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literary criticism
Topic Started: Feb 5 2009, 05:15 PM (2,374 Views)
Don Birnam
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I recently read The Death of the Critic by Ronan McDonald which, honestly, wasn't very good. He seems to lament the death of the public critic, yet he either ignores or mentions only in passing James Wood, Zadie Smith, Harold Bloom, Michael Dirda, Michiko Kakutani, John Baville, Anthony Lane, Alex Ross, John Updike etc. To mention the self-contradiction when it comes to discussions about newspaper/magazine criticism vs blogs and internet criticism. Criticism, it seems to me, is far from 'dead.'

I personally am an avid reader of James Wood, who is somewhat demonized in the blogosphere. Say what you will about him, but he's a serious, intelligent critic and a brilliant close reader. I miss Sontag and already miss Updike; I look forward to Zadie Smith's Fail Better and I wish John Banville would publish some of his criticism in book form. I enjoy Bloom, though he seems to have exhausted himself by now, no? Outside the literary fields I am grateful for the existence of Anthony Lane and Alex Ross.
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johnnywalkitoff
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Welcome back, Don. And, as I see it, the public critic has become the writer of some stature, the Updikes, Banvilles, Zadie Smith ( a writer, even one I don't love, goes further with me in discounting or praising a book, then someone who has never tried or can't do what they critique)...we will see the death of literary criticism when we see the death of literature and we will see that (even though people are clamouring that literature is already dead) when humanity kills itself.
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nnyhav
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just can't seem to get any traction hereabouts (prior threads derailed here and here)

but I don't want to start yet another, so here goes
Auerbach in Istanbul by Kaya Genç
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Heteronym
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I think there's a big difference between professional book reviewers and literary critics, even if their purpose and methods intersect on some points. But for me James Woods, when he's reviewing the next recent novel, and chastising it for not being real or truthful enough, is doing very little of what literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin did in The Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics.
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JeffrytheCat
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Been reading Paul de Man of late, specifically Blindess and Insight. It seems I can't help being torn between his apparent charity as a critic and reader—always carefully and thoroughly explicating the texts he engages—and his tendency to subtly disengage himself from the position I thought he was occupying. In "Criticism and Crisis," for example, I'm under the impression that de Man is laying the grounds for a discussion of the crisis to which Continental criticism began to reply in the 1960s. Then, in a crucial turn, he writes:
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These texts can be called romantic . . . . But one hesitates to use terms such as nostalgia or desire to designate this kind of consciousness, for all nostalgia or desire is desire of something or for someone; here, the consciousness does not result from the absence of something, but consists of the presence of a nothingness. Poetic language names this void with ever-renewed understanding and, like Rousseau's longing, it never tires of naming it again. This persistent naming is what we call literature.
What?! "Criticism and Crisis" isn't about criticism or crisis? No, de Man says, it is instead about the void that is literature, the nothingness that is the well-spring of poetry and that Continental, as well as American, criticism cannot face.

Over and over, de Man does this; pulling the rug out from under my proverbial feet.
Edited by JeffrytheCat, Feb 3 2014, 09:03 PM.
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nnyhav
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^ I've only read his Shelley bit in Decon & Crit but he's slippery (unreliable isn't just for narrators)
came up lately in a couple of Chron bits:
http://chronicle.com/article/Beauty-BonesTheory-at/144201/ adding another such to
http://chronicle.com/article/The-Many-Betrayals-of-Paul-de/142505/

