A Scholar’s Tale: Intellectual Journey of a Displaced Child of Europe

Adam Phillips writes:

Hostility tends to make people sound more powerful than they really are. Eliot against the Romantics, Leavis against Milton, Empson against Christianity, Ricks against Theory. By the 1990s, when literary criticism had become even more marginal than it was in its supposed heyday, critics were known mostly for the ferocity of their prejudices. Geoffrey Hartman, though, has never been a critic with animus. He has been forceful in his views without being disparaging of others in a profession with few niches and great rivalries. He has gone on making an exemplary case for close reading and the value of literature without making grandiose claims for the ‘cultural centrality’ of books that very few people read, or have even heard of. He has wanted the writing of literary criticism to be seen as not necessarily inferior to the texts it interprets, without secretly hoping that interpretation can replace or displace the texts it is drawn to.

(LRB 6 March 2008)

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