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This review is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

SENSE AND NONSENSE Craig Raine, Haydn and the Valve Trumpet (Faber) £20.00

Craig Raine is a conventional commonsensical, a critic of the familiar English empirical kind. That is the source of his strengths, his nonsense, and his double standards.

The strengths are various. One is Raine's faith that there is a reality which can be grasped and described: he rhapsodizes over Nabokov's digression on a pencil, approvingly quotes Eliot's view that presentation of fact is worth more than opinion-mongering, and praises Elizabeth Bishop for her 'fidelity to experience'. Another (and inseparable from the first) is his attention to detail, seen at its best in an engaging curiosity ('Whatever Became of Brain Fever') and in Ricksian concern for the minutiae of idiom and punctuation. Raine is a robust champion and a telling phrase-maker, with the gift of presenting his heroes (three reviews each on Coleridge, Eliot and Stevens, two apiece on Kipling, Auden, Bishop and Golding, and four on Joyce) as if they were the only writers that really mattered. He is an adept at the art of quoting, and a ruthless literary strategist.

Naturally Raine's nonsense is implied in his strengths. His empirical faith in the real leads him to ridicule writers (such as Canetti) whose work is open to metaphysical dimensions. Obsessed with detail, numbering the streaks on the tulip, Raine has no time to reflect that the larger view need not exclude a love of fact: to him, Goethe is 'his excellency', delivering Olympian pomposity from the mountain top. Often this looks suspiciously like plain ...


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