Denis Donoghue’s essay in the current Harper’s is good. Here’s a nice quote from it:
But I wish he had interrogated language itself a bit more.
He writes of it as if it were an always cordial presence, waiting
patiently to be invited to dance. It may sometimes be so; but I note
that Geoffrey Hill refers to language as enemy country, that Eliot
speaks of “the intolerable wrestle/With words and meanings,” that
Valéry thinks of the poem as “a prolonged hesitation between sound and
sense,” and that Stevens writes in “The Creations of Sound”—probably
with Eliot in his sights—
Tell X that speech is not dirty silence
Clarified. It is silence made still dirtier.
These are difficult, obscure statements; one might be
forgiven for being blank about some of them. But at least they express
a sense of language as not at all companionable, nor easily relied on.
Language evidently permits felicities, eloquences found among the
words, but only provided they are not taken for granted in advance.
Parini is not alone in giving language a free pass. . . .
I think Harper’s gives us about 4 or 5 lit-crit essay of this quality per year. Yeah, that’s a little low for a monthly publication, but toss in the predictably liberal political coverage and the delightfully off-beat essays on occasionally compelling topics and I’d say they’ve earned their $18.
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