07 September 2011

Well Written Wednesdays: that laboriously clever criticism

"A few weeks ago, in the New York Times Book Review, Mr. Saul Bellow expressed impatience with the current critical habit of finding symbols in everything. No self-respecting modern professor, Mr. Bellow observed, would dare to explain Achilles' dragging of Hector around the walls of Troy by the mere assertion that Achilles was in a bad temper. That would be too drearily obvious. No, the professor must say that the circular path of Achilles and Hector relates to the theme of circularity which pervades The Iliad.

"In the following week's Book Review, a pedantic correspondent corrected Mr. Bellow, pointing out that Achilles did not, in Homer's Iliad, drag Hector's body around the walls of Troy; this perhaps invalidates the Homeric example, but Mr. Bellow's complaint remains, nevertheless, a very sensible one. We are all getting a bit tired, I think, of that laboriously clever criticism which discovers mandalas in Mark Twain, rebirth archetypes in Edwin Arlington Robinson, and fertility myths in everybody."

-Richard Wilbur, from "The House of Poe"

Laboriously clever criticism is one reason I didn't want to go to grad school.

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