Rocket and Lightship: Essays on Literature and Ideas, Adam Kirsch, 2015
A sparkling and engaging set of essays by a young American critic published primarily in The New Yorker, The New Republic, TLS, and NYRB. Kirsch is pretty much spot-on in his discussions of Leopardi, Arendt, Benjamin, Alfred Kazin, Sontag, DFW, Ozick, Forster, Zadie Smith, and Bellow, but less so in his first and last chapters about art and biology, immortality of writing and writers and the passage of time. The final chapter bears the eponymous title from a line in Gerard Manly Hopkins’ 1918 poem, the Wreck of the Deutschland which memorializes the death of five Franciscan nuns forced out of Germany in 1875 by restrictive laws passed by Prussia against the Catholic Church. Kirsch’s introduction cites both Matthew Arnold and T.S. Eliot as his progenitors in literary criticism arriving at the notion that “All literature is a criticism of life….Such criticism is the record of one mind’s response to the experience of being in the world.” The book is worth reading for a contemporary critic’s take not just on novelists, but on other important critics. A strong argument for reading literary criticism!