Crossing the Gap: A novelist’s essays'
Chatto & Windus, 167 pp, $29.95 hb
Many of our strongest writers are also numbered among our most commanding critics; and in some cases – Dryden, Johnson, Coleridge, and Eliot – it is not easy to tell whether their greater contribution is to literature or literary criticism. Part of the problem, of course, is that at this high level the distinction tends to break down: criticism becomes literature in its own right and often on its own terms.
The same could be said of certain critics who are not practising writers or whose writing is of marginal importance. After acknowledging the eccentric brilliance of a William Empson or the forensic talents of a Paul de Man, one must surely also recognise a claim for the scholarly essay to be read as literature. This is not simply a matter of paying tribute to the ‘well-written article’; it is, rather, to admit that critics use the same rhetorical manoeuvres as other writers, and that in their essays one can find, albeit displaced, a certain ‘will to literature’ which is generally only looked for in poems, novels and plays.