In a collection that includes new essays written explicitly for this volume, one of our sharpest and most influential critics confronts the past, present, and future of literary culture.
If every outlet for book criticism suddenly disappeared — if all we had were reviews that treated books like any other commodity — could the novel survive? In a gauntlet-throwing essay at the start of this brilliant assemblage, Cynthia Ozick stakes the claim that, just as surely as critics require a steady supply of new fiction, novelists need great critics to build a vibrant community on the foundation of literary history. For decades, Ozick herself has been one of our great critics, as these essays so clearly display. She offers models of critical analysis of writers from the mid-twentieth century to today, from Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, and Kafka, to William Gass and Martin Amis, all assembled in provocatively named groups: Fanatics, Monsters, Figures, and others. Uncompromising and brimming with insight, these essays are essential reading for anyone facing the future of literature in the digital age.
This essay collection from novelist (Foreign Bodies) and literary critic Ozick takes a fresh look at renowned writers of the past and present. She sorts the authors under consideration into different categories, including "Critics" (such as Edmund Wilson), "Figures" (such as Bernard Malamud and W.H. Auden), "Monsters" (such as Leo Baeck and Harold Bloom), and "Souls" (such as William Gass and Martin Amis). Ozick illuminates argument through juxtaposition. Thus, essays by Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus are seen as seeking, but not finding, "an infrastructure of serious criticism." Lionel Trilling, "the most celebrated critic of his time," is seen here through the lens of his fiction, and Saul Bellow through his letters rather than his novels. A piece on Kafka is partly biographical essay and partly exploration of the nature of biography. Hebrew, as language and identity marker, takes center stage for a public conversation between Marilynne Robinson and Robert Alter at the 92nd Street Y, forging links to Ozick's recurring theme of Jewish identity, and to her last section devoted to Holocaust literature. The Beat Generation comes in for a bit of scolding along the way, but Ozick opens more doors than she closes. "Serious criticism is surely a form of literature," she posits, and serious readers will agree and find it practiced here.