cover image A Critics Journey: Literary Reflections, 1958-1998

A Critics Journey: Literary Reflections, 1958-1998

Geoffrey H. Hartman. Yale University Press, $50 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-300-08043-8

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.)