An Artificial Wilderness: Essays in Twentieth Century Literature

An Artificial Wilderness: Essays in Twentieth Century Literature

by Sven P. Birkerts

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If recent fiction consisted exclusively of American postmodernists, modern literature would be in deep trouble, contends Birkerts. In this latest gathering of brilliant essays, he examines the decline of humanist faith, a theme that links an international community of writers. German-language authors Max Frisch, Robert Musil and Eva Demski, Russian poets Joseph Brodsky and Osip Mandelstam, and such figures as Julio Cortazar, Umberto Eco, Marguerite Yourcenar and Malcolm Lowry are among those highlighted. Birkerts delves into Musil's pioneering portrayals of sexual obsessions, reads Primo Levi's death-camp memoirs as a literature of the sacred and assesses Salman Rushdie's attempts to create myths of India and Pakistan. Meditations on television, documentary fiction and literary biography round out the volume. It would be impossible to sum up the riches of this invaluable guide through the wilderness of modern literature. Birkerts, who teaches at Harvard, won the 1986 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. (September 29)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Poststructural critics and post-modern American novelists irritate Birkerts because they insert a ``membrane of self'' between the work and the reader. His favorite critics are those who, like Walter Benjamin, display ``a sensibility as opposed to an intelligence,'' or, like Roger Shattuck, explore the ``margins of culture.'' His favorite novelistsalmost all Europeanreach beyond a facile vision of the abyss to a more complex and comprehensive prospect of futurity. What marks the nearly 30 novelists he discusses is their commitment to an intuitive, poetic language that fleshes out an image of a world flawed but rich in potential. Birkerts's prose is lucid and aphoristic, his criticism rich in apercus but often flawed by excess. Though he undervalues American fiction, and overvalues European, he makes his case with passion and clarity. Arthur Waldhorn, City Coll., CUNY

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HarperCollins Publishers
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1st ed

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