THE OLD MODERNS by Denis Donoghue


Essays on Literature and Theory
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 These 17 essays, all but two previously presented, display that urbane and personable voice, the supple and ranging intellect that has marked Donoghue's (English/NYU) twenty-some books on literature and literary theory and his frequent and insightful reviews in the NYRB. Modernism as a literary style, Donoghue establishes in ``The Man in the Crowd,'' required an urban culture, the individual creative mind confronting the anonymous ``other,'' the dread it provokes, the validation of individual feeling, and the internalization of images and events. He explores the subtleties, distinctions, and controversies of modernism in the essays that follow, from ``Beyond Culture'' and ``The Political Turn in Criticism'' as well as studies of individual authors: James, Yeats, Eliot, Joyce, and Stevens. The literature, Donoghue emphasizes, is more important than the criticism, and he laments the breakdown of the relationship between them, the substitution of contexts, themes, and theories for aesthetic and fictive truth in literary studies. ``Criticism's recourse to psychology, politics, anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics is rarely seen for the desperate device it is,'' he observes in his appreciative reading of R.P. Blackmur, concluding that such diversions leave most literature ``in every sense of the word that matters, unread.'' Donoghue is a master stylist. With subjects ranging from Henry James to Derrida, his essays capture a tone of informed conversation, with tactical quotes, rich allusions, and strategic questions (``What, then, does it mean?'')--and without the fragmentation, jargon, and obfuscation of contemporary literary discussion.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1994
ISBN: 0-394-58934-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1994


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