In Praise of Folly

(The following essay is reprinted from the last issue of The New York Review, where it appeared with certain passages out of order.) There is much to be said in criticism of Foucault’s study of madness. It is written in a prose of an obscurity so dense as to be …

In Praise of Folly

There is much to be said in criticism of Foucault’s study of madness. It is written in a prose of an obscurity so dense as to be often impenetrable. This is not so much the result of its genuine difficulty of thought as of the author’s arrogance, carelessness, and imprecision.

Grand Illusions

The Second World War remains the overwhelming event of our time. It is possible that even now we have not yet really begun to face it. It is certain that we have not begun to overcome it. It is a trauma in the collective mind of Western society. So much …

The Upper Depths

The Thief’s Journal, which was first published in 1948 at the mid-point in Jean Genet’s career, stands between his earlier works of fiction and his later works of drama, and points in both directions. It is a long meditation on “betrayal, theft and homosexuality,” that is to say on Genet’s …

An Ideal Critic

The publication of a new collection of essays by V. S. Pritchett serves as a reminder of the degree to which educated readers are in his debt. The present volume combines a welcome reprinting of the thirty-odd essays of The Living Novel, first published in 1947, to which the author …

The Poetry of Madness

In July, 1959, Dr. Milton Rokeach, a social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University, entered the Ypsilanti State Hospital to begin a research project. He took along with him a group of assistants and a tape recorder. In Ward D-23 of the hospital were gathered three men, …

The Limits of Literary History

Who does not recall, as a student, having been assigned to read certain large sections in volumes of “literary history.” One opened those heavy tomes—their multiple authors running down along the spines like a series of professorial hiccoughs—with a sense of dread and read through them in a thickening twilight …

American Gothic

One of the oddest things about Mark Schorer’s biography of Sinclair Lewis was that its hero’s name was Dorothy Thompson. She gave Mr. Schorer full access to her papers, he reported, and permission to use any of them as he pleased; and before she died in 1961, Mr. Schorer was …

A New Beat

Oskar Matzerath, the narrator and protagonist of Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum, is a thirty-year-old hump-backed inmate of a mental hospital. Born in the city of Danzig in 1924, Oskar was “one of those clairaudient infants whose mental development is completed at birth and after that merely needs a certain …

Seymour

Some fifteen years ago, J.D. Salinger published a story about the suicide of a young man. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is a sensitive little work and deserves the popularity it has won. But the incident that story describes has also become something of an obsession for Salinger. It is …