Literary Criticism Practical Notes Quotations

It Ought to Mean Something

One of Miller’s tricks is to be constantly using apocalyptic language, to sprinkle every page with phrases like “cosmological flux”, “lunar attraction” and “interstellar spaces” or with sentences like “The orbit over which I am travelling leads me farther and farther away from the dead sun which gave me birth.” The second sentence in the essay on Proust and Joyce is: “Whatever has happened in literature since Dostoievsky has happened on the other side of death.” What rubbish it is, when you think it out! The key words in this kind of writing are “death”, “life”, “birth”, “sun”, “moon”, “womb”, “cosmic” and “catastrophe”, and by free use of them the most banal statement can be made to sound picturesque, while what is outright meaningless can be given an air of mystery and profundity. Even the title of this book, The Cosmological Eye, doesn’t actually mean anything, but it sounds as though it ought to mean something.

-George Orwell, “Review of The Cosmological Eye by Henry Miller”

Which nicely sums up quite a bit of theological literature as well, though of course words like “semiotic” are substituted for dramatic terms.

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