Saturday, November 17, 2007

Books, Inq.

Frank Wilson, et al.

But this is a must . . .

This post and another have comments by Susan Balée, one of which refers to this letter:

July 12, 1987, New York Times Book Review
Sense and Criticism

To the Editor:

Jacques Barzun’s essay “A Little Matter of Sense” (June 21) is the best article about current literary criticism that I've read; only a critic of Mr. Barzun’s superior caliber can write a piece like that and not seem either presumptuous or bitter. But, believe me, he articulates the thoughts of a lot of aspiring academics — I speak for myself and several of my colleagues who are Ph.D. candidates in the English department of Columbia University.

One of our clandestine enjoyments is to ridicule the egregious — turgid, passive-voiced, jargon-filled — prose of noted literary scholars (I could name big names, from Yale and France, but that seems petty). The Columbia freshmen to whom we teach composition can write more clearly and meaningfully than the most famous deconstructionists. These critics seem to be trying to construct (or deconstruct) a wall of nonsense around literature so that no one except select members of the critical club — the ones who know the “significant” password — can approach it.

I agree with Mr. Barzun that essays about literature should be clear and readable. In addition, they should be accessible not just to other scholars of literature, but to anyone who enjoys reading books. Otherwise, English professors, a k a literary critics, will find that the universities that cloister them from the rest of society are not just ivory towers, but Ivory Towers of Babble.

New York