Not an essential critical resource, but one offering many pleasures.

LITERATURE AND THE GODS

A wide-ranging scholar ponders the manifestations of ancient gods in modern literature.

Calasso (Ka, 1998, etc.) does not attempt to cover his topic comprehensively. He focuses instead on what he terms “absolute literature,” those “most audacious and demanding” works “that leave the ancient pattern of genres and prescribed patterns far behind . . . forever abandoned in a flight toward a knowledge grounded only in itself and expanding everywhere like a cloud, cloaking every shape, overstepping every boundary.” These literary epiphanies are to be found in works as various as Nabokov’s Lolita, the lyrics of the German poet Hölderlein, Nietzsche’s notebooks, and the essays of Mallarmé. The seven essays were originally delivered as a lecture series at Oxford University, and the effect is rather like eavesdropping on a seminar in progress: the aphorisms, connections, and fleeting allusions come thick and fast. A critic in the belles-lettres tradition, Calasso makes large statements with great authority but little substantiation, rather than engaging in sustained close reading or reconstructing literary history. Like Harold Bloom, he apparently regards individualism and innovation as the only criteria of literary value, so that every text is praised for its originality, with “suddenly,” “for the first time,” “an abrupt turning point,” and the like peppering every chapter. Within the limitations of the approach, however, he comes up with charming observations and remarkable flashes of insight, including a fascinating discussion of Isadore Ducasse’s bizarre 1869 collection of poems, Les Chants de Maldoror, “the first book written on the principle that anything and everything must be the object of sarcasm,” uncannily anticipating both postmodern fiction and slasher movies. In the two most powerful essays, “Mallarmé in Oxford” and “Meters Are the Cattle of the Gods,” magnificently detailed analyses of poetic form offer ample compensation for the sweeping pronouncements, and Calasso’s delight in the textures of language and imagery pervades the text.

Not an essential critical resource, but one offering many pleasures.

Pub Date: March 21, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-41138-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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