Annal: 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1996.

Book:Finding a Form

Finding a Form: Essays

William H. Gass

William Gass writes about literary language, about history, about the avant-garde, about minimalism’s brief vogue, about the use of the present tense in fiction (Is it due to the lack of both a sense of history and a belief in the future?), about biography as a form, about exile—spiritual and geographical—and he examines the relationship of the writer’s life to the writer’s work. With dazzling intelligence and wit, Gass sifts through cultural issues of our time and contemplates how written language, whether a sentence or an entire book, is a container of consciousness, the gateway to another’s mind that we enter for a while and make our own.

Book:Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life

Art for Art's Sake and Literary Life: How Politics and Markets Helped Shape the Ideology and Culture of Aestheticism,

Gene H. Bell-Villada

Art for Art’s Sake and Literary Life is a dynamic history of literary aestheticism from the eighteenth century to academic deconstruction in our own time. Gene H. Bell-Villada examines an enormous range of writings by critics, philosophers, and writers from Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Uniting all is his conviction that “there are concrete social, economic, political, and cultural reasons for the emergence, growth, diffusion, and triumph of l’art pour l’art over the past two centuries.”

Bell-Villada begins by considering how such thinkers as Shaftesbury, Kant, and Schiller described beauty as a phenomenon to be weighed not in isolation from other aspects of our existence but as part of our general development as human beings. He recounts how the original vision of Kant and Schiller was simplified and debased within new cultural, political, and economic contexts,…[more]

Book:Fame & Folly

Fame & Folly: Essays

Cynthia Ozick

From one of America’s great literary figures, a new collection of essays on eminent writers and their work, and on the war between life and art. The perilous intersection of writers’ lives with public and private dooms is the fertile subject of many of these remarkable essays. Written with wit and passion, they touch on the inmost identity of literature and the literary artist—with biographical, historical, and psychological overtones. T. S. Eliot sympathizes with fascists, Isaac Babel rides with Red Cossacks—yet both are luminous shapers of modernism. Modernism itself is resisted by the American cultural establishment. Henry James, magisterial psychologist, remains at the mercy of his own mysterious psyche. Anthony Trollope’s masterliness is obscured, first by charges of writing too much and too fast, and then by cultism. Salman Rushdie’s gifts are assailed amid bitter contemporary controversy. And the secret pulse of ambition (and loss) is exposed in the brokenhearted waywardness of the once-celebrated and now nearly forgotten writer Alfred Chester.

Book:The Love Affair As a Work of Art

The Love Affair As a Work of Art

Dan Hofstadter

In this marvelously original book, Dan Hofstadter shows how a great treasure of forgotten personal writing—diaries, memoirs, and letters written by George Sand, Anatole France, and Marcel Proust, among others—bears on the erotic lives of the writers, and how the fine French tradition of conducting love affairs developed as an art form. As his subtle analysis makes clear, the love letters exchanged in a series of highly charged liaisons also suggested the themes of celebrated future novels.

Book:The True Story of the Novel

The True Story of the Novel

Margaret Anne Doody

“One of the most successful literary lies,” declares Margaret Anne Doody, “is the English claim to have invented the novel…. One of the best-kept literary secrets is the existence of novels in antiquity.”

In fact, as Doody goes on to demonstrate, the Novel of the Roman Empire is a joint product of Africa, Western Asia, and Europe. It is with this argument that The True Story of the Novel devastates and reconfigures the history of the novel as we know it. Twentieth-century historians and critics defending the novel have emphasized its role as superseding something else, as a sort of legitimate usurper that deposed the Epic, a replacement of myth, or religious narrative. To say that the Age of Early Christianity was really also the Age of the Novel rumples such historical tidiness—but so it was. From the outset of her discussion, Doody rejects the conventional Anglo-Saxon distinction between Romance and Novel. This eighteenth-century distinction, she maintains,…[more]

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