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Grandfather Emerson

Harold Bloom, 7 April 1994

Poetry and Pragmatism 
by Richard Poirier.
Faber, 228 pp., £20, November 1992, 0 571 16617 2
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... Richard Poirier, now in his middle sixties, seems to me perhaps the most eminent of our living literary critics, at least in the United States. He has a central position in contemporary American letters, as the editor of Raritan, the best of our quarterly reviews, and as the presiding spirit of the Library of America, the definitive publisher of the classic texts of the national literature ...

Incandescences

Richard Poirier, 20 December 1979

The Powers that Be 
by David Halberstam.
Chatto, 771 pp., £9.95
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... This book, by a man who at 35 was already called ‘a legend in American journalism’, is a lengthy and anecdotal analysis of the transactions between political power in the United States during the last fifty years and the power of the mass media. The latter are exemplified for Halberstam by four conglomerates of the American communications industry, each more or less in the control of a single family: the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), created and run by William Paley; Time Inc, including Life, owned by Henry Luce; the Washington Post and Newsweek, run by Philip and then by Kay Graham; and the Chandler family’s Los Angeles Times ...

Diary

Frank Kermode: American Books, 1 April 1983

... After many vicissitudes the Library of America was launched, under the direction of Daniel Aaron, Richard Poirier and Jason Epstein, who had worked with Wilson on the original abortive project. These people and their associates raised $600,000 from the Ford Foundation and then $1.2 million from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Then they went to ...

Transcendental Criticism

David Trotter, 3 March 1988

The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections 
by Richard Poirier.
Faber, 256 pp., £14.95, March 1988, 0 571 15013 6
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... difficulty in Our Mutual Friend, is also likely to be the chief difficulty facing the reader of Richard Poirier’s ambitious and eloquent plea for the ‘renewal’ of literature and criticism through a better understanding of Emerson. Believing all may involve something close to a conversion. Believing none will do scant justice to the work of one of ...

Peter Conrad’s Flight from Precision

Richard Poirier, 17 July 1980

Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... When the Redcoats first encountered the Colonial revolutionaries they were quite unexpectedly beaten, and according to an anecdote in Harold Rosenberg’s The Tradition of the New, they were beaten because they were the best-trained infantry in Europe. They had been so well trained that when they looked at the rough American terrain on which their opponents had chosen to meet them, they could not see it ...

Seventeen Million Words

Richard Poirier, 7 November 1985

The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession 
edited by Daniel Aaron.
Harvard, 1661 pp., £35.95, March 1986, 0 674 45445 6
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... On 5 December 1963, the day Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, a man in Boston named Arthur Inman, having made several earlier attempts on his own life, managed to put a bullet through his head. A variety of chronic ailments and complaints had made him an invalid for nearly all of his 68 years, and except for brief excursions in his ancient chauffeur-driven Cadillac, he had since 1919 confined himself to an apartment building in downtown Boston named Garrison Hall ...

How far shall I take this character?

Richard Poirier: The Corruption of Literary Biography, 2 November 2000

Bellow: A Biography 
by James Atlas.
Faber, 686 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 571 14356 3
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... appeared, however, he seems automatically to have assumed that I was Jewish, even with a name like Poirier, and that I must also be Ivy League and still at Harvard. Having, as an academic critic, joined his list of enemies, mustn’t I belong to the same category as the perfidious Trilling and Levin, even though I was considerably younger than either of them ...

American Manscapes

Richard Poirier, 12 October 1989

Manhood and the American Renaissance 
by David Leverenz.
Cornell, 372 pp., $35.75, April 1989, 0 8014 2281 7
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... vengefulness, the compulsive penis envy, and the desire to be whipped, of Captain Ahab. Only Richard Henry Dana in Two Years Before the Mast and, in The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman, whose homosexual proclivities deserve more attention here, come forward as relatively standard cases of the urge to ‘be a man’. Leave it to the genteel types ...

In Praise of Vagueness

Richard Poirier, 14 December 1995

Henry James and the Art of Non-Fiction 
by Tony Tanner.
Georgia, 92 pp., £20.50, May 1995, 9780820316895
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... Emerson, more or less proposes this connection between poetry and pragmatism, but it was left to Richard Rorty to argue for it in a passionate and sustained manner, as he does in essays printed in these pages in 1986 and, somewhat revised, in his Contingency, Irony and Solidarity. The style of Pragmatism is in itself sufficiently poetic to have made many ...

