This hulking paperback, with its 250 pages of introduction, chronology, notes, appendices, acknowledgments, bibliography, and “online resources,” and goodness knows how many fragments, squibs, and variant readings, is all anyone will ever want of Shelley. Rather more than all, in fact. If one comes for Adonais, Alastor, “The Cloud,” “To a Skylark,” “Ode to the West Wind,” “The Invitation,” “Song to Pan,” and perhaps half a dozen others, plus fragments from some of the longer poems, one emphatically does not stay for “Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte” or all 617 excruciating lines of “Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation.”
In 1948, as Israel was heading into its first war, an IDF general sent a letter to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s new prime minister, thanking him for the offer of chief of staff, but politely declining because he had learned that the Jewish State only had six million bullets. “We will need 1 million bullets a day in a war and I am not willing to be chief of staff for just six days,” he wrote.
Near the beginning of her newly released lectures on George Eliot’s “crowning” novel, Daniel Deronda, Harvard professor emerita Ruth Wisse observes that Eliot’s initial presentation of beauty contains a dose of skepticism not ordinarily found in love stories. It is unclear whether the beauty of Gwendolen Harleth, the heroine, draws the observer, Daniel Deronda, toward good or evil. Wisse compares this skeptical approach to beauty to the uncritical approach in the tale Tristan and Isolde, where two lovers fall head-over-heels for one another, never questioning whether the beauty they encounter in each other is good or evil. Wisse remarks to her students that reading Tristan and Isolde “can change your life—perhaps not in the right direction.”
This very silly book begins with a confession. When Daniel Dennett was a graduate student at Oxford in the early ’60s—that benighted era of hayseed conceptualists and pettifogging mystics when, as he puts it, “philosophers weren’t expected to know about science”—his chief interest was not Plato or Kant or even dear old Freddie Ayer, but computers.