Critical thinking #4: Daniel Mendelsohn

I always tease them at the beginning of the semester about their writing—I say, “Whenever you write me at 11 o’clock on a Thursday night begging me for an extension on the paper, the prose is always so beautiful and the email is so wonderfully structured.” It’s a joke, but it’s also not a joke—in that situation they understand the rhetoric of the form to which they’re committing themselves: They understand who they are as a writer and a beseecher, they understand who I am as the person in charge, they understand what evidence to adduce in their favour—their dog died, their computer broke or whatever. Which is why the email begging for the paper extension is always a well-written piece. But whenever they have to write three paragraphs about women in Genesis or whatever—when they have to make an argument—it’s basically “word salad,” because they’ve never read anything that presents a text, wrestles with it and comes up with some conclusions. For that reason, I think it’s better that they should be reading Pauline Kael reviews in the New Yorker than Derrida.

Filed under: Daniel Mendelsohn.

Critical thinking #4: Daniel Mendelsohn

The Mad Men Account by Daniel Mendelsohn | The New York Review of Books

Although I can’t vouch for anything beyond the second season, Mendelsohn’s critique seems fair. (via)

Worst of all—in a drama with aspirations to treating social and historical “issues”—the show is melodramatic rather than dramatic. By this I mean that it proceeds, for the most part, like a soap opera, serially (and often unbelievably) generating, and then resolving, successive personal crises (adulteries, abortions, premarital pregnancies, interracial affairs, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.), rather than exploring, by means of believable conflicts between personality and situation, the contemporary social and cultural phenomena it regards with such fascination: sexism, misogyny, social hypocrisy, racism, the counterculture, and so forth.

A few years ago, I read a collection of Mendelsohn’s criticism, most of it anyway, and found it quite enjoyable.

The Mad Men Account by Daniel Mendelsohn | The New York Review of Books

How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken (review: 3.5/5)

how beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken
How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken collects some of the criticism of Daniel Mendelsohn. Books, movies, theatre. Mendelsohn is a Classics scholar so his work is constantly making connections with the old Greek and Roman tragedies and epics.

I didn’t read all the essays because sometimes I just wasn’t familiar with what he was criticizing. But among the ones I liked were:

Daniel Mendelsohn had a good interview on NPR last month.

Strange as it may sound to many people, who tend to think of critics as being motivated by the lower emotions: envy, disdain, contempt even… Critics are, above all, people who are in love with beautiful things, and who worry that those things will get broken.

Daniel Mendolsohn