A delectable and insightful volume of essays from the always stimulating and enjoyable Mendelsohn. Ecstasy and Terror collects his essays of the past decade or so from the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books and is even better than his excellent previous collections How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken and Waiting for the Barbarians. A dizzying array of topics, always a pleasure and informative. The volume begins with a section of essays on Greco-Roman material (Mendelsohn’s specialty). An essay on Sappho, the battered remains of her work, and the two recently discovered poems looks at her reception by readers across the millennia (from the ancient’s rich praise, to Victorians’ prudish contortions, and to our contemporary questionings). Particularly interesting essays on the Parthenon and Vergil’s Aeneid (is it a glorification of empire or a between-the-lines critique of the imperial project?). The classical essays are followed by a section on modern writers from Evelyn Waugh to John Williams, from Ingmar Bergman to Patrick Leigh Fermor, Knausgård, and Game of Thrones. The collection is rounded out by personal essays which range from understanding his sexuality through the novels of Mary Renault to an enjoyable manifesto on the role of the critic (and the utility of harsh reviews). Excellent reading!
— Dafydd Wood
“The role of the critic,” Daniel Mendelsohn writes, “is to mediate intelligently and stylishly between a work and its audience; to educate and edify in an engaging and, preferably, entertaining way.” His latest collection exemplifies the range, depth, and erudition that have made him “required reading for anyone interested in dissecting culture” (The Daily Beast). In Ecstasy and Terror, Mendelsohn once again casts an eye at literature, film, television, and the personal essay, filtering his insights through his training as a scholar of classical antiquity in illuminating and sometimes surprising ways.
Many of these essays look with fresh eyes at our culture’s Greek and Roman models: some find an arresting modernity in canonical works (Bacchae, the Aeneid), while others detect a “Greek DNA” in our responses to national traumas such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the assassination of JFK. There are pieces on contemporary literature, from the “aesthetics of victimhood” in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life to the uncomfortable mixture of art and autobiography in novels by Henry Roth, Ingmar Bergman, and Karl Ove Knausgård. Mendelsohn considers pop culture, too, in essays on the feminism of Game of Thrones and on recent films about artificial intelligence—a subject, he reminds us, that was already of interest to Homer.
This collection also brings together for the first time a number of the award-winning memoirist’s personal essays, including his “critic’s manifesto” and a touching reminiscence of his boyhood correspondence with the historical novelist Mary Renault, who inspired him to study the Classics.
About the Author
Daniel Mendelsohn teaches at Bard and is Editor-at-Large at The New York Review of Books. His books include An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (2017); The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (2006); How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken: Essays (2008), and, from New York Review Books, Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (2012).
“Mendelsohn takes the classical costumes off figures like Virgil and Sappho and gives them a vivid urgency for the present moment ... He writes about things so clearly they come to feel like some of the most important things you have ever been told." —Sebastian Barry
“Mendelsohn's points are always passionately argued. He strikes the perfect balance between learned and playful … One fascinating essay after another from one of America's best critics.” —Kirkus, starred review