Books by Elaine Scarry

NAMING THY NAME by Elaine Scarry
Released: Nov. 29, 2016

"Close readers of Shakespeare will respect Scarry's arduous homework but likely won't be convinced by her conclusions."
Who was the "young man" William Shakespeare addressed in his sonnets? Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 24, 2014

"An important discussion that deserves a more disciplined presentation."
Nuclear weaponry has stealthily altered the substance of our form of government, contends Scarry (Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value/Harvard Univ.; Thinking in an Emergency, 2011, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

Grab your crystals and prepare for the literary critical incarnation of a John Tesh concert. This is a New Age journey into dreamworld parading as literary criticism, inviting the reader to participate in visualizing exercises in order to understand the relationship between literature and the imagination. Any book which attempts to uncover continuities within thousands of years of literature should either be brilliant (e.g., Erich Auerbach's Mimesis) or unwritten; this offering belongs in the latter category. Scarry (English and American Literature/Harvard) argues both that writers use their imaginations to create and that readers use their imaginations to visualize the depicted worlds of fiction; this twin proposal hardly makes a stunning thesis. Analyzing the creative process in terms of five variations" radiant ignition, rarity, dyadic addition and subtraction, stretching, and floral supposition—Scarry delineates the methods authors employ to bring their works to life, to create a vivid and vibrant picture in the reader's mind. Alas, the ultimate in stultifying pedantry results when Scarry directs the reader in the visualizing process, guiding her readers, for example, through a passage of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles with instructions interspersed on how we are to visualize what Hardy depicts. Not to depreciate the value of creative visualization, but we hardly need Scarry to point out to us the fact that authors use their imagination in the process of writing and spur ours as we read. The book ends with Scarry's very own depiction of a bird flying; putting the power of fantasy to work, she shows the reader that, yes, in our imaginations, birds really can fly. If you are looking for a journey into the creative process, you would do better to write, draw, or sing for yourself than to enter Scarry's literary-visual world. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1999

An essay that aims to recover beauty as a serious topic for academic discourse and, more ambitiously, to reconnect beauty with truth and justice. Scarry (English/Harvard) delivered these thoughts on beauty as the Tanner Lectures of 1998 at Yale and then retired to a research institute to work them up for publication. Though her book is brief, the studied awkwardness of Scarry's style makes it seem long and serves perhaps as a signal that these ruminations are for the happy few—which is too bad, because what she has to say is both interesting and original. Scarry has noted that for a couple of decades now, professors have been avoiding any talk of beauty. Beauty all too often masks power, say some, and beauty unfairly objectifies the body (usually female), say others. Scarry strongly objects and argues that the reverse is true: "the beautiful person or thing incites in us a longing for truth because it provides by its —clear discernibility— an introduction (perhaps even our first introduction) to the state of certainty yet does not itself satiate our desire for certainty since beauty, sooner or later brings us into contact with our own capacity for making errors." This sample of her prose is typically heavy-handed, but it contains a scintillating thought—that beauty can awaken in us a "longing for truth." And beauty's characteristic qualities—balance, symmetry, equality of proportion—are deeply linked, she argues plausibly and controversially, to being fair, a word that means both "lovely" and "just." The radical nature of Scarry's views is not be underestimated, but because it challenges the status quo from an unexpected quarter, it will likely be greeted with widespread silence. A heated polemic disguised as a cool philosophical essay; exciting for those willing to work through its laborious prose. Read full book review >