An Experiment in Collective Criticism
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Four female scholars reflect in “sociable cacophony” on Italian novelist Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet.

When English professors Chihaya, Emre, Hill, and Richards decided to exchange letters about the Neapolitan Quartet, they hoped that “each letter would build on the arguments of previous letters.” They posted their correspondence, which took place during the summer of 2015, on a blog dedicated to their unique experiment in collective critical inquiry. Their primary goal was “the cultivation of a distinct ethical subject: a reader who was deliberately oriented to the ongoing and pleasurable labor of criticism.” This book, which developed as an afterthought, gathers together those correspondences while offering one essay by each professor on different facets of the quartet. In the first section, readers are immediately immersed in a series of short exchanges among the professors that are as literarily engaged as they are engaging. The authors intermingle critical meditations on meaning, structure, and themes like friendship, motherhood, and authorship with observations on their own lives as women, mothers, lovers, and writers. Each author then takes ideas forged within this epistolary crucible and develops them into the essays that make up the second section of the book. Where Chihaya considers the pleasure of “rupture and dissolution” in Ferrante’s work, Hill examines the interplay of the fictive and the real. Richards explores what she calls Ferrante’s “counterfactual imagination” while speculating on the queer subtext of the quartet. Emre concludes the section with consideration of Ferrante’s elusiveness as a literary figure and her choice to remain known only by the words behind which she so often hides. While it is primarily Ferrante devotees who will find this book most intriguing, those interested in alternative modes of critical inquiry should take a look as well.

A sharp and lively book for fans and scholars, but it will have limited appeal among general readers.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-231-19457-0
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2019