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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.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-374-14398-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999


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