Thursday, April 17, 2008

Intelligent introductions (and those that aren't)

In Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: I Confess, Anthony Esolen writes:

...The old presumption regarding literature was that, like the music that Plato recommends in his imaginary Republic, it was meant to form a young person's soul. Yesterday I read a nineteenth century introduction to Hawthorne's The Marble Faun, and was struck by how similar it was, in aesthetic intelligence, to the comments by the savvy users on the movie database, and how very different it was from anything you'll find in a modern introduction. I read it and knew no more about Hawthorne's politics than when I began -- but I was alerted to all kinds of canny ways in which Hawthorne's potent imagination would challenge me. In other words, The Marble Faun was introduced to me as a great book, whose greatness in part was due to its intelligent structure and deft dialogue, and in part due to the attention it gives to truths greater or broader than the temporary concerns of the day. To read the typical introduction to a literary work nowadays is to wonder why anyone would ever struggle through the archaisms of Shakespeare, when the payoff at the end is not exaltation, or even a tear, but a political bumper sticker.
Read his whole post.

I almost never read an introduction before reading a modern book. I've had one too many of them that was rife with spoilers, for one thing. And for another, like he says later in the post, for too many of them "a sense of beauty is not part of [their] repertoire". Or, if it is, they sure aren't trotting it out for the work at hand.

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