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Cave’s Plato

A.D. Nuttall, 7 July 1988

In Defence of Rhetoric 
by Brian Vickers.
Oxford, 508 pp., £40, February 1988, 0 19 812837 1
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Recognitions: A Study in Poetics 
by Terence Cave.
Oxford, 530 pp., £40, March 1988, 0 19 815849 1
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... of Rhetoric is an attempt, copious, complex, armed at all points with telling examples, to meet and turn back this onslaught, which seems so confidently sure of its own rightness. If we define rhetoric as the art of persuasion, then, says Professor Vickers, it is neither evil nor good; it is simply an instrument. Thus far, I imagine, Plato, Kant ...

Really fantastic

A.D. Nuttall, 18 November 1982

A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, especially of the Fantastic 
by Christine Brooke-Rose.
Cambridge, 380 pp., £25, October 1981, 0 521 22561 2
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... to France, she might have been rather like Helen Gardner. Her new book is written with a crispness and a briskness which at once evokes a certain atmosphere: a highly intelligent unresponsiveness to theory, a fear of subjectivity (she even recalls, with obvious relish, her Oxford tutor’s phrase for mere criticism, ‘personal effusions’). But this manner ...

Joke Book?

A.D. Nuttall, 23 November 1989

The Anatomy of Melancholy: Vol. I 
by Robert Burton, edited by Thomas Faulkner, Nicholas Kiessling and Rhonda Blair.
Oxford, 675 pp., £70, October 1989, 0 19 812448 1
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... In the Cathedral at Christ Church in Oxford, between the recumbent knight with the false nose and the tomb of Saint Frideswide, who eluded her too amorous suitor by hiding among pigs, stands the funerary monument of Robert Burton. Already, it will be noticed, I am giving more information than is strictly necessary ...

In the Teeth of the Gale

A.D. Nuttall, 16 November 1995

The Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation 
edited by Adrian Poole and Jeremy Maule.
Oxford, 606 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 19 214209 7
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... trying to reproduce this with the weaker assonances available in English: ‘translator traitor’ and the like. Yet by a bald rendering something is achieved: the point or burden of the proverb really can be set out in another language. One is tempted to draw a conclusion of premature simplicity: matter is translatable, manner not. Therefore, jokes, puns ...

True Words

A.D. Nuttall, 25 April 1991

The Names of Comedy 
by Anne Barton.
Oxford, 221 pp., £22.50, August 1990, 0 19 811793 0
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... The French call it pain, the Germans call it Brot and we call it bread; and we are right, because it is bread.’ So wrote (I have been told though I have not been able to verify the reference) an English theorist of language in the 17th century. The thought is at once robust and lunatic ...

Return of the real

A.D. Nuttall, 23 April 1992

Uncritical Theory: Post-Modernism, Intellectuals and the Gulf War 
by Christopher Norris.
Lawrence and Wishart, 218 pp., £9.99, February 1992, 0 85315 752 9
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... have now been discredited (or shown up as just a figment of bourgeois ideology); that history and politics are textual ( = fictive) phenomena on a par with poems, novels, or whatever other ‘kinds of writing’ you care to name; and that henceforth the only ‘discourse’ that counts is one that cheerfully ...

Everything is over before it begins

A.D. Nuttall: Milton criticism, 21 June 2001

How Milton Works 
by Stanley Fish.
Harvard, 616 pp., £23.95, June 2001, 0 674 00465 5
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... The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of angels and God, and at liberty when of devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.’ William Blake wrote these words near the end of the 18th century and set going the idea that Paradise Lost, Milton’s epic justifying the ways of God to men, had a twofold force: an orthodox ostensible meaning and a profoundly unorthodox unconscious meaning, the latter being far stronger than the former ...

Point of Wonder

A.D. Nuttall, 5 December 1991

Marvellous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Oxford, 202 pp., £22.50, September 1991, 0 19 812382 5
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... Greece, having been subjected, subjected her wild conqueror and introduced culture into boorish Rome.’ The poet Horace, himself a Roman, can take a stylish pleasure in describing the Roman conquest of Greece, even though – or rather because – it piquantly entails the intellectual and artistic near-humiliation of the conqueror ...

Art of Embarrassment

A.D. Nuttall, 18 August 1994

Essays, Mainly Shakespearean 
by Anne Barton.
Cambridge, 386 pp., £40, March 1994, 0 521 40444 4
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English Comedy 
edited by Michael Cordner, Peter Holland and John Kerrigan.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £35, March 1994, 0 521 41917 4
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... Humane, learned, un-showily stylish and at times moving in their tender intelligence, these essays by Anne Barton, ranging from a richly ‘mellow’ piece first published in 1953 – a period when even undergraduates wrote as if they were middle-aged – to the magnificent ‘Wrying a Little’, on Cymbeline, Jacobean marriage law and female desire, are nourishing to the spirit ...

The Game of Death

A.D. Nuttall, 11 June 1992

... of Winckelmann) – was replaced, retrospectively, by an opposite world: blood guilt and sacrifice, dream and vision, orgiastic music, unreason. One way of expressing this change is to say that the pretence of Augustianism was dropped: instead of assuming that antiquity was somehow full of 18th-century ...

A Kind of Scandal

A.D. Nuttall, 19 August 1993

Shakespeare and Ovid 
by Jonathan Bate.
Oxford, 292 pp., £35, May 1993, 0 19 812954 8
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... roars on, but the number of people for whom Actaeon, Adonis, Arachne, Echo, Narcissus, Philomel and Tereus are mere un-meaning names grows greater with each successive year. For Shakespeare (and Keats and Eliot) such names are like windows opening on another world, which is like ...

Biting into a Pin-cushion

A.D. Nuttall: Descartes’s botch, 24 June 2004

Flesh in the Age of Reason 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £25, October 2003, 0 7139 9149 6
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... with a resounding question: ‘Who are we?’ The many pages that follow, highly entertaining and richly informed as they are, never directly answer this question. Instead, they answer another question: ‘Who or what do we think we are?’ Perhaps the choice of the plural form – ‘Who are we?’ rather than ‘Who am I?’ – already betrays the fact ...

Making a start

Frank Kermode, 11 June 1992

Openings: Narrative Beginnings from the Epic to the Novel 
by A.D. Nuttall.
Oxford, 264 pp., £30, April 1992, 0 19 811741 8
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... A.D. Nuttall is among the most erudite contemporary academic literary critics, at ease with the Classics, much given to philosophy. He is also disconcertingly bold and curious, and his latest book, like some of its predecessors, is as odd as it is learned ...

Getting Even

Adam Phillips, 19 September 1996

Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon 
by John Kerrigan.
Oxford, 404 pp., £40, April 1996, 0 19 812186 5
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Why Does Tragedy Give Pleasure? 
by A.D. Nuttall.
Oxford, 110 pp., £20, June 1996, 0 19 818371 2
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... we did not have a deeply ingrained sense of order already there to be affronted. Tragedy in life, and as art, exposes by violation our mostly unconscious assumptions about how the world should be; and how often we take for granted that it is as it should be – a world in which, say, no one ever takes revenge, or ...

Transparent Criticism

Anne Barton, 21 June 1984

A New Mimesis: Shakespeare and the Representation of Reality 
by A.D. Nuttall.
Methuen, 209 pp., £12.95, September 1983, 0 416 31780 4
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... syntactic) of passages selected from texts in some nine different languages, ranging from Homer and the Old Testament to Virginia Woolf, it assumes throughout that reality has an objective existence, is open to perception, and needs no apologetic inverted commas. It can be and ...

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