Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Epstein on the Scene

Twenty-five years after he wrote an essay on the same subject for The New Criterion, Joseph Epstein has a look at "the literary situation of the day." He's not short on opinions:
The great poet of the day, if received opinion is to be regarded, is not English but Irish, Seamus Heaney. I wish I knew why. He seems like a poet: he is amiable, rough-hewn in appearance, determinedly not cosmopolitan, Celtic to the highest power. I only wish I could recall a single phrase from the perhaps hundred or so of his poems that I've read. But every age must have a great poet, whether he truly exists or not, and Seamus Heaney is apparently the man appointed for the job.
The several paragraphs on the broader poetry scene that follow his thoughts on Heaney are worth the price of admission. They begin with this:
Poor poetry, it is the Darfur of twenty-first century literature. Everyone wants to do something about it, but nobody quite knows what is to be done.
I also enjoyed this, being a big Russo fan and having not felt much for The Corrections myself:
Richard Russo is a novelist who emerged over the past quarter century. He writes, among other things, about working-class life in upstate New York, and does so with the bone knowledge that derives from his being of that class and from an imaginative sympathy with its members that allows him to understand their yearnings and fears. Some while ago I was asked to write about Russo's novel Empire Falls and a novel by Jonathan Franzen called The Corrections, which is steeped in hatred
for the middle-class from which Franzen derived. The comparison between the two novels reminded me of an essay Matthew Arnold wrote about the difference between Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, which was that Tolstoy, the larger-hearted man, came to love his heroine and Flaubert never veered from his loathing for his. A good heart remains the first requisite for a great novelist.
Epstein can veer toward being overly proud of his conservatism (as when he mentions in passing that he hasn't read many current-day international writers), but for strong feelings about Susan Sontag, British literature, David Foster Wallace, and many other writers and movements, stylishly expressed, the whole thing's worth reading.

(Via A New Career In a New Town)


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