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This review is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

SAYING WHAT YOU MEAN Michael Hamburger, Testimonies : selected shorter prose 1950 - 1987, Carcanet £18.95

Michael Hamburger is an incorrigible and unrepentant pluralist whose critical writings stand at the furthest possible remove from the dry academic environment in which the monograph remains of paramount importance. A Proliferation of Prophets and After the Second Flood contain a wealth of information and judgment about German literature that one would scarcely have thought it possible to lie within the scope of one individual, and despaired of finding in a library of books offering a 'scholarly' or 'respectable' response to the task in hand. Both these indispensable collections, together with Hamburger's more obviously 'through-composed' The Truth of Poetry, dispel the myth that communication is best served by exhaustive study of a clearly circumscribed and situated particularity (whether author-based or more theme-oriented) rather than by suggestive, self-confessedly partial, studies in the dynamics of multiplicity. Utterly indifferent to the pieties and solemnities which make the production of dull tomes inevitable, Hamburger possesses the great gift of knowing how and when to shift the focus without disturbing the abiding concerns. Though he obviously makes abundant provision for those intent on totalizing the experience of reading him, Hamburger seems continuously conscious that his audiences have the freedom and the right to limit their commitment to this item or that. Hence, surely, his disinclination to write books as such, when all his instincts dispose him in the direction of the essay, as if he had long ago registered the force of a riposte of Dr.Johnson's: 'Sir, do you read books through?' Johnson, Hamburger ...


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