Friday, July 09, 2010

A Jacques Barzun Reader
- Got this for a buck.  Loved reading it, a nice hardcover. The straightforward and sensible essay "Criticism: Art or Craft?" was timely and instructive for me during the last few weeks, when so many comics critics and cartoonists have been talking about these subjects. 

Here's something from p. 506, "Three Enemies of Intellect"--
"Avante garde psychology, avante-garde art, and the philanthropy that is coeval with them, alike cherish the warm confusions of animal existence." The first part of the sentence is maybe confusing without the context, but the last bit about "warm confusions" is nice. Even when he overstates and over-generalizes, in order to correct what he sees as the sloppy over-reaching of progressives and avante-gardes, I sympathize with him more than, say, the pontifications of a GK Chesterton or Marilynne Robinson, or a lot of conservative-minded writers, who seem to cherish warm confusions of a different kind. It's because I know that in Barzun there's always the strong influence of William James. Barzun's book on James needs to be read first, I think, (I've read it twice) and definitely before House of Intellect. Barzun follows James in his secularism and pluralism, and he stays very open-minded and relativistic, enthusiastic and sensible, no matter how cranky he might get in his old age.

"This rational linking of fact, motive, and explanation is what distinguishes sensible crime fiction from the thriller, which is the acme of helter-skelter [guess he never read superhero comic books]. Thrillers can be fun when the writer makes things happen so rapidly and surprisingly that the reader never even thinks of motive of probability. Otherwise, actions and agents appear childish and insane by turns, and the effect is tedium and disgust."
 (p.568 "A Catalogue of Crime").