Mon, 20 May 2013
Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Lionel Trilling (1905 – 1975) is one of the best known U.S. critics of the twentieth century. A Professor of Literature and Criticism at Columbia University from 1931 - 1975, his teachings focused primarily on the relationships between literature, culture and politics. His first and best known collection of essays, The Liberal Imagination, was published in 1950.
I met with David Southward, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, recently in Gatineau, Quebec at the ACTC Annual Conference to discuss Trilling and his approach to literary criticism.
Wed, 1 May 2013
"Longinus" is the name given to the unknown literary critic/author who wrote On the Sublime an essay written around 100 CE that examines the work of more than 50 ancient authors. In the essay - of which only an extended fragment remains - Longinus talks of the sublime as a state that reaches "beyond the realm of the human condition into greater mystery." How do authors produce this state in themselves, in their work, in their readers? How do we know it when we see it? Longinus gives us his take on the topic.
Prof Edwin Conner presented a paper on Longinus at the Association for Core Texts and Courses (ACTC) Conference held recently in Ottawa. I talk to him here about Longinus's criteria for judging whether or not a work is sublime.
Mon, 28 June 2010
David Staines is a Canadian literary critic, university professor (English at the University of Ottawa), writer, and editor. He specializes in three literatures: medieval, Victorian and Canadian. He is editor of the scholarly Journal of Canadian Poetry (since 1986) and general editor of McClelland and Stewart’s New Canadian Library series (since 1988). His essay collections, include The Canadian Imagination (1977), a book that introduced Canadian literature and literary criticism to an American audience, plus studies on Morley Callaghan and Stephen Leacock.
But it’s not for any of this (save a defense of Callaghan in the face of John Metcalf’s condemnations) that I sought Prof. Staines’ company. Rather it’s because he co-edited Northrop Frye on Canada (University of Toronto, 2001). Frye, Canada’s most celebrated literary theorist, a man many hold responsible for the dearth of evaluative analysis in Canadian criticism; a man whose thoughts and person Staines knows (and knew) very well; is the reason we met.
Please listen here to a conversation that reveals the author of Fearful Symmetry and The Anatomy of Criticism as a surprisingly self contradictory critic; speaks to the remarkable talent of Alice Munro and Canada’s current stock of strong fiction writers; outlines criteria for acceptance into the New Canadian Library; and identifies some of the best Canadian novels.
Sun, 7 February 2010
" Robert Fulford is a Toronto author, journalist, broadcaster, and editor. He writes a weekly column for The National Post and is a frequent contributor to Toronto Life, Canadian Art, and CBC radio and television. His books include Best Seat in the House: Memoirs of a Lucky Man (1988), Accidental City: The Transformation of Toronto (1995), and Toronto Discovered (1998)." This is how the man describes himself on his website. I’d only add that I think he is the best of his kind.
I sat down with him recently at his home in Toronto to talk about his long, distinguished career as a Canadian critic/journalist, and about evaluative criticism and what matters most in a book. Here’s our conversation:
Copyright © 2010 by Nigel Beale. www.nigelbeale.com
Fri, 15 January 2010
Kevin Gilmartin is a professor of English at California Institute of Technology, and visiting professor at the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at York University in England. He is the author of Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in Early Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1996) and Writing against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832 (Cambridge, 2007), and the co-editor with James Chandler of Romantic Metropolis: The Urban Scene of British Culture, 1780-1840 (Cambridge, 2005). His essays have appeared in such journals as Studies in Romanticism, ELH, and The Journal of British Studies, and in several essay collections. His research interests include Romantic literature, the politics of literary culture, the history of the periodical press and of print culture, and intersections between literary expression and public activism.
We talked recently at length about 18th century British essayist/critic William Hazlitt. Please listen here:
Mon, 5 October 2009
Writer, journalist, comic reader, intermittent blogger, and over-tired family man Brad Mackay is the author most recently of a biographical essay which appears in The Collected Doug Wright Volume One (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009).
First of a two-volume set, the book – designed by well known Canadian cartoonist Seth - presents a comprehensive look at the life and career of one of the most-read, best-loved cartoonists of the 1960s. The work draws from thousands of pieces of art, pictures, and letters, plus the artist’s own journals, and provides a picture of the British-born Wright as both cartoonist and human being. It follows his artistic development from earliest unpublished works through to the introduction of his most enduring comic strip, Nipper. First published in 1949, a full year before the debut of Peanuts, it memorably captured both the humorous and frustrating side of parenting.
I spoke with Brad recently in Ottawa. We use Wright as a wedge to drill into the history of illustration, comics and graphic novels. Toward the end of our discussion Brad provides some tips for those interested in collecting comics and graphic novels.
Please listen here
Tue, 9 June 2009
In a recent conversation I had with him, Canadian critic, editor and short story writer John Metcalf hauls off on both the Giller Prize and two time winner M.G. Vassanji; the former for boosterism and an inability to distinguish between good and bad literature ( for placing two-time winner Alice Munro in the same category as Vassanji), and the latter for being a person who, ‘there’s no question,’ can’t " handle the English language".
