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An Open Letter to the TLS

To the Editor of the TLS


Part of the task of the reviewer is to consider the book at hand as literature, that is, a written work that functions within a context. One part of that context is the history of earlier works that will illuminate the book under review. Context also reveals the aims of the author, especially in experimental writing, and the most insightful criticism will provide an informed sense of what the writer is attempting, and not merely list the reviewer’s norms. Ben Jeffery, in “Pieces of pieces” (24 February), demonstrates his capacity for acerbic categorization, but for him to devote half his column on Sara Levine’s “wispy” Treasure Island!!! to plot summary and quotation, with no mention of, say, Kathy Acker’s Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996), invites questions about his grasp of post-modern literary aims and methods.

I am pleased that Mr. Jeffery quoted part of a sentence defining the critical fiction from my introduction to Wendy Walker’s My Man and other Critical Fictions in the same review. It might have been more helpful if he had instead chosen the next sentence, “All fiction is critical fiction, in that all writers are — whether consciously or not — responding to the traditions and readings that have shaped their thinking.”  Or if Mr. Jeffery thought to mention such literary precursors as Jorge Luis Borges, or Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), or Angela Carter’s “John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore” (1988).

I’m certain a dance critic could find something interesting to write about the most “austere interpretive dance”; it would involve eliciting the context and meaning of the dance; that is to say: actually doing the work of the critic.


Henry Wessells
P.O. Box 43072
Upper Montclair, New Jersey 07043

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