Hugh Kenner, RIP


Hugh Kenner, a great Canadian, a great literary critic, and a great polymath, is dead at the age of 80. This interview, in which Kenner says one smart thing after another, gives a pretty good overview of his range of interests. Aside from his classic critique of modernism The Pound Era, Kenner also did a study of the animation of Chuck Jones and was also an early computer nerd, an early internet adopter and a columnist for Byte magazine. His short book on Ulysses is an astoundingly bright and succinct piece of criticism, and is so lucidly written that I kept thinking each of Kenner's observations was something I'd thought of myself. He was also remarkably free of cant and narrow affiliations: Although he was a conservative and wrote for National Review, his hilarious review of The Poetry of Richard Milhaus Nixon is one of the greatest pieces of mock literary criticism of all time. And unlike many Joyce scholars who praise Joyce's fondness for and use of lowbrow literature while deploring the lowbrow entertainment of their own time, Kenner didn't do disdain. Here he is quoted in The New York Times' obit, talking about the rise of television culture:

"We forget that most of what people read when everybody read all the time was junk ? competent junk," he told U.S. News & World Report. "Now they get it from television. The casual entertainment people get in The evening from the box was what they used to get from the short fiction in The Saturday Evening Post. That magazine and others like it were the situation comedies and cop shows of their era. It is not a cultural loss that this particular use of literacy has been transferred from one medium to another."

In short, Hugh Kenner put Harold Bloom in the shithouse. I'm sorry to see him go.