me I gotta get to Edward Said's Orientalism
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John Gargo
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I love reading criticism (that and includes the "book reviewer" critic who, at his or her best, can be just as nuanced as the academic ones) but it's important to read any and all of them with a careful eye and always keeping in mind where any given work/opinion stands within their entire critical oeuvre... this is an obvious tactic that should go without saying for readers of literary critics (and who else is going to be reading Bakhtin if not specialists who are trained in careful close-reading) but I think it tends to be overlooked when it comes to so-called "reviewers." One goes (or should go) into a James Wood review with a clear knowledge of what prejudices that he's going to bring to any review... I see this as being no different as going into a work of dense Marxist criticism knowing what assumptions and biases the lit-critic is going to bring to his or her analysis.
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JeffrytheCat
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nnyhav
Feb 3 2014, 10:04 PM
^ I've only read his Shelley bit in Decon & Crit but he's slippery (unreliable isn't just for narrators)
came up lately in a couple of Chron bits:
http://chronicle.com/article/Beauty-BonesTheory-at/144201/ adding another such to
http://chronicle.com/article/The-Many-Betrayals-of-Paul-de/142505/
That Edmundson article is wearying. Not only does he wallow in cheap nostalgia, he also lets slip a couple hints that he's been uncreatively misreading Foucault, Derrida, and de Man. In any case, not at all worth grumbling over.

And I happen to be very excited for Barish's The Double Life of Paul de Man. The excitement stems largely no doubt from my affection for biography in general, but I am certainly interested, too, in seeing how someone focused on de Man's life will interpret his writings. Based on the few remarks I've heard from Barish about her work, I am expecting charmingly little in terms of careful analysis. But that ought to be a delight in itself: to watch how de Man as a critic and theorist eludes the exposition of de Man as a bio-historical personage.

Needless to say, I suppose, I am still in the midst of Blindness and Insight and it is proving an intense, compelling experience.
nnyhav
 
me I gotta get to Edward Said's Orientalism
I still haven't tackled that text either. Sometimes, though, I'll dip into Reflections on Exile and Other Essays and I find him always rewarding.
Edited by JeffrytheCat, Feb 5 2014, 04:48 PM.
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oneofmurphysbiscuits
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Yes do, last mentioned here in the Olivia Manning thread.

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nnyhav
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JeffrytheCat
Feb 5 2014, 04:35 PM
And I happen to be very excited for Barish's The Double Life of Paul de Man. The excitement stems largely no doubt from my affection for biography in general, but I am certainly interested, too, in seeing how someone focused on de Man's life will interpret his writings. Based on the few remarks I've heard from Barish about her work, I am expecting charmingly little in terms of careful analysis. But that ought to be a delight in itself: to watch how de Man as a critic and theorist eludes the exposition of de Man as a bio-historical personage.

Needless to say, I suppose, I am still in the midst of Blindness and Insight and it is proving an intense, compelling experience.
it would seem, um, problematic:
Peter Brooks: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/apr/03/strange-case-paul-de-man/
Scott McLemee: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/03/19/review-evelyn-barish-double-life-paul-de-man
add (tho of less consequence)
Louis Menand: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2014/03/24/140324crat_atlarge_menand?currentPage=all
Edited by nnyhav, Mar 19 2014, 03:14 PM.
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nnyhav
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following up on the above ... it's not so much what Barish makes of de Man as what is made of Barish on de Man

http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/deconstructing-de-man-digital-age by Jonathan Freedman
a more interesting turn on deconstructing the digital humanities from a historicist's pov

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117020/paul-de-man-was-total-fraud-evelyn-barish-reviewed by Robert Alter
pretty much what one would expect (and I'm not linking Romano in Chron of Higher Ed for same reason only moreso)
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JeffrytheCat
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It's a shame Barish's biography has turned out even worse than I'd expected. With the way these things tend to go, either there'll be a better biography in three years' time — or nothing for at least a decade. Still, I know my lurid interest will compel me to read the damn thing.

