From Publishers Weekly
Each of these 19 essays, penned by the highly esteemed Sterling professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at Yale, addresses a major literary issue, be it Shakespeare, Dickinson, Wordsworth, the rhetoric of hate or new approaches to teaching the humanities. Hartman, a refugee from Hitler's Germany and a member of the renowned Yale school of literary studies that helped make "deconstruction" a household word, is nothing if not an enthusiast for his chosen field. A talkative introduction traces his early influences and outlines the trajectory of a career that has taken him from being a champion of Romantic poetry to being a pioneer in Holocaust studies. Hartman possesses encyclopedic knowledge, and sometimes his writing seems more like snapshots of a mind in mid-rumination than like anything as focused as an essay. But strong mythmakers like Milton and Freud captivate him, and in his many pieces on such subjects he manages to channel his tendency toward breadth into sustained and highly appreciative investigations. Hartman's careful explication of his chosen texts is invigorated by his commitment, at once subtle and moral, to the critic's task of broadening our response to art: "Books are our second fall," he writes, "the reenactment of a seduction that is also a coming to knowledge." His conviction that criticism matters essentially, not just to its audience but to artists themselves, gracefully translates into moments of interpretive courage, for which the reader emerges grateful and enriched. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A celebrated professor of literature and criticism presents a representative gathering of his work, some of the pieces previously uncollected. Hartman, professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at Yale, has distinguished himself as a literary critic and commentator over 40 productive years. Here he offers selections from, or perhaps even summation of, his life's work, highlighting both the theoretical (Freud, Heidegger, Derrida) and the practical criticism (on Milton, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth) as well as forays into film (Hitchcock's North by Northwest), detective fiction (Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald), and the current sorry state of the humanities in American universities. What links all these interests is Hartman's abiding commitment to reading and interpreting literature and not (as his many detractors have often accused) his supposed identity as a deconstructive nihilist. This collection makes clear that Hartman's association with deconstruction is merely a piece of a much larger and more interesting picture. Its a picture of a man trying honestly and in a workmanlike way to understand the full complexity of literature's relationship to reality. Now, an upshot of his thinking in this regard is that criticism should not necessarily simplify literature. He rejects emphatically the genteel Anglo-American tradition of literary criticism as polite conversation in simple, elegant language. If literature is dynamic, manifold, and complicated, then criticism must rise to meet that truth and not mask or diminish it. Consequently, Hartman can be rough going for any reader, which leads him into a paradox of sorts. He also emphasizes the public nature of literature and criticism, yet his own writing sometimesoftenmakes him seem esoteric, academic, just another expert in a culture of specializations. The paradox creates an interesting struggle in his language, which is alternately pithy (public) and dense (esoteric). The result is a kind of writing that challenges the reader to think creatively, both with and against the critic. Hartman cultivates the form of the literary essay with great intellectual integrity, raising important questions along the way. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.