Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Here's a good example of critical writing I admire:
"Almost all of [the works in Columbia's modern literature course circa 1950] have been involved with me for a long time -- I invert the natural order not out of lack of modesty but taking the cue of W. H. Auden's remark that a real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot's poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate. No literature has ever been so shockingly personal as that of our time -- it asks every qestion that is forbidden in polite society. It asks us if we are content with our marriages, with our family lives, with our professional lives, with our friends. It is all very well for me to describe my course in the College catalogue as 'paying particular attention to the role of the writer as a critic of culture' -- this is sheer evasion: the questions asked by our literature are not about our culture but about ourselves. It asks us if we are content with ourselves, if we are saved or damned. . ."
American literary critic Lionel Trilling (1905-1975), "On the Teaching of Modern Literature" [originally published in 1961], reprinted in Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning (Viking, 1965) [I added the bold emphasis]