In Praise of Mess

Richard Poirier: Walt Whitman, 4 June 1998

With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. VIII: 11 February 1891-30 September 1891 
by Horace Traubel, edited by Jeanne Chapman and Robert MacIsaac.
Bentley, 624 pp., $99.50, November 1996, 0 9653415 8 5
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With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. IX: 11 February 1891-30 September 1891 
by Horace Traubel, edited by Jeanne Chapman and Robert MacIsaac.
Bentley, 624 pp., £99.50, November 1996, 0 9653415 9 3
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... this immortal ‘me’. Discussing a study of 1883 entitled Walt Whitman and written by his friend Richard Bucke, he insists to Traubel that his endorsement of the book was never meant to extend to its interpretations: as to his explication – no, no, no – that I do not accept – for Leaves of Grass baffles me, its author, at all points of its meaning ...

Copying the coyote

Richard Poirier, 18 October 1984

The Principles of Psychology 
by William James, introduced by George Miller.
Harvard, 1302 pp., £14.95, December 1983, 0 674 70625 0
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A Stroll with William James 
by Jacques Barzun.
Chicago, 344 pp., £16, October 1983, 0 226 03865 3
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Becoming William James 
by Howard Feinstein.
Cornell, 377 pp., $24.95, May 1984, 0 8014 1617 5
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Essays in Psychology 
by William James, edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Fredson Bowers.
Harvard, 467 pp., £32, April 1984, 0 674 26714 1
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... When, in the summer of 1898, at the age of 56, William James went to Berkeley, California to deliver a series of lectures on pragmatism, he could have used his own life to illustrate the immensely difficult but successful application of one of its tenets: that truth is best seen as ‘what it is better for us to believe’, not as ‘as an accurate representation of reality’, and that what is better for us to believe is what can be ascertained only in and through our actions, not by consultation with fixed ideas or traditions or, notably in his case, by family example ...

America Deserta

Richard Poirier, 16 February 1989

America 
by Jean Baudrillard, translated by Chris Turner.
Verso, 129 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 86091 220 5
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America Observed: The Newspaper Years of Alistair Cooke 
by Ronald Wells.
Reinhardt, 233 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 1 871061 09 1
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American Journals 
by Albert Camus, translated by Hugh Levick.
Hamish Hamilton, 155 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 241 12621 5
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... I think, therefore I am’ was not supposed by Descartes to apply only to those for whom thinking is a line of work. That would appear to be the operating assumption, however, of the celebrated French sociologist-philosopher Jean Baudrillard in America, the latest of his works translated into English. At first the reader might wonder why a prose as dense as his should be made more so by having it stretched across pages of a width and gloss more appropriate to an otherwise agreeably produced and illustrated coffee-table book ...

Humans

Richard Poirier, 24 January 1985

Slow Learner 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 204 pp., £8.50, January 1985, 0 224 02283 0
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... With V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) to his credit so far, Thomas Pynchon, American of no known address, is possibly the most accomplished writer of prose in English since James Joyce. This is not to say that he is also the best novelist, whatever that would mean, but that sentence by sentence he can do more than any novelist of this century with the resources of the English-American language and with the various media by which it is made available to us, everything from coterie slangs to technological jargons, from film to economic history, from comic books to the poetry of T ...

All My Truth

Richard Poirier: Henry James Memoirs, 25 April 2002

A Small Boy and Others: Memoirs 
by Henry James.
Gibson Square, 217 pp., £9.99, August 2001, 1 903933 00 5
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... Published in 1913, when Henry James was 70, A Small Boy and Others is the first of three late volumes that taken together have sometimes been called the ‘autobiography’ of Henry James. The focus of A Small Boy is on the years of his infancy and boyhood up to the age of 15, and it was soon followed by the publication in 1914 of Notes of a Son and Brother, which takes him to the age of 27 ...

On Douglas Crase

Matthew Bevis, 25 November 2019

... The most interesting book of first poems in many years’, Richard Howard proclaimed in 1981. James Merrill, John Hollander and John Ashbery spoke in similarly emphatic terms, while Anthony Hecht saluted an ‘extraordinarily fine’ debut and Harold Bloom hailed the arrival of a great original. ‘I think I speak for many,’ David Kalstone wrote, ‘in saying it appeared with that sense of completeness of utterance and identity that must have come with the first books of Wallace Stevens (Harmonium) and Elizabeth Bishop (North and South ...

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