“For some of us, the most brutal hatred within the acronym DWEM is not the racism of White or the sexism of Male but the embittered provincialism which makes Dead a term of abuse.” This, from the concluding essay in Professor Ricks’s new collection, is both a heartening statement of principle and a pointer to one of his central concerns. Making literature live for us, he says emphatically, is not a matter of making it “relevant” to us, but of making us relevant to it. Matthew Arnold warned against what he called the historic fallacy, the assumption that because a work is a linguistic or literary milestone it is therefore good; but he also asserted, in “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time” (1864), the need for criticism to concern itself with the best literature of past ages, not to be obsessed by modishness. Echoing both Arnold’s title and sentiments, T. S. Eliot...


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