CONTRARIES by Joyce Carol Oates

CONTRARIES

Essays
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KIRKUS REVIEW

As usual for Oates in whatever form she's working, these seven essays are a mixed bag. Here, she is perfectly willing to write, ponderously: "What we experience as infinite and universal, then, must be seen as a direct response to a given environment: not necessarily our environment, but valuable so far as the repressive nature of any force external to the individual can be externalized as a historical given." A jawbreaker like "Joyce's exhibitionisticicity" blithely roils out. Still, in her discussions of Dostoevsky, Conrad, Wilde, Scottish ballads, Lawrence, and Joyce, Oates surprisingly divorces herself from a celebration of the "tragic," often identified with her own fiction; instead, stressing what she sees, for instance, as Lear's ultimate failure because it does try too hard for destructive hopelessness, she plumps for the transcendence, even the comedy, of archetype; of "visionary expressions." Her involvement with the specific texts (Dorian Gray, Nostromo, Ulysses) is very close: if anything, what prevents this from being a truly impressive collection of criticism is its failure ever to pull upward, to stop boring in; when Oates discusses the Scottish and British Childe ballads, and opposes their New Critical interpretation, she loses us by the wayside halfway through but never seems to notice. These essays are hardly graceful, then; but they have admirable, microscopic commitment, which is a pleasure all of itself.
Pub Date: April 23rd, 1981
ISBN: 0195028848
Page count: 214pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1981




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