The Hatred of Literature

William Marx, trans. from the French by Nicholas Elliott. Belknap, $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-674-97612-2
If this complex and frequently funny exploration of literature and its foes had a subtitle, it might well be “In Praise of Banned Books.” Marx, a professor of comparative literature, delivers an impassioned broadside bibliophiles will find inspiring during the next national conversation about appropriate reading material. The premise: a 2,500-year-old battle still rages over who controls the written word. Marx introduces the somewhat vague concept of “antiliterature” as the antagonist: the idea that literature is dangerous and should be constrained (traced back here to classical Greece). He introduces in detail exemplars of antiliterature, from Plato to Nicholas Sarkozy, and then demolishes their arguments with a curious mixture of vehemence and erudite nonchalance. For example, in response to Sarkozy’s attack on reading requirements for civil service exams, he speculates that “international conventions will soon ban obligatory reading of masterpieces as inhumane and degrading treatment.” His arguments invite controversy, as when Marx glibly reduces centuries of Christian thought to “an irrepressible inferiority complex” in relation to pagan culture. He’s also very entertaining: his introductory recap of the Iliad is so slyly hilarious that it alone is worth the price of admission. All of this makes for a persuasive case for literature’s value as “the ultimate illegitimate discourse” and for a witty attack on censoriousness. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/27/2017
Release date: 01/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 978-0-674-98259-8
Ebook - 978-0-674-98307-6
Ebook - 978-0-674-98306-9
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