Otherwise... Has anyone else read Franco Moretti? I'm acquainting myself with a little "theory of the novel" — reading Ian Watt's Rise of the Novel (1957), revisiting Bakhtin, perusing Michael Schmidt's The Novel (2014), etc. — and I decided to tackle Moretti's The Way of the World. Suffice it to say, I am smitten. Moretti's arguments are consistently erudite, careful, and compelling. His handling of history, his defense of genre criticism, his attention to the impulses of middle-class life — all intricately interwoven and wonderfully revealing. Plus Moretti has me eager to read Annales School history; perhaps Lucien Febvre's The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century to start?
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Heteronym
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What do you think of Michael Schmidt's The Novel so far?
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JeffrytheCat
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I will admit I have only read chapters on the modern and contemporary novelists. With that being said, I think Schmidt has written an informative and compulsively readable book. It reminded me of Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station in its (more or less chronological) gathering of numerous lives and texts under the auspices of a particular theme; with Wilson, "History" — here, "The Novel." Compared to what I read recently from Steven Moore's The Novel: An Alternative History (and admitting their different aims), I much prefer Schmidt. And considering my frequent commerce of late with the wares of literary criticism, I suppose I appreciate his attention to "artist-practitioners" (i.e. writers of fiction who also happen to write about fiction-writing) instead of the standard critics.
Edited by JeffrytheCat, Sep 21 2014, 12:32 AM.
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JeffrytheCat
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I am noticing now that Moretti has already received some mention around these parts: Hamlet and the region of death. However, based on the reactions in the thread, it appears his recent work doesn't live up to the potential I see in The Way of the World. Actually, in retrospect, the preface to my edition of the text does seem to allude to this movement away from what I currently admire in Moretti's approach and toward the quantitative methods he's using now. But even without the warning, that kind of change of pace wouldn't have wholly surprised me. There are indications as far back as Signs Taken for Wonders (1983) that Moretti isn't actually all that invested in literature:
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a history of rhetorical forms carried through to its logical conclusion will very probably lead to the dismemberment of the aesthetic field. And this dismemberment will no longer take the historicist form of bracketing off the technical peculiarities of works so as to fuse them into a generic 'Spirit of the Age'. Rather, it is precisely from the materiality of their form that criticism will derive the theoretical need to 'unfix' the histories of art and literature, and rewrite them as merely a component of a history of values, of the structure of thought in which these values are organized and of the institutions designed to promote them.
Interestingly, what I've heard about The Bourgeois makes it sound an awful lot like the "history of values" Moretti's talking about here. If that's the case, then I hope he sticks with it and sets aside the quantitative stuff.
Edited by JeffrytheCat, Sep 21 2014, 02:29 AM.
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oneofmurphysbiscuits
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Hello Jeff,

I was about to draw your attention to the ...Hamlet..region.. and Information Overload threads. From my readings about him here the later works seems dull and problematical, but your enthusiasm for the earlier book is reason enough for me to have a look.
Edited by oneofmurphysbiscuits, Sep 21 2014, 11:20 AM.
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JeffrytheCat
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oneofmurphysbiscuits
Sep 21 2014, 11:19 AM
Hello Jeff,

I was about to draw your attention to the ...Hamlet..region.. and Information Overload threads. From my readings about him here the later works seems dull and problematical, but your enthusiasm for the earlier book is reason enough for me to have a look.
Indeed! Since I noticed you're reading Philosophy of Right, it should be remarked that Moretti is quite Hegelian in his approach. (He hasn't mentioned it yet, but I suspect "the way of the world" alludes to the section on "Virtue and the way of the world" in Phenomenology of Spirit.) In some respects he's simply following in the footsteps of Lukacs, but I appreciate his efforts to bring Hegel to bear on the Bildungsroman, especially because I'm currently making my slow way through Phenomenology for the first time.
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oneofmurphysbiscuits
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What about Braudel, i wonder, and Moretti? I'm not thrilled to be reading Hegel again, but it is something i want to do, once more and "properly" this time, much earlier readings were always in bits and pieces and on the way to other sources. ..Philosophy of Right is still andfor the most part a chore for me, but the Nisbet translation is brilliant, I'll be having another go round with Phenomenology later in the year, or early next year
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nnyhav
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http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/john-dominis-transformations/ The Sea-God's Herb reviewed by Dan Green
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nnyhav
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JeffrytheCat
Sep 20 2014, 12:57 AM
It's a shame Barish's biography has turned out even worse than I'd expected. With the way these things tend to go, either there'll be a better biography in three years' time — or nothing for at least a decade. Still, I know my lurid interest will compel me to read the damn thing.
TLS' Ann Jefferson* thinks it should be shrugged off.

*"Ann Jefferson teaches French at New College, Oxford. Her new book, Genius in France: An idea and its uses, is due to be published at the end of this year." So she's into Weird Al Yankovic?
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