Literary Power and the Criteria of Truth

Laura Quinney

Foreword by Harold Bloom
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"With both originality and a central sense of literary value, Quinney has achieved a superb study of a fundamental and universal literary problem: the prestige of tragic views over all others in literature. . . . I think it would interest all literary scholars who brood on the ultimate rationale for their studies. It has changed the way I think about literary tragedy."--Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities, Yale University

"Brilliant and striking. . . . Quinney develops a theoretical approach to literature which is fresh and surprising, drawing upon an extremely sophisticated grasp of recent literary-theoretical and philosophical debate, and yet which appeals for its authority to the experience of the 'common reader.'"--Steven Shaviro, University of Washington

Laura Quinney examines the association of literary power with the prestige of tragedy. She argues that the works of literature most likely to be seen as "deep" or "real" or "true" are those that seem bent on impressing the reader with a dark, harsh view of existence: "Their pessimism, gravity, and glamour go hand in hand."
Quinney studies the phenomenon of tragic prestige in the works of four authors--a poet, an essayist, and two philosophers--whose works have never before been juxtaposed, and she shows how, in spite of their differences, they all aspire to create a "severe style" in which literary power works to confirm the tragic definition of truth. "They were all devoted readers," she writes, "and they all aim to appropriate for their own style, or re-create in their own style, the shock of disappointment and pain that their reading had shown them to be the proper mode of literary power."
Her argument intersects with many of the concerns of recent debates in literary theory and will be of interest to readers studying the connections between philosophy and literature.

Laura Quinney, assistant professor of English at Princeton University, is the author of articles on Kafka, Shakespeare, and the sublime.

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"These are dense, riveting, illuminating, and groundbreaking chapters. Readers will admire Quinney's range of reference, her sureness of judgement, her originality, and her power to fascinate. Her argument takes counterintuitive, paradoxical turns, but always with deliberation and patience. The book is strange, but its strangeness never feels gratuitous or self-indulgent; it only recalls the strangeness that may after all be intrinsic to literature itself."
--Philosophy and Literature

"a beautifully written study of the 'peculiar authority' of the tragic sense."
--Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900

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