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Wrangling with Words
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Wrangling with Words

Denis Donoghue: The Arts Without Mystery; Little, Brown; Boston.   Jacques Derrida, maître of the critical school of deconstruction, writes of his Of Grammatology, “writing, the letter, the sensible inscription, has always been considered by Western tradition as the body and matter external to the spirit, to breath, to speech, and to the logos.” As...

Yeats: A Second Coming
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Yeats: A Second Coming

W. B. Yeats: The Poems; Edited by Richard J. Finneran; Macmillan; New York     When Yeats died in 1939 his poetry had not been completely collected and there was some doubt over the right text. His widow was involved in the editing of his work and she had strong and sometimes wrong ideas about...

Reality by the Tail
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Reality by the Tail

Luisa Valenzuela: The Lizard’s Tail; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; New York.   The Lizard’s Tail reflects two important tendencies in Latin American fiction. One is a sense of obligation to make social and political commentary. Few Latin American writers escape the pressures to be active participants in the solution of economic, political, and cultural problems. As...

The Radical Virus
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The Radical Virus

Tom Schachtman: Decade of Shocks: Dallas to Watergate, 1963-1974; Poseidon Press; New York.   Allen J. Matusow: The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960’s; Harper & Row; New York.   Pity the lot of the American radical of recent vintage. Never does the opportunity arise for him to spill his blood...

Accidents & Ignorance
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Accidents & Ignorance

A. J. P. Taylor: A Personal History; Atheneum; New York.   With the exception of Edward Gibbon, there have been few great historians who have written their autobiographies. The reason for this should be fairly clear. While some historians, such as Macaulay or Mommsen, led interesting lives, and some, such as Lewis Namier, are interesting...

Finer Fleet of Clay
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Finer Fleet of Clay

Bernard Malamud: The Stories of Bernard Malamud; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; New York. Isaac Bashevis Singer: The Penitent; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; New York. Morality is religion’s province. Contemporary secularists do not see this, averting their eyes from the religious sources of their own moralities. Such aversion makes a kind of sense; deprived of any...

Perceptibles
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Perceptibles

George W. S. Trow: The City in the Mist; Little Brown; Boston. What’s in a name? Fair Juliet’s answer notwithstanding, we insist that there is something to it. Take the case of a relatively young author who places two initials between his given title and his surname. There’s something to that in the closing years...

The Joy of Cents
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The Joy of Cents

Keith Bradley and Alan Gelb: Worker Capitalism: The New Industrial Relations; Tue MIT Press; Cambridge, MA. Leonard M. Greene: Free Enterprise Without Poverty; W.W. Norton; New York. Wynne Godley and Francis Cripps: Macroeconomics; Oxford University Press; New York. As in almost any field, economics is dominated by a very few seminal works. Still there are...

Basking in the Afterglow
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Basking in the Afterglow

Richard Mayne: Postwar: The Dawn of Today’s Europe; Schocken Books; New York. It is common today to describe Western Europe as facing a crisis. Its physical problems are manifold: economic stagnation, high unemployment, political dissatisfaction, demo­ graphic decline, military flaccidity. It would appear, however, that these overt problems are surface manifestations of a deeper malaise-the...

Waste of Money
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Waste of Money

Frustration Joyce Carol Oates: Mysteries of Winterthurn; E. P. Dutton; New York. When it’s literary gee-whiz time, people like Isaac Asimov — the man who produces books, stories, and essays the way that McDonald’s cranks out Big Macs, fries, and Cokes — are trotted out. In the face of Asimov, many literate persons, most of...

Red Hot Harlequin Romances
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Red Hot Harlequin Romances

Alice Walker: In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; San Diego. by Brian Murray Alice Walker, not yet 40, has been publishing poetry and prose since the late 1960’s. But only in recent years has her work been accorded the sort of fervid critical praise that the American literary establishment prefers to bestow...

Little Brother & Kid Sister
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Little Brother & Kid Sister

Caroline Bird: The Good Years: Yours Life in the Twenty-First Century; E. P. Dutton; New York. Richard Louv: America II; Jeremy Tarcher/Houghton Mifflin; Los Angeles. There are some serious people in the United States today attempting to ensure that the next generation of Americans has a decent place to live. Unfortunately, none of their work...

Liberal Worship and Conservative Judgment
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Liberal Worship and Conservative Judgment

Joyce Carol Oates: The Profane Art: Essays and Reviews; E. P. Dutton; New York. Kenneth S. Lynn: The Air-Line to Seattle: Studies in Literary and Historical Writing about America; The University of Chicago Press; Chicago. Beyond any reasonable doubt, Matthew Arnold knew far more than did Samuel Johnson. Curiously, however, he was far less confident...

Playing by Perverted Rules
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Playing by Perverted Rules

Lobbying for Freedom in the 1980’s: A Grass-Roots Guide to Protecting Your Rights; Edited by Kenneth P. Norwick; Wideview/Perigee; New York. Susan J. Tolchin and Martin Tolchin: Dismantling America: The Rush to Deregulate; Houghton Mifflin; Boston. What is freedom? To the ancient Greeks, freedom existed in the margins: it was that vacuum of authority between...

Liberal Worship and Conservative Judgment
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Liberal Worship and Conservative Judgment

Joyce Carol Oates: The Profane Art: Essays and Reviews; E. P. Dutton; New York. Kenneth S. Lynn: The Air-Line to Seattle: Studies in Literary and Historical Writing about America; The University of Chicago Press; Chicago. Beyond any reasonable doubt, Matthew Arnold knew far more than did Samuel Johnson. Curiously, however, he was far less confident...

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Eviscerating the Heartland

Gore Vidal; Duluth; Random House; New York. Gore Vidal has spawned another repulsive novel. Having experimented with historical travesty (Burr, Julian, 1876) and fag chic (Myra Breckinridge), Vidal has turned his fictional abilities to the world of soap operas and drugstore gothic novels. He has not risen above his material. Even the publishers do not...

Before the Borscht Belt — and Beyond
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Before the Borscht Belt — and Beyond

The Literary Humor of the Urban Northeast, 1830-1890; Edited by David E. E. Sloane; Louisiana State University Press; Baton Rouge. Chicago’s Public Wits; Edited by Kenny J. Williams and Bernard Duffey; Louisiana State University Press; Baton Rouge. It is a commonplace that humor arises from the amused recognition of the dis­parity between the ideal and...

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Solipsism, Genius & Madness

Edward Albee: An Interview and Essay; Edited by Julian N. Wasserman; University of St. Thomas; Houston, TX. Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Don Quixote; Edited by Fredson Bowers; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; San Diego. We often hear that language is under siege in America today, that it is being assailed on all sides by people who, either...

Fiction for a Flat Earth
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Fiction for a Flat Earth

Françoise Sagan The Painted Lady; E.P. Dutton; New York. St. Cyril of Jerusalem is reported to have told his catechumens that “The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”...

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Traveling in Spiraling Circles

Harrison E. Salisbury: A Journey for Our Times: A Memoir; Harper & Row; New York. A Journey for Our Times is a frustrating, almost schizophrenic book. One approaches it with anticipation if only because the author is an experienced journalist with a unique fund of knowledge about the Soviet Union. But ultimately, Salisbury manages to...

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Transcendence of Mere Opinion

Thomas Mann: Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man; Frederick Ungar; New York. The true artist living in a time dominated by politics finds himself traversing a path that is both arduous and dangerous. He begins with a search that is committed to life rather than to just the intellect; that search is replete with ambiguity and...

Horrors & Hope
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Horrors & Hope

Paul Johnson: Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Eighties; Harper & Row; New York. Impresario Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballet Russe rose to give his address. The year was 1905. “We are witnesses to the greatest moment of summing-up in history,” he declared: in the name of a new and unknown culture,...

Myths, Visions, Passions
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Myths, Visions, Passions

Martin Seymour-Smith: Robert Graves: His Life and Work; Holt, Rinehart & Winston; New York. Douglas Archibald: Yeats; Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY. Although the era of “High Modernism” is well in the past, the pantheon of modern literature still seems to many a palace of confusions. The paradoxes and contradictions, the conflicting impulses that informed...

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Small is Significant

Walter Walker: A Dime to Dance By; Harper & Row; New York. Geoffrey Norman: Midnight Water; E.P. Dutton; New York. Existence — which is all there is, to answer Peggy Lee — consists of little things: there was only one Big Bang, and should there be another, none will be around to record it. Toe...

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Beyond the Public View

Tadeusz Konwicki: A Minor Apocalypse; Translated by Richard Lourie; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; New York. Contemporary Poland, for many reasons, disquiets the West. To those who nurture visions of a painless and peaceful accord between the Soviets and the United States against the supposed “common enemy” of nuclear weapons, the squashing of Solidarity to placate...