May 2011

REVIEW ARTICLE | Henry Hazlitt, Literary Critic Thumbnail

The Anatomy of Criticism (1933)Remembered mostly for his contributions to economics, including his pithy and still-timely classic Economics in One Lesson (1946), Henry Hazlitt was a man who wore many hats. He was a public intellectual and the author or editor of some twenty-eight books, one of which was a novel, The Great Idea (1961) — published in Britain and later republished in the United States as Time Will Run Back (1966) — and another of which, The Anatomy of Criticism (1933), was a trialogue on literary criticism. (Hazlitt’s book came out twenty-four years before Northrop Frye published a book of criticism under the same title.) Great-great nephew to British essayist William Hazlitt, the boy Henry wanted to become like the eminent pragmatist and philosopher-psychologist William James, who was known for his charming turns of phrase and literary sparkle. Relative poverty would prevent Hazlitt’s becoming the next James. But the man Hazlitt forged his own path, one that established his reputation as an influential man of letters.

In part because of his longstanding support for free market economics, scholars of literature have overlooked Hazlitt’s literary criticism; and Austrian economists — perhaps for lack of interest, perhaps for other reasons — have done little to restore Hazlitt’s place among the pantheon of twentieth-century literary critics. Yet Hazlitt deserves that honor. He may not have been a Viktor Shklovsky, Roman Jakobson, Cleanth Brooks, William K. Wimsatt, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, or Kenneth Burke, but Hazlitt’s criticism is valuable in negative terms: he offers a corrective to much that is wrong with literary criticism, both then and now. His positive contributions to literary criticism seem slight when compared to those of the figures named in the previous sentence. But Hazlitt is striking in his ability to anticipate problems with contemporary criticism, especially the tendency to judge authors by their identity. Hazlitt’s contributions to literary criticism were not many, but they were entertaining and erudite, rivaling as they did the literary fashions of the day and packing as much material into a few works as other critics packed into their entire oeuvres.

Hazlitt became literary editor of The Nation — a position once held by Paul Elmer More — in 1930. At that time, formalism was the dominant school of literary analysis in Russia, and the New Criticism was in its nascent stages in America. The former scrutinized supposedly invariant linguistic patterns or grammars of poetry and sought to divorce authorial biography from textual criticism. Formalism also sought to break down literature into its constituent elements: form, irony, meter, voice, plot, point of view, and so forth. Proponents of Russian formalism included Shklovsky, Boris Eikhenbaum, Yuri Tynyanov, Boris Tomashevsky, Vladimir Propp, and Roman Jakobson. Each of these men produced idiosyncratic works that have in common a certain attention to the manifest structure of language. Each considered syntactical systems as imperative to the organization and meaning of artistic works. In 1930, the same year in which Hazlitt assumed his position at The Nation, Shklovsky renounced formalism, which had come under assault by socialist and communist ideologues who insisted that criticism tow party lines and tolerate no dissent. It would be another three decades at least before Russian formalism received extensive critical treatment in America — except among small Slavicist academic circles — but the commonalities shared by formalism and the New Criticism reveal something (what, exactly, is debatable) about the global trajectory of literary criticism during a topsy-turvy era.

[Keep reading…]

{ 0 comments }

Help Promote Prometheus Unbound by Sharing this Post

With the recent release of the first part of the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged (see Matthew’s review), the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) — via LearnLiberty.org — brings us this interview with Professor Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, on how Ayn Rand fits into the classical liberal tradition.

In this video, Prof. Burns explains three classical liberal themes in Ayn Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged: individualism, suspicion of centralized power, and free markets. These themes come to life through the novel’s plot and characters and give the reader an opportunity to imagine a world where entrepreneurship has been stifled by regulations and where liberty has been traded for security. Burns ends by reviving Rand’s critical question: do you want to live in this kind of world?

[Keep reading…]

{ 0 comments }

Help Promote Prometheus Unbound by Sharing this Post

BOOK REVIEW | The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin Thumbnail

Justin Cord, protagonist of The Unincorporated Man (2010 Prometheus Award winner for Best Libertarian Novel) once quips that, “You often learn more about a situation from the questions than the answers.”

My highest praise for the book is for the questions it raises in the best tradition of social science fiction, questions that get us thinking about economic, legal, and even financial institutions in new ways. The book portrays a future society with a minimalist limited government, strong corporations, and a universal system of “personal incorporation.”

Each person is owned by a shifting combination of self and others through a joint stock arrangement set up at birth. Making corporations personal serves to amplify and universalize the conventional image of corporate titans maneuvering against each other for power and position. Everyone plays the “corporate game” and plays it with their whole lives, not just their jobs. Into this mix awakens one man from 300 years of suspended animation. Can he remain wholly self-owned? Will his ancient ideas of autonomy infect others and upset the new social order?

[Keep reading…]

{ 1 comment }

Help Promote Prometheus Unbound by Sharing this Post

BOOK REVIEW | Double Star by Robert Heinlein Thumbnail

Robert Heinlein’s first Hugo Award winner was Double Star, a work that garners him far less attention today than his other Hugo winners. A reading of the novel will make obvious the reason for this: it is simply not as good. This is not to say that the book is poor, but for it to have won the Hugo Award in 1956, one must suppose either that it was a weak year for science fiction or that giving it the award was a mistake, akin to giving the Oscar to American Beauty or Shakespeare in Love.

It is something of a mystery to me why the novel does not amount to much. The protagonist has a distinct and interesting personality and the idea for the story holds promise. The prose is spare but efficient as you would expect from a Heinlein piece. What went wrong is that the plot is underdeveloped, a fault that would seem to be easily avoided, especially with a veteran author if he cares enough to put the effort into it. A writer needs to squeeze out of a story idea its potential, like one wrings the juice from an orange, and this is not achieved in Double Star. Given that The Puppet Masters came out a few years earlier, its weakness cannot be explained by an author who had yet to come into his own as a storyteller.

The main character is Lorenzo Smythe, an actor in the middle of some lean times but who preserves his pride and thespian affectation, though not to the point of becoming a caricature. He is offered a top secret job to impersonate a kidnapped Martian politician, Joseph Bonforte, until the man can be recovered. At stake is the peaceful equilibrium of human society.

[Keep reading…]

{ 0 comments }

Help Promote Prometheus Unbound by Sharing this Post

Archives (by Date)

  • 2014 (2)
  • 2013 (20)
  • 2012 (125)
  • 2011 (73)
  • 2010 (22)

Categories

  • Admin Updates (7) 
  • IP (30) 
  • Statism (15) 

Support Prometheus Unbound








$


Donate toward our web hosting bill!




Get 1 FREE Audiobook from Audible with 30;Day FREE Trial Membership


We recommend Scrivener as the best content-generation tool for writers.

Recent Comments