A Primer of Ignorance, by R. P. Blackmur
The literary criticism of the late R. P. Blackmur has suffered a strange reversal of fortune in this country. In the 30′s and even more so in the 40′s—heyday of the New Criticism—he was a living legend while still young, commonly described as the ideal critic. In the 60′s, however, his work has just as often been rejected as tortuous and unreadable. His last book, Eleven Essays in the European Novel, which appeared not long before his death in 1965, received almost no attention though it reprinted some extraordinarily good work. Lionized but not much appreciated at Princeton, where he taught, dismissed or respectfully ignored by the literary world at large, Blackmur gathered together in that book what he called “fragments of an unfinished ruin,” the shored-up remains of a number of separate volumes he had planned to devote to the novel. It was a sad end, and the book did nothing to recapture the audience that had long since deserted him. Now a posthumous collection has appeared, titled and partly planned by Blackmur himself and edited by his distinguished literary executor, Joseph Frank. It is not a good book, and it has already suffered an even chillier fate than its predecessor. Yet it is a dense, almost a rich book, which should enable us to take stock of the later Blackmur in a more complex way than we have done until now.
About the Author