Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson's Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night

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Why do we value literature so? Many would say for the experience it brings us. But what is it about that experience that makes us treasure certain writings above others? Stephen Booth suggests that the greatest appeal of our most valued works may be that they are, in one way or another, nonsensical. He uses three disparate texts—the Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson's epitaphs on his children, and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night—to demonstrate how poetics triumphs over logic in the invigorating mental activity that ...

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Overview

Why do we value literature so? Many would say for the experience it brings us. But what is it about that experience that makes us treasure certain writings above others? Stephen Booth suggests that the greatest appeal of our most valued works may be that they are, in one way or another, nonsensical. He uses three disparate texts—the Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson's epitaphs on his children, and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night—to demonstrate how poetics triumphs over logic in the invigorating mental activity that enriches our experience of reading. Booth presents his case in a book that is crisply playful while at the same time thoroughly analytical. He demonstrates the lapses in logic and the irrational connections in examples of very different types of literature, showing how they come close to incoherence yet maintain for the reader a reliable order and purpose. Ultimately, Booth argues, literature gives us the capacity to cope effortlessly with, and even to transcend, the complicated and demanding mental experiences it generates for us.

This book is in part a witty critique of the trends—old and new—of literary criticism, written by an accomplished and gifted scholar. But it is also a testimony to the power of the process of reading itself. Precious Nonsense is certain to bring pleasure to anyone interested in language and its beguiling possibilities.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520212886
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 12/30/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.63 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Booth is Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his many publications on Shakespeare is Shakespeare's Sonnets, Edited with Analytic Commentary (1979).

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
Pt. 1 The Unobserved and all Observers: The Gettysburg Address 23
1 The Gettysburg Address in 1863 26
2 Perversity 35
3 Plain Nonsense 49
Pt. 2 Failure and Success in Ben Jonson's Epitaphs for his Children 64
1 "On My First Son" 66
2 "On My First Daughter" 100
Pt. 3 Shakespeare's Twelfth Night 121
1 Twelfth Night 1.1: The Audience as Malvolio 121
2 Getting into the Spirit of Twelfth Night: The Audience as Malvolio Again 149
3 The Last Few Minutes of Twelfth Night 184
Index 213
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