Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Another timely contribution to literature is A New Handbook of Literary Terms by David Mikics from Yale University Press. It is clearly and crisply written, with concise yet rich and trenchant entries. You will find definitions and citations of relevant works on general topics (“culture,” “essay,” “nihilism”) and the more specific (“dream vision,” “New York school,” “quatrain.”) You’ll find “parody” as distinguished from “satire” and “burlesque.” There are older terms (“burden”), and newer (“language poetry.”) And if you don’t happen to have been a warring party in various university departments over the last few decades, you can recollect in tranquility the definitions of “Marxist criticism,” “deconstruction,” “discourse,” “semiotics,” “gender studies,” “new historicism” and “cultural studies.”

Scholarly without being “didactic,” accessible though not eschewing “lectio difficilior” (No, it’s not a Harry Potter curse—it means “the more difficult reading”), this book becomes automatically indispensable. There is something especially wonderful and important about reestablishing the integrity of literary terms, after the aforementioned decades of looking at the social effects and representations of literature from the outside—a useful cultural analysis—with unfortunate but characteristic overreaching to define the essence of literature in ways that just about killed it. Fortunately, the death of the writer didn’t kill writers reaching across time and borders as well as deep into themselves to reaffirm literature by creating it.

No comments: