Shattuck (The Banquet Years, Proust's Binoculars) argues for the proposition that ""The innocent eye precedes the armed vision,"" insisting that each individual work of art be confronted in a manner that's free of system or fixed intellectual framework. Appropriately enough, then, the essays here are a decidedly unsystematic array--full of eccentricity and diversity. Shattuck studies the 1935 Cultural Congress in Paris, finding mass self-delusion by mid-century European writers. He muses on Diderot's error in the Encyclopedia--that of arranging merely alphabetically what would otherwise have been an organic clumping of ideas. He notes the failure of Surrealism through its mania for cohesion, the tragicomic over-reaction to a punster like Marcel Duchamp; and he sees an alternative artistic vision based on the rhythms of Baudelaire, of Valery, of Monet's Giverny paintings. (The Valery piece is probably the book's finest.) True, some of the essays here--on ""the histrionic self,"" on ""the aesthetics of Pataphysics""--are diffuse, digressive, or smugly ivory-towerish. But Shattuck's strong essential argument--a conservative yet sophisticated appeal to the rhythms of artistic organization--has both dash and large merit: valuable reading for serious students of aesthetics and criticism.