Slants

Alastair Fowler

  • Melodious Guile: Fictive Pattern in Poetic Language by John Hollander
    Yale, 262 pp, £20.00, January 1989, ISBN 0 300 04293 0
  • Second World and Green World: Studies in Renaissance Fiction-Making by Harry Berger
    California, 519 pp, $54.00, November 1988, ISBN 0 520 05826 7

Eliot may not have been wrong in valuing ‘workshop criticism’, or criticism by poets. True, criticism as we know it consists largely of interpretation and evaluation, activities in which writer-critics have no special advantage over critics pure and simple (if the latter description will quite do for Post-Structuralists). But writers have a manifest advantage in criticism that addresses the craft of literature. And this, it seems to me, is a genre of criticism we need much more of, if the art is to thrive. For we now have so many interpretations, and schools of interpretation, and interpretations of schools of interpretation, that many have become unsure what a good poem is – or whether it may not really be bad, or even bourgeois. But how is our need to be supplied? For to write adequately on literary craft calls for more than just any old critic. Only a generalist can hope to put it all together and restore a sense of what poems are really up to, as distinct from what critics have tried to make them.

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