The Critic in the Modern World: Public Criticism from Samuel Johnson to James Wood by James Ley

Reviewed by
October 2014, no. 365
An elegant work of literary criticism

The Critic in the Modern World: Public Criticism from Samuel Johnson to James Wood

by James Ley

Bloomsbury, $39.99 pb, 246 pp, 9781623569310

The Critic in the Modern World: Public Criticism from Samuel Johnson to James Wood by James Ley

Reviewed by
October 2014, no. 365

Aproaching Thomas Wyatt’s great but notoriously resistant poem ‘They flee from me that sometime did me seek / With naked foot stalking in my chamber’, poet and critic Vincent Buckley wrote, ‘The sense of purposive yet mysterious activity created in this opening stanza is also a matter of its sensuousness … The critical problem is to define this … sensuousness … [I]t is not to identify the kind of animal suggested in the analogy. I have heard deer, birds, and mice proposed for this purpose; my own preference is for racehorses, but it is as irrelevant as any other. It is far more important to identify their action than to identify them.’

When I first read this comment as a student, I remember feeling a surge of relief undercutting my anxiety at having to tackle Wyatt. Here was a human voice, a critic speaking, certainly, concerned ‘to present the work, not to enclose it’, but a voice nevertheless unequivocally and openly connected to the world that surrounded me as I pored over ‘They flee from me’; a world in which racehorses were alive and interesting, though not at that moment important.

An elegant work of literary criticism

The Critic in the Modern World: Public Criticism from Samuel Johnson to James Wood

by James Ley

Bloomsbury, $39.99 pb, 246 pp, 9781623569310

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