Knowledge and Opinion: Essays and Literary Criticism of John G. Neihardt

By John G. Neihardt; Lori Holm Utecht | Go to book overview

ELEVEN
Impeccably Unremarkable

Neihardt wrote some of his most entertaining prose as invective against the vapid, the sentimental, the insincere. He was never unkind in reviewing a work he felt was produced by genuine effort, but when he was up against what he believed to be pretentious posturing or a lack of integrity, the attack could be deadly. He had this to say about a recently published book by Edmund Wilson: “There is nothing at all wrong with the book, except, perhaps, that it might well be entirely rewritten on a very different theme by some other author with a better understanding.” 8

For those books that represented genuine effort but just didn't quite measure up to his critical standards, Neihardt was generally kind, sometimes pointing out how the work could be improved, sometimes damning with faint praise, sometimes expressing confusion or frustration at not being able to “get at the fine feast”—for example, when reading the poetry of Ezra Pound. We need never guess, however, where Neihardt stands regarding a book discussed in his column.

Any evaluation is subject to error and misinterpretation, but Neihardt worked to tie his criticisms to standards rooted in a shared tradition to mitigate the arbitrariness of personal opinion. His negative assessments of writers like Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, E. E. Cummings, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce were often at odds with those of his contemporaries. Though occasionally his explanations are less than satisfactory—for example, when he dismisses several chapters of a book devoted to “upstarts and freaks”—more often his discussion details his objections based on clear critical standards. 9

-129-

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Knowledge and Opinion: Essays and Literary Criticism of John G. Neihardt
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Tradition 1
  • One - As from a Height of Time 3
  • Two - Ancient Seers 9
  • Three - Epic Landscape 23
  • 2 - Troubled Planet 33
  • Four - Tremendous Mood of War 35
  • Five - Breadlines and Bursting Granaries 43
  • Six - Social Turmoil 53
  • 3 - Trends in Contemporary Literature 69
  • Seven - Genuine Criticism 71
  • Eight - Vandals in the Temple 77
  • Nine - Only Symptomatic 89
  • 4 - Of Making Many Books 111
  • Ten - The Glow of the Moment 113
  • Eleven - Impeccably Unremarkable 129
  • 5 - This Mysterious Universe 145
  • Twelve - Et Tu, Scientia? 147
  • Thirteen - Exploring the Unknown 161
  • Fourteen - The Flesh and the Spirit 172
  • 6 - Poetic Values 183
  • Fifteen - Hill of Vision 185
  • Sixteen - What is Literature Good For? 203
  • Notes 217
  • Sources 227
  • Index 233
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