Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Critical paralysis

posted by Brit

The second funniest book ever written* is Enderby by Anthony Burgess (well it's four books really but you can buy omnibus editions.) In case you haven't read it, Enderby is a broke and flawed genius of a poet, spending his hours sitting on the lavatory drinking 'stepmother' tea and composing outrageous verse like this:

'Wachet auf!'A fretful dunghill cock
Flinted the noisy beacon through the shires.
A martin's nest clogged the cathedral clock,
But it was morning: birds could not be liars.
A key cleft rusty age in lock and lock,
Men shivered by a hundred kitchen fires.

In the introduction to the Enderby's Dark Lady - the fourth instalment - Burgess recalls how a reviewer of the first novel complained that: "It would be helpful if Mr Burgess could indicate somewhere whether these poems are meant to be good or bad". Burgess calls this unusual situation "a fine instance of critical paralysis."

Critics, eh. We need them, art needs them, but there is nothing funnier than seeing them come unstuck. It must be a fraught business, being a high-profile professional critic. It's so easy to say what you think you ought to say, not what you really think. And if you do too much of that, the game is up.

*The funniest book ever written is, of course, Fox in Socks by Dr Seuss.

1 comment:

  1. Groan, moan, whinge, I don't have to read The Cat in the Hat with them again tonight, do I dear?
    Happy days