Perhaps others will recall, as I do, shouting out, sometimes successfully, words of encouragement in the midst of the perils and terrors of a dream: ‘It is a dream! I will dream on!’ – Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 16

The contrast between this genuine truth of nature and the cultural lie which pretends to be the only reality is like the contrast between the eternal core of things, the thing-in-itself, and the entire world of phenomena; and just as tragedy, with its metaphysical solace, points to the eternal life of that core of being despite the constant destruction of the phenomenal world, the symbolism of the chorus of satyrs is in itself a metaphorical expression of that original relationship between thing-in-itself and phenomenon. The idyllic shepherd of modern man is merely a counterfeit of the sum of educated illusions which modern man takes to be nature; the Dionysian Greek wants truth and nature at full strength – and sees himself transformed by magic into a satyr. – Ibid., 41-2

I recently mentioned to you, Craig, that I think Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy ranks up there with Stanley Fish’s Surprised by Sin as one of the most important and elegant works of criticism.

What I meant is that it’s insuperable: once you entertain its thesis, you can’t ignore it. This is the case with Fish’s book. Try to teach Milton, and you can’t escape Fish’s description of our fallen love of Milton’s Satan as the poem’s central temptation, precisely designed to turn a critical lens back on ourselves as fallen readers of Milton.

Read More

You are in control of a young boy, old enough to be in love but young enough not to understand consequences. The boy knows of a legend that says he can bring his love back to life, but he has to travel to a forbidden land abandoned by all but massive, obscure titans whose existence is unexplained. A voice in a huge temple tells him he has to destroy them in order to cast the spell, but all he has is a stolen magic sword, his loyal horse, and determination. The boy handles the sword awkwardly, falls when he tries to jump or even run too fast, and he perseveres even when it becomes clear that with each monster he kills, he loses part of himself. In the end, he becomes the voice, which was using him to free itself from this land, or it becomes him, and he brings his love back to life, but only after having sacrificed himself and all the creatures of the forbidden land in a fit of rage that destroys what remains of once beautiful ruins.

Read More

Why is it that the zeitgeist is so incredibly specific? The spirit of the age, as it were, doesn’t just give us politics, religion, gay marriage, Robin Thicke, and two ABC shows with “B” in the title any more. No, it gives us stories about Judaism, fathers and children, mystic speech, and the (impossible) desire for a language that doesn’t sicken and kill one generation after another.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about two new works that have exactly these themes in common – Ben Marcus’s recent apocalyptic novel The Flame Alphabet and the wonderful 2011 film Footnote, by the Israeli director Joseph Cedar. I don’t have time to talk about Ben Marcus’s book, and my friend Mike has already done a better job in his review of the novel. Instead, I want to talk about Footnote, which I think may be the greatest movie ever.

Read More

Bayard

It’s more fun to talk about Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read than to actually read it. I don’t think that was his intention, but it’s appropriate. The book eventually makes a solid point, which I’ll get to in a minute. But it’s couched in a style that tries way too hard to be tongue-in-cheek and sometimes “scandalous,” a mixture that doesn’t always work. The cover, the back material, and even the translator’s introduction suggest that it will be a send-up of the cocktail-party cognoscenti with a bit of satirical “how to pretend to be intellectual” along the way. But that’s not the book’s payoff – and that disconnect between the experience of reading it and the thesis is, in a weird way, at once his best point and a refutation of the book.

Read More

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(This was the first idea for our blog. It obviously didn’t last. But it’s also a good reminder that thinking and writing, and even reading, takes time, failure, editing, and sometimes even time off. Take them for what they are.)

Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity

vs.

Auerbach, Mimesis

Joel,

This blog is supposedly about practical criticism, but I don’t think you even know what that means.  We need some concrete examples, and they need to be old and important.  Which would you say is more practical, Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis (1935) or William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930)?  What, for that matter, would it mean for criticism to be “practical” anyway? – Craig

Read More

(This was the first idea for our blog. It obviously didn’t last. But it’s also a good reminder that thinking and writing, and even reading, takes time, failure, editing, and sometimes even time off. Take them for what they are.)

Gaiman Instructions

vs.

Auden Levine

Craig,

I was just reading W. H. Auden’s poem “The Quest,” which tells this very existentialist, very abstract version of a quest romance in a series of 20 sonnets, and it reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s new children’s book, “Instructions.”  Which do you think gets the genre of quest romance better?  I honestly don’t care what you think, since I’m pretty sure I have this figured out, but this is our first post, so humor me.  – Joel

Read More