Saturday, January 26, 2013


5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired and inspirational, January 26, 2013
Paul Seydor (Los Angeles, California USA) - See all my reviews
This review is for: Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (Hardcover)
Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative is Hershel Parker's answer to numerous requests for a one volume version of his magisterial two volume biography of Herman Melville. Reasoning, plausibly, that the moment a single volume appeared, no one would read the original, Professor Parker gives us instead this splendid, wholly new book, which is actually several books in one, among them a biography of a biography; an autobiography of the biographer retracing all the many paths, places, departures, travels, destinations, by ways, swings, and roundabouts, both actual and virtual, by which writers get to know and become intimate with their subject; an odyssey, at once intellectual, spiritual, and deeply personal, of an esteemed literary critic and scholar engaging, grappling, and struggling with some of the largest, most important and central issues of scholarship and criticism of the past century. Parker, a brilliant thinker, can match the most arcane theorists on their own turf, but his is no dry, academic tome: written with verve, style, breathless energy, and unflagging enthusiasm (in the best Emersonian sense of that word), this book is also a stunning critique and stinging rebuke to half a century of critical theory and practice, both inside the academy and outside it in the world of book reviewing and commentary, beginning with the New Criticism and going through structuralism, deconstructionism, postmodernism, to the New Historicism, movements that seek to strip literature and the other arts of every human, social, cultural, and historical context except that of the work itself as an aesthetic object or structure. Arguing against so called "organic unity"--which, as it grew out of the New Criticism, should really be called "hermetically sealed unity"--Parker seeks to restore criticism and scholarship to the study of that far more human and humane, to say nothing of real, unity: that of the artist, his thoughts, his ideas, his feelings, his beliefs, his circumstances, his life and times, and how he transmuted these through the mysteries of talent, imagination, and genius into timeless works of art. Passionate, combative, blazingly eloquent, fearlessly frank and candid, and, yes, there's no sense using lesser words, inspired and inspirational, not least in his celebration of the joys and rewards of old fashioned--that is, patient, dogged, committed, tireless--research, Parker here demonstrates once again that he is a peerless Melvillian, a standard setting scholar, and a truly great critic.
--Paul Seydor,
author of Peckinpah: The Western Films: A Reconsideration

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