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A Touch More Rare

Harry Berger, Jr., and the Arts of Interpretation

Nina Levine

Publication Year: 2009

Harry Berger, Jr., has long been one of our most revered and respected literary and cultural critics. Since the late nineties, a stream of remarkable and innovative publications have shown how very broad his interests are, moving from Shakespeare to baroque painting, to Plato, to theories of early culture.In this volume a distinguished group of scholars gathers to celebrate the work of Harry Berger, Jr. To celebrate,in Berger's words, is to visit something either in great numbers or else frequently-to go away and come back, go away and come back, go away and come back. Celebrating is what you do the second or third time around, but not the first. To celebrate is to revisit. To revisit is to revise. Celebration is the eureka of revision.Not only former students but distinguished colleagues and scholars come together in these pages to discover Berger's eurekas-to revisit the rigor and originality of his criticism, and occasionally to revise its conclusions, all through the joy of strenuous engagement. Nineteen essays on Berger's Shakespeare, his Spenser, his Plato, and his Rembrandt, on his theories of interpretation and cultural change and on the ethos of his critical and pedagogical styles, open new approaches to the astonishing ongoing body of work authored by Berger. An introduction by the editors and an afterword by Berger himself place this festival of interpretation in the context of Berger's intellectual development and the reception of his work from the mid-twentieth century into the first decade of the twenty-first.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

Acknowledgments, Dedication

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pp. xi-xv

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pp. 1-10

During the last decade of the twentieth century an interesting thing began to happen in the fields of literary criticism and theory, art history, philosophy, cultural theory, and anthropology. This interesting thing, the multidisciplinary branching and growth of the protean works of Harry Berger,...

Part One: Drama

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pp. 11-12

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1. Enlisting in Harry Berger’s Imaginary Forces

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pp. 13-22

I begin with two anecdotes.
It is safe to say that not many Modern Language Association talks remain in the mind, word for word, after many years—which makes one particular occasion stick especially in my mind. I can’t recall the city, or...

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2. Harry Berger and Self-Hatred

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pp. 23-30

It’s not easy to be describe the register of Harry Berger’s critical writing. The work is enthusiastic but plainspoken—the work of a ‘‘dry light’’; it is deeply skeptical but never cynical, relentlessly ironic yet always with a sense of the charity of irony. Its confidence goes along with an immense...

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3. Complicity and Catharsis: The Immature

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pp. 31-44

In participating in this volume, I am reminded of a translation problem that presents itself in reading Rabelais, who often refers to Pantagruel walking about Paris being accompanied by ‘‘ses gens’’—his people. Pantagruel goes everywhere with ‘‘his people,’’ who are not exactly family but...

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4. Sack Drama

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pp. 45-57

Works devoted to the study of Shakespeare’s history plays seldom reference the work of Harry Berger, Jr.1 If they do, it is likely in regard to a performance issue, with Berger playing the bogeyman of single-minded textual critic. The strategy of reading, of doing criticism, that informs...

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5. Redistributing Complicities in the Age of Digital Production

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pp. 58-74

In his chapter on The Merchant of Venice in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom claims that ‘‘the ontological weight of Shylock, from his first appearance through his last, places him as a representation of reality far distaining every other character in the play’’ and that, ‘‘equivocal...

Part Two: Harry’s Bower of Bliss

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pp. 75-76

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6. Acrasian Fantasies

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pp. 77-91

Harry Berger’s ‘‘Wring Out the Old: Squeezing the Text, 1951–2001’’ will be a major critical statement on the Bower of Bliss for years to come.1 Any serious work on the Bower needs to engage Harry’s generously annotated, tightly argued analysis of the structural discourse that constitutes...

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7. Harry Berger’s Genius

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pp. 92-103

Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene twice considers Genius. So, too—in his career-long study of Spenser’s poem—has Harry Berger, Jr. In The Allegorical Temper (1957), Berger briefly examines the first Genius of The Faerie Queene: the Genius of Book Two, the porter at the gate of the...

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8. Taking Another Peek

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pp. 104-112

In responding to Harry Berger’s reading of the Bower of Bliss, I’d like to combine homage to Harry with Harry-inspired insubordination as I shift my primary attention away from the Bower of Bliss and question Harry’s identification of the gynephobia showcased by the episode as the fundamental...

