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Random Walks Essays in Elective Criticism by David Solway

Random Walks Essays in Elective Criticism


Random Walks Essays in Elective Criticism by David Solway

The first section of the book develops Solway's approach to literature, starting from the assumption that genuine criticism requires the intellectual freedom to range at will across the literary landscape rather than restricting one's direction based on what is current, fashionable, or politically correct. Solway argues that advocating a theoretical school - postmodernism, poststructuralism, semiotics, new historicism, Marxist revisionism, or queer theory - generally involves abandoning the real critical project, which is the discovery of one's own undetermined motives, dispositions, and interests as reflected in the secret mirrors embedded in literary texts. Instead Solway pursues what he calls elective criticism, writing that enables the critical writer to freely discover his or her own identity - a concept that he claims cannot reasonably be diluted, relinquished, or deconstructed. In the second section Solway practices what he preaches, exploring a wide range of authors and subjects. His essays include an analysis of Franz Kafka's The Trial as a Jewish joke, a personal memoir of Irving Layton, an interpretation of Erin Moure's Pronouns on the Main, an examination of language in William Shakespeare's romances, a reading of Robert Browning's My Last Duchess that is sympathetic to the Duke, an assertion that James Joyce has more in common with the traditional novelist than with the professional, (post-)modern alienator, and an exploration of Jonathan Swift's sartorial imagery that contends that form is the source of substantive identity.


A brilliant work. Solway takes the theorists on their own terms and, while acknowledging the stimulating contributions of some of the original leaders in literary theory, uses broadsword and rapier whenever needed to expose the inadequacy of what one might well call 'Theory in Practice.
These essays will delight many, infuriate many. Solway is wonderfully amusing even while he is making a deeply serious point, and his love of words is obvious on every page. He is fresh, challenging, dazzling, exhilarating. As a document in literary

-critical and literary-theoretical taste in the late twentieth century, Random Walks will prove central.

W.J. Keith, University College, University of Toronto

Solway is an engaging writer with a distinctive style and a gift for pithy, arresting, and memorable turns of phrase. Random Walks belongs to the distinguished genre of a writer's collected criticism. As a record of thought, a collection of reactions, an attempt at clarification and provocation, it compares favourably with other works in this genre. It is committed, impassioned, opinionated, and insightful, and writes across the grain of prevailing attitudes and ideas.

Iain Higgins, Department of English, University of British Columbia

About the Author

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Book Info

Publication date

1st July 1997


David Solway

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McGill-Queen's University Press


256 pages


Literary studies: general



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