A CRITIC'S JOURNEY by Geoffrey Hartman


Literary Reflections, 1958-1998
Email this review


A celebrated professor of literature and criticism presents a representative gathering of his work, some of the pieces previously uncollected. Hartman, professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at Yale, has distinguished himself as a literary critic and commentator over 40 productive years. Here he offers selections from, or perhaps even summation of, his life’s work, highlighting both the theoretical (Freud, Heidegger, Derrida) and the practical criticism (on Milton, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth) as well as forays into film (Hitchcock’s North by Northwest), detective fiction (Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald), and the current sorry state of the humanities in American universities. What links all these interests is Hartman’s abiding commitment to reading and interpreting literature and not (as his many detractors have often accused) his supposed identity as a deconstructive nihilist. This collection makes clear that Hartman’s association with deconstruction is merely a piece of a much larger and more interesting picture. It’s a picture of a man trying honestly and in a workmanlike way to understand the full complexity of literature’s relationship to reality. Now, an upshot of his thinking in this regard is that criticism should not necessarily simplify literature. He rejects emphatically the genteel Anglo-American tradition of literary criticism as polite conversation in simple, elegant language. If literature is dynamic, manifold, and complicated, then criticism must rise to meet that truth and not mask or diminish it. Consequently, Hartman can be rough going for any reader, which leads him into a paradox of sorts. He also emphasizes the public nature of literature and criticism, yet his own writing sometimes—often—makes him seem esoteric, academic, just another expert in a culture of specializations. The paradox creates an interesting struggle in his language, which is alternately pithy (public) and dense (esoteric). The result is a kind of writing that challenges the reader to think creatively, both with and against the critic. Hartman cultivates the form of the literary essay with great intellectual integrity, raising important questions along the way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-300-08043-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


NonfictionVOICES, PLACES by David Mason
by David Mason