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This article is taken from PN Review 225, Volume 42 Number 1, September - October 2015.

Adam Kirsch and Michael Hofmann : Hobbyhorsing Tony Roberts
Adam Kirsch and Michael Hofmann are poet-critics, seasoned exponents of what John Gross called ‘the art of talking on paper’. The former presents his cases more conventionally, while the latter proceeds with idiosyncratic gusto. Most recently Adam Kirsch has been given the broader remit in taking on literature and intellectual history in Rocket and Lightship: Essays on Literature and Ideas (Norton, 2015), whereas Hofmann offers an Anglo-European perspective on writers and artists in Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). Both are passionate advocates of their tastes. It pays, therefore, in reading these two collections of review-essays to bear in mind the maxim de gustibus non est disputandum, which Laurence Sterne relevantly rendered as: ‘there is no disputing against HOBBY-HORSES ’.

Aside from essays in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement, what first attracted me to these writers was their books. For Kirsch it was partly the subject matter of The Wounded Surgeon (Norton, 2005), his study of six self-destructive American poets: Lowell, Bishop, Berryman, Jarrell, Schwartz and Plath. This was a perhaps fated attempt at ‘a brief biography’ of the poetry, rather than a sensational look at their self-destructive lives (for that, one could turn to Jeffrey Meyers’ Manic Power). There then followed the straight-talking, Arnoldian The Modern Element (Norton, 2008) where Kirsch waded in with, ‘Over time, it has seemed less and less likely to me that criticism ought to offer disinterested assessments.’ With Michael ...

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