In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Shorter Reviews The Failure of Criticism, by Eugene Goodheart; 203 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978, $13.50. If a book looks like a novel, the reader may be disappointed to find that it is only a collection of short stories; and if a book initially appears to offer one long sustained critical argument, the reader may be disappointed to find that it is really a collection of essays on diverse (if often related) topics. A more informative title for The Failure of Criticism might be Rather Gloomy Essays on a Variety of Critics and Novelists. The writers discussed include T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, Philip Rieff, Stendhal, Flaubert, and James Joyce. The more the reader has credited the book's early promise to be a polemical discussion of the plight of modern criticism, the more the chapters on the novelists may seem digressive. The initial argument, if not new, is certainly bold and challenging. Professor Goodheart claims that "The triumph of modernism is the defeat of criticism" (p. 15). The great age of criticism was that of Arnold, Ruskin, and Carlyle, he claims; they were humanists, for their works embodied humane moral values and pieties. But modernism destroys those values; it is scepticism militant; and in our century the critic too often connives in the destruction by endorsing the scepticism. This is a Leavisite case: I was reminded of the many hours during which I listened to the master's insidiously quiet voice at the Mill Lane lecture-rooms in the 1950s; and indeed the discussion of Leavis is largely a sympathetic one, though the concluding emphasis is on "the sense of serious limitation." Leavis's failure, we are told, "is manifest in the fact that despite his organicist ideal his own criticism shows little growth and development" (p. 83). Professor Goodheart's bleak view of Flaubert and Eliot will have few surprises for those readers who have been influenced by Leavis. The Failure of Criticism certainly reminds us that there is a modish amorality about much modern literature and criticism; but one obvious objection to Goodheart's case is that the literary criticism of this century, like the creative writing, has nevertheless been abundantly rich and vigorous. So many barriers, so many kinds of tacit censorship have fallen; the range of critical approaches now is healthily wide: structuralist, Marxist, psychoanalytical, semiological, liberal-traditional, or archetypal; and a period which has produced not only Leavis and Eliot but also Empson and Raymond Williams, Edmund Wilson and Arnold Kettle, can without disgrace compare with the mid-to-late nineteenth century. In any case, is it really so great a loss that there is no present-day 239 240Philosophy and Literature Matthew Arnold? Culture and Anarchy is an overrated arjd sinister tract; for beneath its bland tautologies lurks the clear insinuation that democratic rights should not be extended to the working classes. As social critics, a far more progressive trio than Arnold, Carlyle, and Ruskin would be J. S. Mill, William Morris, and Cunninghame Graham. Professor Goodheart's discussions of the individual writers are conducted with clarity and proficiency. His polemical animus naturally leads him to err on the side of pessimism: writer after writer is weighed in the balance and found wanting. Furthermore, though there is vigor in the arguments, I sometimes wished there had been a little more sensitivity or originality. The Leavisite case against Flaubert, for example, is now rather out of date; for the increasing ruthlessness of much present-day fiction has helped to alert us to a wide range of tones of implicit or frustrated humanity which qualify Flaubert's coldly forensic urbanity: humanity implicit, for example, in his notation of the plight of Berthe Bovary, who at the novel's close is condemned to the drudgery of the cotton-mill. In the account of James Joyce, though, Professor Goodheart is surely correct to see that Ulysses constitutes a cornucopian condemnation of the egoistic aesthetic creed offered by the Stephen Dedalus of A Portrait of the Artist. (The more to be regretted, then, is the fact that Professor Goodheart follows the fashion of using the term "epiphany" as though it were a literary-critical term...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 239-240
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.