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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Art & Ardor

Cynthia Ozick

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To purchase Art and Ardor

Title: Art & Ardor
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1983
Length: 306 pages
Availability: Art & Ardor - US
Art & Ardor - UK
Art & Ardor - Canada

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Our Assessment:

A- : already dated, but an enjoyable collection of daring opinions strongly voiced

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times A- 27/4/1983 Anatole Broyard
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 22/5/1983 Katha Pollitt

  From the Reviews:
  • "(Ozick) is a brilliant disagreer whose analysis is so penetrating that in this collection of literary essays it often passes right through the book under discussion. Whether this should be called transcending the author's limitations or missing her point may be a matter of taste. (...) There is something relentless, something humorless, in Art and Ardor (.....) Still, Miss Ozick might say that we have had enough of relenting, of humoring our writers." - Anatole Broyard, The New York Times

  • "The magazine articles collected here do more than stand on their own. They jump up and down, they grab the reader by the shirt-front. (...) Art & Ardor (...) is by turns quarrelsome, quirky, unfair, funny and brilliant." - Katha Pollitt, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Art & Ardor is the first of Cynthia Ozick's collections of her non-fiction -- the "&"-series one might call them. (There are now four volumes.) It covers the longest span (1968 to 1983), and in many ways is the most enjoyable. No, these generally aren't her best pieces, and even Ozick admitted that some of them were already "out of date" by the time they were collected here. But they are an interesting lot of pieces, with Ozick at her feisty best, pushing boundaries more than she tends to do in her later, more controlled pieces. The efforts often seem at least somewhat misguided, but are nevertheless worthwhile. Suspicious of the form itself ("Essays know too much", she writes in her foreword), she still manages to accomplish a great deal here.
       Unlike the cobbled together Metaphor & Memory with its uneasy mix of incidental and weightier pieces (practically all of which are annoyingly retitled), Art & Ardor is more carefully stitched together. For one, there are useful introductory notes to several of the pieces. Some of the essays are also "conflated" from several previously published pieces, tying together various loose ends in one tighter piece.
       There are a number of book reviews, with most fortunately of the longer and more detailed variety (often first published in Commentary), rather than the limited New York Book Review kind (though there are some from there as well). The opening pieces on Edith Wharton, and on Virginia (and Leonard) Woolf are excellent considerations.
       A number of the pieces and reviews focus on Jewish issues, whether considering Updike's Bech books (specifically the first, though a postscript is added to update the appraisal) or Literary Blacks and Jews or The Magisterial Reach of Gershom Scholem.
       Several of the longer pieces are particularly interesting. In Toward a New Yiddish Ozick famously suggested that English could serve as "a language for our need", as the basis for a new Yiddish. It is an idea from which she has since distanced herself, but the reasoning behind it and the presentation of her case (which was first made in 1970) is still of interest.
       Ozick tries to formulate and express her personal and artistic philosophies, expressing them more generally than in much of her later work. "For me, with certain rapturous exceptions, literature is the moral life", she insists. She condemns the cultural "stream that comes to us from Greece", especially the belief in fate -- and, of course, the detested idolatrous worship. Her religion and her background lead her to a different approach to art, and she has little respect for those authors that, for example, equate "the Holocaust and a corncob".
       Ozick's opposition to idolatry is strongly and directly expressed throughout. She concludes, emphatically (if not completely convincingly), that idolatry "traffics, ultimately, in corpses". Here, however, -- as also occasionally elsewhere -- the emotion (well-conveyed in the stylistically strong writing) threatens to overwhelm rational argument, making the essays less convincing than they otherwise might be.
       There are also two essays on sexism and feminism, justifiably angry (though by now many aspects of them are -- as she herself admits -- out of date).
       The pieces were first printed in a variety of publications, including not only The New Republic, Partisan Review, and The New York Review of Books, but also Mademoiselle and Ms. -- different times indeed !
       These are not her best essays, but they take greater risks than most of the tempered later ones. They are energetic, and occasionally outlandish, and strongly led opinions that are strongly voiced. One might (or must) disagree with many of her bald statements and judgments, but the pieces are still fun to read, informative, and well-written.

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Art & Ardor: Reviews: Cynthia Ozick: Other books by Cynthia Ozick under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Cynthia Ozick is the author of numerous works of fiction, as well as several collections of essays. She has been awarded a number of prizes and honors, and she has received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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