Aug 26, 2011

Some Thoughts about Literary Criticism. The Guard: a Short Movie Review. Elite Eleven on ESPN.

Professor One

As I may have said before here, I often find good critical writing superior to what’s passing for good poetry and fiction. At least it can be more interesting. For example, in The New York Times Book Review, most reviewers are zesty stylists, getting me all fired up to read this or that novel or book of poems, only to have the so-called creative work disappoint me. 

So from time to time here, I think I’ll offer some sentences from fairly academic nonfiction that strike me as interesting and finely wrought, touching on the whole nature of arts and letters—and life.

I’ve already praised William Logan’s criticism as intelligent, provocative, entertaining, and full of good insights, all of which helps to wash down Logan’s sometimes excessive cruelty. I’ll probably return to him here. Northrop Frye, Robert Langbaum, Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler are other scholars and critics who deserve attention (though they receive plenty without my help).

 Going further back in the twentieth century, Randall Jarrell and John Crowe Ransom are perhaps more acclaimed as critics than they are as poets. Maybe we’ll have a look at them one day too. I’ve read some Jarrell more recently than Ransom and found him more full of zesty opinion that his supporting examples justified.  

Professor Three

So here, today, to kick off a shallow, fun-filled weekend, are remarks from William H. Pritchard in his Lives of the Modern Poets. My admiration for Wallace Stevens is growing, and Pritchard is one of the scholars who’s helping me along. Pritchard's style can be turgid, but I find the payoffs well worth my effort.

About Stevens, Pritchard says:  “He had, instead, an idea, and with beauty, eloquence, and gravity, he proceeded to set down the great humanist truth he was possessed by for much of his life:  that we are the measure of all things, and that we know how to measure because we know we will die.” (212)

In Stanza V of “Sunday Morning,” Stevens writes, “Death is the mother of beauty” (210).  In trying to summarize Stevens' thinking, Pritchard goes on to say  “. . . how vital is the imagination . . .  we must transform reality yet not transform it too much.” (212)

Happy Weekend--speaking of which, I found the movie The Guard disappointing, despite good acting from everyone, including Brendan Gleason and Don Cheadle.  The plot drags, there’s not a lot character development, its efforts at humor are brief and mediocre, and yet it lacks serious heft as well. Also, a lot of the lines were lost on this American as the director and actors go for authenticity of dialect, it seems, in the West of Ireland.

But all's well because high school football begins today, followed soon enough by college and pro games.  On one of the ESPN stations (ESPN U?  ESPN 2)  there's a three-part series titled Elite Eleven, about highly touted high school quarterbacks at a camp run by Trent Dilfer, former NFL QB, and his staff. The show could be completely scripted, rehearsed, and edited, but it felt real enough tome. If you're a fan, you might give it a look. I was hooked.




Rune Eide said...

Oh, well - I'm glad you have not read my thesis. It was strictly in the scientific style: Dry, turgid and hopefully, somewhat to the point :-)

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I like the word turgid. I also like fecund. Two words I'll never find a reason to use in my non-academic life.

About the critics you mentioned: bet I can find them in interviews on Charlie Rose.

Banjo52 said...

RuneE, me too, in literature. But even in hindsight, I think I was instructed to be turgid (but not in those words, of course). Isn't it odd? In the academy, clarity = dullness, it seems. Maybe that's why I enjoy the literati who are NOT dull (to me).

PA, might we ask for a turgid fecundity? I'd be interested in your point on Charlie Rose. Some might too old or too dead for Charlie Rose, but maybe not all.

Thanks, you two. I realize this is not a sexy topic for most . . .

Hannah Stephenson said...

Stevens is one of my all-time favorites...certainly in my top 5 favorite poets.

Don't give up on the creative stuff! Just make sure to look in the right places (I always have good luck with Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, qarrtsiluni, The Nervous Breakdown).

PJ said...

I was watching "The Field" today and in the midst of it I made the mistake of reading the NY Times review by Canby. It completely ruined the movie for me - he thought its genesis from an original play was all too apparent and I found myself looking at the movie with a far too critical. Ironically, I also thought the Sou'west Irish dialect was truly difficult to follow at times. Critics are critics I have to keep reminding myself.

Banjo52 said...

Hannah, no, I'm not giving up, and I've had good luck with Kenyon and Missouri (don't know the other two--will see if they have samples online). You're lucky to have fallen for Stevens at a young age. Except for 'The Snow Man' and 'Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock," I didn't care for him until the last few years.

Paula, thanks for remind me of that movie. I never saw it. Another English-language problem flick for me is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I loved it(with Maggie Smith) on screen back in my Anglophile days and apparently had a better ear then, as well. I've tried a couple of times on TV and just could not get through the Scottish brogue.

But it's still a great story and idea. About a confrontational meeting with her boss at, say, 10:15, Jean says: "She thinks she can intimidate me by the use of the quarter-hour."

I've (too) often said that, given my understanding of Aristotle, she, Gatsby, and King Lear are the only characters who are definitely "tragic" heroes. Maybe I should post that.

Anonymous said...

Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of my favorites. I can't help but be on her side. "For those who like that sort of thing, that's the sort of thing they like."

(Thanks for the Pritchard. You're right, sometimes criticism exceeds the work.)

Banjo52 said...

AH, clearly we're on the same page. I'm still thinking of turning Jean into a post.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Charlie Rose has two episodes with Harold Bloom.

Banjo52 said...

PA, thanks! I will check that out. Should I use hulu?

Banjo52 said...

PA, just started one of the Charlie Rose interviews with Harold Bloom. Thank you for the heads-up on that--I'd never have thought to look for a literary scholar on TV, even one as controversial as Bloom has become.

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