At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Ricks, Christopher. Dylan’s Visions of Sin. Ecco.

Library Journal: “His criticism is erudite and incisive, his writing witty and enjoyable, and his analysis broadened by comparisons to the poetry of canonical writers such as Eliot, Hopkins, and Larkin. Highly recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries with strong literature or music collections.” Publishers Weekly: “Sometimes Ricks strives to be too hip and precious; nevertheless, Ricks’s affectionate critical tour-de-force reminds readers why Dylan continues to encourage our ‘hearts always to be joyful’ and our ‘songs always to be sung’ as we remain ‘forever young.’” New York Times: “Perhaps thinking of potential new readers, Ricks makes the book a seductive primer in his own methods. Close reading, on close reading, turns our in Ricks’s hands to be a lively sport, full of beguiling allusions, teasing asides and free philosophical musings, and bursting with groanworthy puns. Readers may indeed be disconcerted by Ricks’s sheer goofiness. Despite a tone of vast assurance, the book is agreeably humble. There are moments, while reading Ricks, when you want to shout: The 16-year-old Robert Zimmerman didn’t want to be Lord Tennyson, man, he wanted to be Muddy Waters! But Ricks himself wouldn’t argue, and that’s the strength of his book. The critic has, seemingly, merely wished to test the songs he loves against his own pre-existing context, which happens to be Philip Larkin and Matthew Arnold, not Blind Willie McTell.” Kirkus: “Ambitious and intellectually freewheeling. The approach is sometimes strained, and some of the songs don’t sustain the author’s thematic scrutiny. Ricks nonetheless proves to be a lively and learned guide through the sometimes-daunting thickets of Dylan’s compositions. He is especially astute at picking apart the musician’s rhyme schemes and turns of rhythm, and he is an especially lively and playful guide through the mechanics of the work. But the author is less skilled at discussing the meaning and moral weight of the songwriter’s oeuvre. Ricks’s interpretations often seem too open-ended and airless. Its length, intellectual density, and plentiful citations of poets both ancient and contemporary will probably put off all but the most devoted Dylan enthusiasts, while poetry buffs will likely ask themselves if a musician, even one of Dylan’s caliber, is worthy of something as weighty as this.”


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