Sunday, 5 March 2006

Astell on Job, reviewed by Lerer

It is a commonplace that academics are embittered jealous failed creative types who eventually succumb to drink or some other such self-destructive behaviour, and who rarely have anything positive to say about fellow academics. Reading reviews can often give one a glimpse of these tendencies, side swipes here and there, footnotes that are less composed to convey information but are meant as a glove used to smack one on the face.
But it was with joy that I read Seth Lerer's review of Ann Astell's book Job, Boethius, and Epic Truth (Cornell UP, 1994) published in Speculum 70 (1995), 869-871. The review opens: 'This is a book of literary criticism; but it is, as well, a testament of faith.' He goes on to look at Astell's treatment of the medieval reception of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, pointing out the very stimulating aspects of the study; pointing out too, its deficiencies, where it elides certain problems of textual transmission. He ends the review with an extraordinary, generous, and magnanimous recommendation that could only be produced by a mind capable of breadth, embrace, and art:
'In spite of these criticism, or perhaps because of them, this is a book that I have come to admire with each rereading. It is a rarity in academic criticism: a study of great learning and great belief, whose arguments are voiced without the slightest tinge of pedantry or condescension. It illustrates a way of reading literature as a spiritual humanist; and if its deep faith in a higher truth seems out of step with current institutional uncertainty, then at the very least it should refresh the reader with the courage of its critical convictions.'

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