Be warned in time, James, and remain, as I do, incomprehensible: to be great is to be misunderstood. Oscar Wilde. In her poem ‘I dwell in Possibility’ Emily Dickinson compares poetry to a house; open to those with imagination, closed to those who can’t understand. When a poet fails to hold the house door open, […]

Dr. Johnson defined the essay as “an irregular, indigested piece, not a regular and orderly performance.” By this count there is no doubt that what Stephen Henighan presents in A Report on the Afterlife of Culture are indeed essays; what is missing however, in both Johnson’s descriptive and Henighan’s book, is necessary, cogent argument. Without […]

In literature vulgarity is preferable to nullity, just as grocer’s port is preferable to distilled water. — W. H. Auden In his recent book On Criticism, Noel Carroll informs us that the goal of criticism is to discover what is valuable and worthy of attention, and to provide compelling reasons why. Evaluation presupposes comparisons which […]

First appeared in The Globe and Mail In Patrick Suskind’s novel Perfume, protagonist Jean Baptiste Grenouille is born on a stinking hot day in July, 1738, under a gutting table in a fish market in Paris. Abandoned amid the swarm of flies and offal and then orphaned, he subsequently legs his way through a succession […]