In a casual format meant for a general audience, the great critic and scholar of Modernism discusses the essence of literary education in terms of two basic themes: the voyage of discovery and fruits of mentorship.
This group of essays, originally given as a series of radio broadcasts, starts with a meditation on the familiar western topos of the Grand Tour and the literary significance of Elsewhere, that hitherto unknown or foreign destination which in the course of the journey becomes assimilated into the traveler's experience—transforming both the foreign and the familiar into something new. Skillfully weaving memoir, literary anecdote, and scholarly reflection, Kenner (Historical Fictions, 1990) shows how the literary voyage leads to the literary encounter and vice versa: Milton goes to Italy and meets Galileo, who influences his work; generations later, Wordsworth, with Milton in mind, goes to the Italian Alps to find inspiration. The literal Elsewhere of travel and the transports of literary experience are thus linked by a common idea of mentorship and education. Kenner's examples skip lightly across literary epochs, reaching from Dante to Henry James to Marianne Moore and back to Wordsworth and Emerson, but always reverting to his beloved Modernists. A final chapter muses on the Internet, both the tremendous expansion it affords to the Elsewhere community and the peculiar limitations imposed by technology on the Elsewhere experience. Quietly lurking beneath Kenner’s freewheeling study is a familiar but ever-timely lesson in what it means to seek out and be changed by literary experience, and how not to confuse authentic artistic engagement with the chimeras of academic or social convention. Kenner's prose is, as always, masterly, intimate, and sincere, full of graceful erudition and cheerful gravity.
A brief, wide-ranging excursion into the heart of literature, led by one of its most devoted and reliable guides.