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The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief Paperback – 2 Mar 2000
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"Wood is not just a keen critic, our best, but a superb writer" (Adam Begley Financial Times)
"A close reader of genius... Illuminating and exciting and compelling... one never doubts the soundness of his judgements... There is wonderful writing throughout this collection, by turns luscious and muscular, committed and disdaining, passionate and minutely considered" (John Banville Irish Times)
"He is one of literature's true lovers, and his deeply felt, contentious essays are thrilling in their reach and moral seriousness" (Susan Sontag)
"Magnificent... Like all good critics, he is a story-teller of the art of reading, recreating the experience on the page for us" (Evening Standard Francis Spufford)
"We have very few critics who can vie with Jarrell and Toynbee, who can remind us that talking about literature is a part of what literature is about, and talking about it with passion, precision, and out of a rich store of reading is a rare and precious gift: it is good for all of us that James Wood has it and we have James Wood" (Gabriel Josipovici Times Literary Supplement)
'James Wood has been called our best young critic. This is not true, he is our best critic, he thinks with a sublime ferocity' - Cynthia Ozick.See all Product description
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Not very. Take the New Republic review of Delbanco's Melville: His World and Work which begins with some off-base theological bullying then frankly turns into an essay on Melville's language in Moby-Dick:
"Melville's words muster their associations, their deep histories, on every page. There are scores of allusions to the King James Bible. Adjectives and adverbs are placed in glorious, loaded convoy: 'The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbert, heaped up, flaked up, with rose water snow.' With a tiny smirk of irony, Melville saves the word 'redundant' for the last place in that gorgeous list: as if to say, 'I dare you to find any of these multiple adjectives . . . redundant!'" Well, correct "sherbert" to "sherbet" and put a hyphen in "rose-water," to start with, assuming my online text is right. Then what?
The first thing you think of, if you know even a shallow history of Melville's words, is that he cannot be using "redundant" to mean "duplicative." He must be using it in a Latin sense, one easy enough to establish with a dictionary if you don't know Latin.
If you know Melville, whether or not you know Latin, you know that he takes many latinate words from John Milton. It takes only a moment on Google to locate a couple of likely analogues in Paradise Lost and in Samson Agonistes.
As it happens, the use of "redundant" in Paradise Lost is in a description of Satan as serpent which Melville was very familiar with: "his head / Crested aloft, and carbuncle his eyes; / With burnish'd neck of verdant gold, erect / Amidst his circling spires, that on the grass / Floated redundant: pleasing was his shape, /And lovely" . . . . Melville used the passage in The Confidence-Man, for example. Or look at this passage in Samson Agonistes where the fallen hero laments his condition: "to visitants a gaze, / Or pitied object, these redundant locks / Robustious to no purpose clust'/ring down, / Vain monument of strength" . . . . (lines 567-570).
When Melville's two-volume Milton first came into view in 1983 in the Phillips Gallery I got a glimpse of it, and when it came up for auction again at Sotheby's in 1989 I was equipped with a copy of the same set, onto which one cloudy Manhattan day I inscribed all Melville's marks and annotations I could see. Now I open my duplicate of Melville's Milton, marked as he marked his copy, and see that Melville did some underlining and marking of the page opposite "Floated redundant" and that in the Samson Agonistes he drew a line along all of 559-574, with another, shorter line along 567-569, three of the lines I just quoted, including "these redundant locks / Robustious."
It apparently did not occur to Wood that "redundant" did not mean something like "duplicative." If he had been sensitive to Melville's language enough to know the word had to be Miltonic (or most likely was Miltonic), he could have consulted Melville & Milton (2004), ed. Robin Grey, which reprints from Leviathan (March and October 2002) the transcription of Melville's marginalia in his Milton by Grey and Douglas Robillard, in consultation with me. But that would have meant being scholarly instead of a smirking, superior critic.
Nice people don't smirk. Dubya was a compulsive smirker, and look where he got the world. Wood may smirk, also compulsively, but he is wrong to bring Melville into his nasty little clique of smirkers. I could muster many other examples from Wood on Melville. He may be the greatest critic in the world, but he does not know anything worth knowing about Melville, and he certainly does not understand the nobility of Melville's literary ancestry and the towering grandeur of Melville's spirit.
Grande saggio che racconta e approfondisce quasi tutti i miei autori inglesi preferiti, e qualche russo. La prossima volta non mi dispiacerebbe qualche altro autore, magari di una cultura diversa e no, thomas Mann non é abbastanza.