An eccentric, thin-skinned, ill-tempered screed.




Henderson’s anti-intellectual manifesto unmasks the malign influence of art critics and their ideologies.

Ever since cavemen first carved reindeer antlers, according to this muddled j’accuse, art has been a happily inchoate project of self-expression by painters and sculptors with no other agenda than “making their own personal magic.” Then came the critics—egotistical writers who usually cannot make art but nonetheless want to control it by framing it in intellectual terms that saddle real artists with invidious value-judgments of what is good and bad art. Henderson surveys a rogue’s gallery of these over-reaching critics, from the Renaissance writers Alberti and Vassari to Modernist guru Clement Greenberg and contemporary tastemakers Arthur C. Danto and Peter Schjeldahl. He denounces specific critical approaches—aesthetic canons, distinctions between fine and decorative art, the championing of abstraction over representation—in detail, but his iconoclasm is all-encompassing: “all ideas about art have to be jettisoned” as pernicious infringements on artistic autonomy. Henderson knows a lot about art, especially Euro-American art of the last two centuries, and his interpretations of its history, and of individual artists, are often engaging and insightful. Unfortunately, he knows little about good criticism, which he equates with the notion that you shouldn’t say anything if you can’t say anything nice. His pensées on the critical enterprise are snide (“Since the French generally had no love of art, [critics] had no difficulty brainwashing them”), or bizarre (“Music critics…are excellent because they stick to the music and have no need for ideas”) or crudely philistine in their own right. (Blind to the art of writing, he finds the metaphor “painting is silent poetry” to be “factually wrong.”) Henderson’s indictment of critics who disparage what they don’t understand sometimes hits home, but he could easily be brought up on the same charge.

An eccentric, thin-skinned, ill-tempered screed.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-1432768799

Page Count: 202

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2011

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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