Some claim the best stopped writing first. For the others, no one noted when or why. A few observers voiced their mild regret about another picturesque, unprofitable craft that progress had irrevocably doomed.
—Dana Gioia, in “The Silence of the Poets”

From time to time there appears a volume of criticism that, in the course of its attention to particular works of art, illuminates a good many more questions about our artistic and cultural affairs than are specifically addressed in its pages. Criticism tends to be at its best, of course, when it is most specific, when it derives its taste and standards from a particular artistic discipline and has something new and intelligent to say about the practice of the art from which it springs. Yet from Dr. Johnson’s Lives of the Poets to T. S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood to Randall Jarrell’s...


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