I met with Vassanji recently in Montreal at the Blue Met Writers Festival ostensibly to talk about his new Penguin biography of Mordecai Richler (please stay tuned for the audio); but before commencing I asked him to respond to Metcalf’s attacks. Here’s what he had to say:
Copyright © 2009 by Nigel Beale
Thu, 14 May 2009
I recently interviewed Canadian critic/editor/writer John Metcalf on his love of Books and Book Collecting. The same afternoon we talked also about the process of book reviewing, whether or not the use of insult and/or invective is ever justified and if so, when. John is known as a ‘blunt’ critic; one who tells his unsugared truths directly, who is not reticent to attack ‘with savagery’ books he feels 'insult' him. The conversation refers, among other things, to the Salon des Refuses exercise undertaken by Canadian Notes and Queries and The New Quarterly magazines, personal slights, the problem of awarding the same prizes to authors of widely varying talents, and the importance to healthy literary culture of truth-telling critics.
Lengthy sentence alert: There are predictable attacks on M.G. Vassanji, Ann Marie MacDonald, and Robertson Davies here, and there is praise too for many young Canadian short story writers, but perhaps the most evident feature of this discussion is Metcalf’s anger, precipitated, I’d say, primarily by a combative dedication to serving a cause larger than himself – excellence in literature – aggravated in small part both by the perceived inability of Canadians to recognize literary greatness, and personal rejection at the hands of this country’s ‘literary establishment’ – bolstered by a natural taste for confrontation and a glee in the fighting of a good fight.
Please listen here:
Mon, 23 March 2009
Poet, author, Priscila Uppal, an English professor too at York University, challenges traditional psychological and anthropological models of mourning in her new book We Are What We Mourning: The Contemporary English-Canadian Elegy, suggesting that Canadians mourn differently.
Traditional models define successful mourning in terms of detachment from the loved one who has died; the ability to cut the strings of grief, and to step into the roles of mothers and fathers vacated by the dead. To become unnecessarily identified with grief and death is, according to traditional views, to fail at mourning. To succeed - to maintain health- one must ‘move on;’ accept that the dead are gone; celebrate the fact that they are in heaven. All of this Uppal debunks.
After reading thousands of Canadian elegies she concludes that mourning, at least in late 20th century Canada, is not about forgetting, but about claiming identity. You are, she says, what you mourn. And we, apparently, mourn our parents in elegies to a much greater extent than do others in the U.S. and U.K., for example, who tend to mark the death of youth more frequently with this poetic form.
Many immigrants to Canada didn’t know their parents very well; didn’t know their countries of origin, didn’t learn much about their traditions. In order to take over the roles their parents played - to learn about themselves - many have used mourning as a way to create and recreate the past; as a means to carry on into the future. Art - the elegy - is used as a way to attached to the past, and to connect and incorporate it into the present. What you mourn - what it is you are upset about losing - will determine, according to Uppal, how you see history.
We talk about all of these topics, why and how the work of mourning has so drastically changed in Canada during the latter half of the twentieth century, why the contemporary English-Canadian elegy emphasizes connection rather than separation between the living and the dead.
Please listen to a ‘lively’ conversation here:
Copyright © 2009 by Nigel Beale. www.nigelbeale.com
Fri, 10 October 2008
Patricia K. Macarthy is author of The Crimson Series, three books, to date, about vampires. We talk here about what makes Vampires so appealing to so many people, about their being symbolic of man’s desire for supremacy, women’s desire to be consumed, about the fringe elements of society, the attraction of eternal youth and immortality, confidence, the perfect villian whose weapon is seduction, alpha males, power, the lack of conscience, film, Halloween, the draw of fantasy, the defiance of death and the preciousness of time.
During our conversation reference is made to poems by Byron and Goethe. Both example early literary treatment of Vampires [see vampires (and vampire fiction)].
(1) Once a stranger youth to Corinth came,
Who in Athens lived, but hoped that he
From a certain townsman there might claim,
As his father’s friend, kind courtesy.
(2) Son and daughter, they
Had been wont to say
Should thereafter bride and bridegroom be.
But can he that boon so highly prized,
Save tis dearly bought, now hope to get?
They are Christians and have been baptized,
He and all of his are heathens yet.
(3) For a newborn creed,
Like some loathsome weed,
Love and truth to root out oft will threat.
Father, daughter, all had gone to rest,
And the mother only watches late;
She receives with courtesy the guest,
And conducts him to the room of state.
The Giaour by Lord Byron was first published in 1813 and the first in his Oriental romance series. It proved to be a great success, consolidating Byron’s reputation critically and commercially. Here’s how it starts:
No breath of air to break the wave
That rolls below the Athenian’s grave,
That tomb which, gleaming o’er the cliff,
First greets the homeward-veering skiff,
High o’er the land he saved in vain;
When shall such hero live again?
Copyright © 2008 by Nigel Beale. www.nigelbeale.com
Please listen here: