The Politics of Interpretation (University of Chicago Press; Chicago), edited by W. J. T. Mitchell, contains essays and responses to them by some of the leading literary theorists of our time–Booth, Bruns, Graff, Hirsch, Kristeva, Said, and others. One of the more lively controversies that emerge in the text has little to do with deconstructing, reconstructing, or similar critical activities. Instead, the readers witness a verbal wrestling match between Ronald Dworkin and Stanley Fish that’s set off about, around, and through Miss Agatha Christie. That high-minded scholars can have low rent interests is made even more clear in the recent work of Matthew J. Broccoli. If it’s modern, American, and has pushed a pen, then it’s a subject for the seemingly tireless Bruccoli. He has gone from James Gould Cozzens to Ross Macdonald (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich; San Diego).
Macdonald, of course, was influenced by Hammett and Chandler, but he described W. H. Auden as “the most important single influence on my life.” Auden taught at the University of Michigan, where Macdonald was a student. The student went on to receive a doctorate. Academe was left behind, but it was not forgotten; Macdonald became chums with Hugh Kenner, Donald Davie, and Marshall McLuhan; his works are studded with references to the travails of Oedipus, even though they are generally thought to be merely “hard-boiled” detective books. Dworkin, Fish, and Bruccoli make it clear that there can be something worth while in what may seem to be trifles–and that there’s often a child behind the pedant.