Critical Mass

Alex Star on Richard Poirier

By Eric Banks

In “A Man of Good Reading,” Alex Star remembers Richard Poirier, founder of Raritan, one of the founders of the Library of America, and a critic who “tried to convey why the act of reading is — and should be — so difficult”:

“Mr. Poirier himself cherished self-contradiction. He helped enshrine the nation’s literary classics at the Library of America, but he also wrote that ‘works of art are not required to exist. There is nothing outside of them that requires their existence. If Shakespeare had never existed we would not miss his works, for there would be nothing missing.’

“Literature, in other words, was not sacred or even necessary. But it mattered enormously, because, at its most potent, it insisted that we not take ourselves, or our words, for granted. ‘We ought to be grateful to language,” Mr. Poirier wrote, “for making life messier than ever.”

Also: In Inside Higher Ed, Margaret Sultan on Poirier and “the reinstatement of the vague.”