A smart blend of psychology, philosophy and literary history, well-written if sometimes obscure; of broad interest to...



An inquisitive examination of the impulse that yields literary improvisation—which is to say, literature itself.

A writer, Samuel Johnson observed, will devour a whole library in order to make a book. Certainly literary scholar and philanthropist Fertel (The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir, 2011) did just that, to judge by his 30-page bibliography, a tour de force of reading in the fields of literary theory and history befitting a George Steiner or Erich Auerbach. Fertel is not as straight to the point as those two predecessors, and his narrative sometimes wobbles on an unsteady axis built on the premise that improvisation “is the trace that is always already there, anticipating and in part belying Derrida’s profound originality.” The text is shot through with ideas Derrida-ean and Jungian, establishing that improvisation—the creative spirit that leads not just to such transgressive works of literature as Tristram Shandy, but also to the Trojan horse and similarly spectacular cons—is itself an archetype, a “kind of dark disruptive version ever in dialogue with the mainstream” and “a state of being where fundamental polarities of our being contend.” As such, improvisation is naturally a slippery thing to pin down but also easy to pin on whomever one wishes: Herman Melville is an improvisational writer as much as Jack Kerouac, and as for Shakespeare, well, he’s as versatile as Odysseus. Though the terms of argument beg for more precise definition, Fertel’s field bears plenty of fruit, particularly when he gets down to particulars, as when, fairly early in the book, he enumerates the stylistic conventions of improvisation: simplicity, free association, formlessness and the like. By that measure, Kerouac fits but formula-bound Homer doesn’t, but that’s the headache-inducing stuff that only a good analysis can cure.

A smart blend of psychology, philosophy and literary history, well-written if sometimes obscure; of broad interest to students of contemporary literary theory.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-935528-68-5

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Spring Journal Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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