Essays In Criticism

Essays In Criticism-67
choices between American Girl identities (were you a Molly? The cruelty and the magnificence of it are inextricable.

choices between American Girl identities (were you a Molly? The cruelty and the magnificence of it are inextricable.

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There are lines in here that are some of the best descriptions I’ve ever read, casually uttered, as if Saunders could just toss them off before breakfast, which he probably could, and probably does.

(But of course part of his gift to us, in this piece, is showing us that nothing was easy and everything comes along the course of a long, winding road.) Of his teacher Tobias Wolff, he writes: “Toby is a powerful man: in his physicality, in his experiences, in his charisma. It is as if that is the point of power: to allow one to access the higher registers of gentleness.” WTF??

Read the first two paragraphs and you’ll know that Bennett, a wholly unprecious but fundamentally literary writer, is one of the most exciting writers around.

“There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question,” writes Rebecca Solnit, neatly packaging a manifesto’s worth of logic into 20 words.

I didn’t agree with all of Crispin’s points but damn, she made me think about writing as a woman, the expectations we face and the challenges of overcoming those expectations.

tweets, but it is something else entirely: “while many might think of her career as being a person who appears on television, she is rather a cookbook writer,” Sicha writes, and what follows is a chatty-seeming but ruthless exercise in close reading of text and utterance that goes thousands of miles away from the kitchen and countless dark fathoms below the surface of aspirational prosperity and comfort, into the cold lightless gears of power. “Bullying,” Graeber writes, “creates a moral drama in which the manner of the victim’s reaction to an act of aggression can be used as retrospective justification for the original act of aggression itself.” His essay mostly considers the relationship between the logic of the schoolyard and the logic of military conflict, but the clarity of that central concept—reaction as justification for the action that provoked it—read also as a precise accounting of the theatrics of brutality and backlash that would occur in Paris and beyond after the essay was published.Another biography of Bellow, another excuse for all the East Coast magazines to pontificate on the most laureled man in American letters.Yet, Louis Menand’s piece in The New Yorker is essential for its crisp, short sentences and his incidental insight.Wood’s magisterial style surpasses that of almost anything he might pick up to review.And yet he only seems to add to one’s admiration of a book even as he dismantles and demystifies it.In her essay, Crispin is incisive and provocative, particularly in examining the notion that women can only be experts on themselves.This essay, frankly, made me uncomfortable, but I appreciated that discomfort and expanding my thinking.Take for example this casual remark in the first graf—”‘Herzog’ turned him into a public figure, a writer of books known even to people who don’t read books—an ‘author.'” Or this brief explanatory remark, “Nobels are awarded to writers who are judged to have universalized the marginal.” Every paragraph is studded with brilliant little baubles.As citizens, I think we’re obliged to read Ingrid Rowland on the glass-and-steel terrestrial ship that is the new house of American art.I love this piece because it offers an instance and vision of criticism as an inspired art, not simply an appraisal or a value judgment.It takes a book as its occasion, but its discussion of what that book does (or doesn’t do) ventures into such exquisitely soulful territory—thinking about identity, intimacy, and marginalized voices—that I couldn’t possibly do it justice here.


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