Easy Pieces

Easy Pieces

Easy Pieces

Easy Pieces

Excerpt

These fugitive essays were written in response to specific occasions and often for non-university audiences. They have for their subject modern authors or trends, and sometimes new ways of looking at older writers (I found nothing very satisfying concerning William Blake as illustrator and tried my own approach). They are more journalistic, in brief, than academic; and that was, to me, their value and challenge: how to reply decisively yet undogmatically to a new film or book or something that seemed to represent a larger wave in the ever-moving, unsettled weather map of intellectual affairs.

I must admit that collecting them is not a disinterested act. The polemics, often silly and obtuse, that surround the Yale School have projected the image of an obscurantist conspiracy emanating from an "elitist" institution. Because I voiced doubts about the hegemony of the conversational style in criticism, or about the reduction of literary studies to pedagogical norms, and because my own way of writing could be difficult, or at least experimental, the idea got around that teaching was not an important issue, and that my (our) head remained in the clouds of theory. In fact, those associated for good or bad with the Yale School have spent most of their time practicing criticism not theory; the latter imposed itself as an outgrowth of reflections on the act of reading, and reading broadly: in philosophy, in religious and social thought, in psychoanalysis, as well as in "literature."

My understanding of literature is like David Hume's, who wrote in an autobiographical sketch that he "was seized very early with a passion for literature" and felt "an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning." While his family . . .

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