by Frederick Crews ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 16, 1975
Nine keenly and closely written essays, composed between 1967 and 1974 by the author of The Pooh Perplex, in his other (and decidedly formidable) avatar as a challenging literary theorist; the majority have appeared in Partisan Review or The New York Review of Books. Intrepidly tackling what Crews the parodist knows to be some of the most absurdity-prone realms of criticism, Crews the committed reader begins with a forthright defense of the psychoanalytic approach and an intransigent attack on what might be called neo-New Criticism. He denounces those English-department contagions, a specious, anything-goes critical inclusiveness which ""is in practice anti-intellectual"" and an elitist reluctance to sully the virgin modesty of literature with anything so crass as serious evaluation of explicit ideas--Freudian assumptions, for example. On the political front, he asks us to stop ignoring the unconscious commitment of current critical practice to ""the values of capitalism in its monopoly phase. Not justice and passion, but order and sophistication are implicitly treasured."" More recently Crews has retrenched slightly on both positions. Even in 1967 he was deploring ""ingenious nihilism"" in the person of Norman O. Brown, and the most recent article on politics here finds the New Left ""incapable of tolerating the moral indeterminacy of art and the intellectual dizziness of knowing that one doesn't know."" Even the certainties of Freudian analysis must be rethought the hard way, and used in full knowledge of their reductive tendencies, for the sake of what they can accomplish at their best. Has Crews matured, or let a certain mellow haze gather around former purposefulness? Both psychoanalysis and ideology are much more admissible literary quantities now than they were eight years ago--but one suspects the younger Crews might have hollered that the tigers had been declawed before being let loose in the palace. In any case, he remains one of the most conscientious scholarcritics we've got, uncomfortably aware that we do literature no honor by praising a fugitive and cloistered virtue.
Pub Date: Oct. 16, 1975
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1975
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