THE RENEWAL OF LITERATURE: Emersonian Reflections by Richard Poirier

THE RENEWAL OF LITERATURE: Emersonian Reflections

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Emerson specialist and admirer of Harold Bloom, Poirier questions the cultural and human value of literature. In an often muzzy Bloomian prose, he asks if literature really has the vitamin storehouse Bloom finds there and finds optimism merely fictive. As Poirier sees it, Emerson's determined originality and refusal to accept received truths impel him to crack English grammar and seek new answers in language that has been painfully dislocated from its usual sense. His paragraph doesn't parse. His sentences can be lyrical torture. William James also eventually arrives at an anti-intellectual determination not to build systems that will entrap him within concepts. James and Emerson are heroic seekers--of something shapeless and shifting in the dark, which may or may not offer human renewal. But human genius forever strives to make plain some outline or embodiment of this evasive force at the center of things--should it actually be there. Emerson, Poirier tells us, distrusted even Hamlet as a work of genius and wished it out of existence: it blocks newer strategies of genius for getting answers. Unlike Emerson, Poirier does not write for the ear, or to be heard, but rather for the abstracted eye. He is a wild goat of academia, on a hill above grammar, and not with us on the page. The reader over his shoulder watches Poirier's sentences break down, then press on under new rules. Paragraphs become bales of fuzz. The argument remains deliberately unclear (""of necessity opaque""): ""When used in the intensely self-reflecting ways that literature uses them, words not only continuously modify but actually tend to dissolve one another, and this tendency, while it may produce in some readers the desire always to be on the scent and never in sight of the prey, is for most of us an occasion for another kind of amazement; that any person, any author (or reader), can be responsible for what we see and hear going on. . ."" For his fellow wild goats and Bloomians.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1987
Publisher: Random House