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Testosterone and Literary Criticism

Here’s how a lot of male literary criticism works: When you denigrate my work, you question my intelligence, my ability to write, to think, to argue. You assume that you are my superior. In fact, when you criticize me in public, in print, even if your line of reasoning holds together, you insult me. And because you do this, I don’t like you. In fact, I’m going to do everything I can to ridicule your reasoning, to make you look stupid. To prove that I’m smarter than you are. Fuck you for insulting my work.

This is why Hershel Parker attacks James Wood.

Testosterone, despite its concomitant invective and ad hominems, pushes those in its clutches to argue, fight, as well as they possibly can. And this, when luciferous, is often a good thing.

Edmond Caldwell’s site is not enlightening. Puzzling more like it. Filled with half truths. I still haven’t figured out quite why he has such a hate on for Wood. Surely, something more primal  – or personal – than mere philosophical difference or antipathy toward authoritative pronouncement is at play here.

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3 Responses to “Testosterone and Literary Criticism”

  1. Chris Says:

    The only question you should be concerning yourself with is whether Parker’s charge of faux erudition holds weight. It doesn’t matter how pure or impure Parker’s motives are: all that matters are that he shows up Wood as the sloppy reader he is.

    I’m no scholar, and even I could see straightaway that Melville’s use of the word “redundant” was not the “smirkily ironic” thing Wood made it out to be. It’s glaringly obvious Melville did not mean “redundant” in the sense Wood implies. It isn’t hard to guess what Melville meant by “redundant” if you’ve ever read Milton. How many tin-eared, tone-deaf readings can Wood perpetrate and still hold on to his crown as “today’s best literary critic”?

    So now we know that Wood is as inept a close reader of Herman Melville as he is of James Joyce and Jose Saramago.

  2. Nigel Beale Says:


    Passing strange that this respected literary biographer’s charge should appear in such an august forum. Just as Harold Bloom’s charge appears in similarly revered confines days after he’s been reported – legitimately – to be gravely ill.

    As to Parker’s argument – instead of reading it as gospel like you myopic shit stains doyou and your myopic brethren do, consider that there are eminently reasonable counter-arguments to be made.

  3. Chris Says:

    I don’t require Parker’s argument as “gospel,” I read “redundant” in the latinate sense from the first time I read the book. It’s a commonplace of criticism that Melville was steeped in Milton, as he was in the Bible and Shakespeare. For instance, Somerset Maugham specifically draws attention to Melville’s Milton-esque use of language (and the word “redundant” in particular) in his book Great Novelists and their Novels, which was aimed at general readers, not specialists. Wood not knowing the alternate meaning of “redundant” is like not knowing Milton’s use of “manuring” in Paradise Lost means “tillage” or “manual labour,” rather than “spreading horseshit,” though I suppose the latter meaning is more apropos to James Wood’s book-chat burble.

    As for Bloom, if you’re referring to his interview with Vice magazine, where he says there’s nothing of value in Wood’s criticism, he gave that interview in 2009. He wasn’t reported gravely ill till 2010. Are you seriously suggesting Bloom didn’t say what he was reported to have said?

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