Part Three: Critical and Cultural Theory

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pp. 113-114

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9. Close Reading Transformed

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pp. 115-124

Many of us have observed that Harry Berger is intimately associated with the practice of close reading, and yet it is too little acknowledged how utterly atypical a close reader he is. How and why should this be so? To begin with the broad view, where poetics is concerned, the twentieth century...

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10. Thinking Culture, and Beyond

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pp. 125-138

Throughout his essays on culture and cultural change, Harry Berger maintains a strong commitment to the aesthetic. From his early essays, published in the 1960s, up to and including his most recent work, Berger assumes a dialectical relation between the work of art and the work of...

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11. Bergerama

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pp. 139-162

The term ‘‘Bergerama’’ was coined by one of Harry’s most successful graduate students, John Wilkes, now emeritus director and the founder of the science writing program at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). Wilkes’s success consisted not only in contributing to the ‘‘invention’’...

Part Four: Visual Arts

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pp. 163-164

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12. The Power of Prodigality in the Work of Derek Walcott and Harry Berger

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pp. 165-181

My connection of Derek Walcott and Harry Berger operates at three levels. In the most general terms, Walcott’s commitment to and immersion in the classics of Western tradition—especially as invoked in his poems of epic scope, Omeros and Tiepolo’s Hound—correspond to the trajectory from...

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13. Harry Berger’s Sprezzatura and the Poses of Cicero’s de Oratore

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pp. 182-196

When my current Indiana colleague and onetime fellow graduate student Judith Anderson kindly reached across departmental lines to recommend my inclusion in this tributary occasion, it seemed appropriate that I should address myself to Harry’s Fictions of the Pose in hopes of casting more light...

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14. What Art Historians Can Learn from Harry

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pp. 197-214

Twenty years ago the editor of the Art Bulletin asked Egbert Haverkamp- Begemann, a senior faculty member at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York, to review the state of research in Northern Baroque art. The assignment was part of the journal’s survey of the field as a whole, which it was...

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15. Platonic Irony in Berger

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pp. 215-226

As an eavesdropper, as what the world I’m approaching might call an acousmatic, I remember overhearing Harry Berger talking one day to a graduate student classmate of mine. Harry demonstratively extended his Bollingen Plato—a book rounded at the corners, made softcover the hard way, fretted...

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16. Situating Harry’s Plato

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pp. 227-234

Harry Berger’s published studies of Plato’s dialogues are to be found in several articles written over a thirty-five-year period.1 Three of these articles appear together, either as reprints or for the first time, in Situated Utterances.2 These articles, in conversation with other Plato scholarship...

Part Six: Intellectual Community

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pp. 235-236

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17. The Seminal and the Inimitable

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pp. 237-254

This is a critical essay about critical essays, a meditation on critical ambition, critical tact, and the conditions of group play that regulate the collective activity of literary studies. To use a term I picked up from Mark Rudd before I’d heard of Stanley Fish, it is an essay about community. Our...

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18. How Harry Taught

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pp. 255-263

Harry Berger has spent much of his working life in the classroom, and I argue that an account of the way he teaches says something about the way he thinks. Yet I want to preface my description with several caveats. Harry was my undergraduate teacher at the start of his career more than forty...

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19. Harry Berger’s Intellectual Community

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pp. 264-270

One of the things that have always fascinated me about Harry’s writing is how much of his own intellectual community he manages to get inside it. Not just the poets and philosophers with whom he converses across centuries, but the rest of us, too; more than any other critic I know, he builds...

The Last Word

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pp. 271-272

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20. Backlooping

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pp. 273-280

When I was writing The Allegorical Temper in the early 1950s, I meant the pun in the title to refer both to the ‘‘temper’’ or attitude attributed to Edmund Spenser at the time and to the way The Faerie Queene tempered or critiqued that temper. The image of Spenser produced by the Variorum...


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pp. 281-332

Harry Berger, Jr.: Bio-bibliography

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pp. 333-347

Photo Album

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pp. G1-G5


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pp. 349-352

Select Publications Index

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pp. 353-354

General Index

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pp. 355-358

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247059
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230303
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230309

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Berger, Harry -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Critics -- United States.
  • Scholars -- United States.
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