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Edward Albee: Red Herrings & White Whales

- Abstract

IT IS A truth universally acknowledged that no self-respecting piece of writing, if it wishes to be taken seriously, dare appear in public nowadays without three or four levels of meaning. The convention is part of our heritage from what in ancient times was called New Criticism and it has become the most expedient way a writer has of handing in his artistic credentials. Literature thus becomes a kind of graveyard to which the reader goes to dig up all the cadavers that have been carefully buried and labeled by the writers. And with the discovery of each new corpse, the reader cries, “Eureka!” or “Aha!” as if he never expected to find it there; the writer is held in higher esteem, and the work is recognized to be of merit. At both ends of the graveyard, it is a diverting and respectable pastime-like making up and figuring out the Times crossword puzzle. When all the graves have been plundered, and all the bodies sniffed and prodded, we have “the meaning” of the work.

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