- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

Too fantastical

“I guess I can say that I was less consumed by tedium during the ‘Prince Caspian’ movie than I was during ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Of course, it could just be that the latest ‘Narnia‘ entry has an hour less of walking trees and ugly creatures getting impaled on spears by masked evil legions. I am not someone who responds well to endless battle scenes between characters that look like bad halloween costumes. …

” ‘Prince Caspian’ is a competently executed fantasy movie. Having said that, I am not sure what the point of it is - what it comes down to. But I am almost never sure what is the point of Minotaurs and dwarves and evil witches and magic potions. As in the case of the Tolkien-based projects, I never read beyond ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ in the ‘Narnia’ series. I was too busy reading Perry Mason mysteries and Alistair MacClean WWII espionage adventures when I was ten. Chalk it up to the fact that I wanted to be a lawyer or a spy, when I grew up. And, you know, not a faun.”

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Too hateful

“[Alfred Kazin] agreed with Leslie Fielder’s pronouncement in ‘Commentary’ that, after the Holocaust, Jews would have to make an inventory of the violent Jew-hatred in works of genius they had spent their youths gushing over. The ‘nasty ones,’ wrote Kazin, ‘the modern ones - a Dostoevsky, a Henry James, a Henry Adams, an Andre Gide, a Santayana, a Cummings, a Celine, an Eliot, a Pound. How we love them, though they love us not.’

“He would later revise his opinion of Pound in the 1980s, arguing that the poet’s fascism and bigotry were actually integral to his talent. This volte-face can be explained by the fact that he had become as much a part of literature as a surveyor of it, and had grown to see himself as resembling those non-Jewish Jews before him simultaneously cut off from and at one with the spirit of the age.”

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Too critical

“When I think about the critics I love the most, they’re not necessarily the ones I agree with, they’re the ones I’d like to date. I argue with them, but when they’re gone, their music is still bopping around in my brain.

“Many years ago, Susan Sontag, in ‘Against Interpretation,’ argued for ‘an erotics of art.’ Is it time now for an erotics of criticism? Instead of bemoaning the decline of literature, should we be doing a better job of showing people what they’re missing: the excitement of unexpected insights, the thrill of new voices, the sex of ideas? …

“I find I’m drawn to critics for the same reason I’m drawn to any writer: the quality of their prose. They can misinterpret and misevaluate to their heart’s delight as long as they make the words dance. Helen Vendler and Harold Bloom may be pre-eminent in their respective fields, but I read their prose only under duress. Whereas, no matter how wrongheaded she is, I’ll read anything by Pauline Kael. Or Anthony Lane or Clive James or, yes, James Wood.”

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