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This article is taken from PN Review 191, Volume 36 Number 3, January - February 2010.

In My Opinion, Having Read These Things Kathryn Murphy

The Collected Critical Writings of Geoffrey Hill is a difficult book to review. It is at once an impassioned plea for the necessity of criticism, and hostile to it. It bristles with antipathy to ‘the vast apparatus of Opinion’ (p. 173), the enemy’s country of the title of Hill’s second volume of prose. The essays are intolerant of writers deemed to pander to popularity, whether Larkin’s ‘postprandial’ appeal to ‘narrow English possessiveness’, late Eliot’s ‘decline’, or confessional poets such as Lowell and Plath pleasing the peanut-crunching crowd. Hill is determined to resist ‘the tyranny of the marketplace’. ‘Our contemporary ignorance’, claims Hill, ‘results from methods of communication and education which have destroyed memory and dissipated attention’ (p. 287). These essays are laments and tributes for the culture thus erased, angry dissertations on the inadequacies of contemporary letters, and attempts to preserve and demonstrate a standard of critical intelligence which resists supposedly endemic mediocrity. The cover shows a war memorial made by Eric Gill for the University of Leeds in 1923, ‘Our Lord driving the money-lenders from the Temple’. Christ brandishes a whip over a line of figures in contemporary dress, chastened and bowed as they are banished. Introducing these scourging essays, concerned with the menace to values from ‘commodity culture’, or what Hill has more recently been calling ‘plutocratic anarchy’, it is appropriate. Readers, however, may find themselves shrinking from the flail.

Collected Critical Writings assembles Hill’s three volumes of criticism, The Lords of Limit (1984), The ...

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