Critics Monsters Fanatics And Other Literary Essays

Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and Other Literary Essays3.63 · Rating details ·  102 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews

In a collection that includes new essays written explicitly for this volume, one of our sharpest and most influential critics confronts the past, present, and future of literary culture.

If every outlet for book criticism suddenly disappeared — if all we had were reviews that treated books like any other commodity — could the novel survive? In a gauntlet-throwing essay at tIn a collection that includes new essays written explicitly for this volume, one of our sharpest and most influential critics confronts the past, present, and future of literary culture.

If every outlet for book criticism suddenly disappeared — if all we had were reviews that treated books like any other commodity — could the novel survive? In a gauntlet-throwing essay at the start of this brilliant assemblage, Cynthia Ozick stakes the claim that, just as surely as critics require a steady supply of new fiction, novelists need great critics to build a vibrant community on the foundation of literary history. For decades, Ozick herself has been one of our great critics, as these essays so clearly display. She offers models of critical analysis of writers from the mid-twentieth century to today, from Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Kafka, to William Gass and Martin Amis, all assembled in provocatively named groups: Fanatics, Monsters, Figures, and others. Uncompromising and brimming with insight, these essays are essential reading for anyone facing the future of literature in the digital age....more

Hardcover, 224 pages

Published July 5th 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Boston. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2016. 211 pages.

This slender but dazzling collection of thirteen essays, some previously published but refurbished, is primarily concerned with fiction and criticism, both of which Cynthia Ozick practices with ease. It is clear that she is not a reviewer but a critic. Reviewers are allocated a certain amount of space, while critics can—or should—be given free rein, addressing not just the work but its relationship to the world in which it gestated and into which it arrived. 

Naturally, such critics are rare. Most can synopsize and summarize, but not all can judge, the root meaning of “critic”—one who can adjudicate, producing something akin to literature. Ozick asks as much of critics as Alexander Pope did in “An Essay on Criticism, who demanded “a knowledge both of books and humankind.” Ozick is very much the kind of critic Pope envisioned. The epigraph is taken from Pope’s essay, and the title was suggested by Pope’s challenge to critics, urging them to attack the excesses of the age: “These monsters, Critics! with your darts engage, / Here point your thunder, and exhaust your rage!” 

Two such critics who can satisfy Ozick’s criteria are the polymath Edmund Wilson and Lionel Trilling, who based his criticism on moral as well as aesthetic grounds. To Ozick, the ability to wield language creatively, even in letter writing, is paramount. She praises Saul Bellow’s letters both for their expression and insights. The prose may not be as inventive as that of the novels, but the letters are a worthy ancilla. 

Ozick has never considered the Holocaust a horror of the past but an ever-present reminder of hearts so hardened and “so inhumanly wicked, that only God can fathom them.” Ozick does not claim to fathom the darkness of the heart, only to expose it in the profoundly disturbing “Love and Levity at Auschwitz: Martin Amis,” a reflection on Amis’s novel The Zone of Interest. As Matthew Arnold might have said, Ozick saw literature steadily and saw it whole. . . . Pope would have welcomed her into the pantheon.  

Bernard F. Dick
Fairleigh Dickinson University

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