Literary criticism has been narrowed, not merely in its “approach,” but in its subject matter. When I took up the question of Richard Russo’s Catholicism in Empire Falls yesterday, I consulted the MLA Bibliography to find the previous criticism on the novel. Eight years after its publication, only three articles on it have been published—and one of those, by Joseph Epstein in Commentary, was a review-essay on it and Jonathan Franzen’s Corrections. In the same period of time, sixty-four publications have appeared just on The Sound and the Fury."
Archive for July 28th, 2009
and then, plugging e-books, suggests that economics may be reason enough not to finish a book: sunk costs:
"If a reader paid $25 for a book, it’s a lot harder for them to put it down after ten pages than if a publishing house sent you a free review copy. That’s why e-books make more sense. They cost less and so the investment is lower. By the way, I think the same principle should apply to meals. If Americans simply left half their food on the plate, most of our obesity issues would disappear."
I’d say it’s more about time and boredom.
Dr. Johnson used to enjoy starting ‘pedestrian and solemn’ scholars, as biographer W. Jackson Bate once put it, by flaunting his inability to ‘read books through.’ As he said to Mrs. Thrale: ‘how few books are there of which one ever can possibly arrive at the last page!’ Or to one William Bowles: ‘I have read few books through; they are generally so repulsive that I cannot."
Apropos of which, one of my favourite Johnson remarks, via Boswell, via here: ’ "what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read."
I plan to catch the Francis Bacon Centenary Retrospective at the Met next week. Here, from Reported Sighting, Art Chronicles 1957-87, by John Ashbery (yes, he wrote/writes about art) is what Bacon has to say about things:
That is why real painting is a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance – mysterious because the very substance of the paint, when used in this way, can make such a direct assault upon the nervous system: continuous because the medium is so fluid and subtle that every change that is made loses what is already there in the hope of making a fresh gain. I think painting today is pure intuition and luck and taking advantage of what happens when you splash the stuff down…"
Here’s Ashbery (writing in the New York Herald Tribune in 1963) on Bacon:
"His subject matter is still man in the horror of his isolation – naked and obscene on a studio couch, or grinning baboon-like from behind a desk. Yet, strangely enough, Bacon’s work is neither horrible nor depressing. HIs tremendous gifts crowd out all feelings but admiration, and after the initial shock, one begins to feel on almost friendly terms with the creatures in his zoo. It may be an ugly, obscene and terrifying world, but it is also a deeply human one."