas to life” in his suggestive phrase, art becomes, if we take “ideas” as a surrogate for the “ideas” that are Platonic forms, the application itself. Whereas the study of philosophy is the study of forms themselves, such as Justice, Truth, Beauty, all at a level … Continue reading 239. (Matthew Arnold)

236. (Christopher Ricks)

What is the appeal of criticism, of reading or doing it? It must rest in beguilement at judgment itself, and at the purity of judgment, as a form of thought, which art and literature represents, and which the literature of modernity, in Flaubert, in Proust, in Kafka, has fetishized, over-determined, and ironized to a remarkable extent. The possibility of judgment itself has become the occasion … Continue reading 236. (Christopher Ricks)

234. (William Empson)

William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity is an acknowledged classic of literary criticism, but it is also among the most difficult to approach and appreciate as a whole, as a coherent statement of intellectual intent, and not just as a bundle of brilliant analyses. The seven types of ambiguity, Empson tells us, are as follows: first, when words can have several possible meanings contributing to … Continue reading 234. (William Empson)

230. (William Empson)

In the blog posts lately, I’ve discussed literature as happening when an author gets a condition of judgment inside of a judgment about what is possible, given the contingencies of human bodily existence. That descriptions looks outwards: a judgment of what is possible is historically dependent, will depend, that is, on what meanings and understanding are available to an author, among which, centrally, will be … Continue reading 230. (William Empson)

205. (William Empson)

That great literature balances great forces judiciously, that it calms a turbulence of mind, and that it communicates truths that otherwise could not be communicated is never left in doubt by Empson’s criticism, but he is distinguished by never panting after the proof, by not worrying over ranking or finding the right terms of praise. The puzzle for him is in working out what his … Continue reading 205. (William Empson)

181. (William Empson)

Empson’s final words on the poem “Bacchus,” a poem about drink, in one of his statements on it: “I think it sufficiently intelligible to sympathize with.” The trouble, with the poem and with Empson’s apologetic, uneasy defense, is that the relationship between intelligibility and sympathy is not as direct as this. A middle term, “understanding,” is missing, and what “understanding” requires is what Empson in … Continue reading 181. (William Empson)

176. (Robert Burns)

It’s difficult to know what to do with Robert Burns, besides read and enjoy him, and take fortification from him; he doesn’t seem to play games with words that invite others to play along, and the poetry is disarming for criticism of a certain fervent close-reading type, less by its honesty than by its plausible claims to honesty. Maybe it’s easier, initially, to appreciate the … Continue reading 176. (Robert Burns)