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This review is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

MINOR MONSTER Geoffrey H. Hartman, Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Today (Yale University Press) £11.40

It has been remarked that Moses, in view of the length of time he spent in the wilderness, must have been a rather dilatory man. If Geoffrey Hartman has, as his title might suggest, Mosaic longings in him, he would certainly seem to be dilatory enough, on the evidence of this book. Criticism in the Wilderness is anxious, uncertain, shifting, constantly changing its ground, constantly returning on itself. As Hartman admits at the outset, it is 'a book of experiences rather than a systematic defense of literary studies', and such writing seems to be the latest version of the introspective, confessional journal. In such journals, men and women have pondered on their sins, their souls, their sexuality; now they ponder on their activity as critics.

Unlike introspective journals of the past, however, Hartman's does not have a distinctive personal style. Indeed it gives the impression at times that its author was a brilliantly programmed but erratic computer. Its most notable stylistic feature is a curious mixture of high-flown critical jargon and outdated and overexposed slang. A prime example: ' "Indeterminacy" is bad vibes'. It is 'bad vibes', an academic's idea of a racy colloquialism, that should be in quotation marks. We are reminded of Anthony Beavis's father in Eyeless in Gaza.

The dilatoriness, uncertainty, and lack of distinctive style are not altogether unjustified, however; they exemplify and feed into the book's main theme, which is the uncertain status of the literary critic today. Criticism is, ...


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