A Tour of the Labyrinth

Hugh Kenner, by day an unassuming professor of English literature at the Johns Hopkins University, is our foremost practitioner of the ancient cult of the maze, a celebrant of this endless labyrinth in which we live. Confronted with its mysteries, Mr. Kenner, the new Theseus, confidently draws on a lively knowledge of science, technology, music, architecture, language, art, politics, and literature to explain the way to comprehension. For three decades, it has been the pleasure of readers to watch his mind at work in a number of important, even revolutionary books, among them The Pound Era, a history of literary modernism, and Bucky, a critical inquiry into the life and work of Buckminster Fuller, who, to continue the metaphor, is our century's Hephaestus.

At the heart of Hugh Kenner's method, displayed throughout the pages of his new, aptly titled collection of essays, rests the doctrine that the truth—or such truth as there is—emerges from the intersection of reverberant facts. This intersection, he suggests, alone has explanatory power. In casually linked essays on the relevance of the study of scientific history to that of literature, for example, Mr. Kenner asks us to consider these encyclopedic details:

—Alexander Graham Bell had no telephone in his home, believing his invention to be appropriate only to commerce. Twenty years later, almost all the characters in James Joyce's...

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