Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson’s Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night

By Stephen Booth

This seems like one of those mildly obscure but delightfully random gems you might expect to alight upon in a used bookstore. (And in fact I may well have encountered it under just those circumstances!)

Precious Nonsense is about just that: nonsense. In this book,  “Booth suggests that the greatest appeal of our most valued works may be that they are, in one way or another, nonsensical. He uses three disparate texts…to demonstrate how poetics triumphs over logic in the invigorating mental activity that enriches our experience of reading.”

It seems this is an unconventional sort of analysis, and is at once a reflection on the power of the reading process and a critique of sorts on literary criticism. This work examines our irrational impressions of works of prose, ultimately concluding that some of the most interesting and impactful works are memorable largely due to the nonsense they contain.

Thinking about the nonsense-factor of a work is interesting and certainly different from the normal approach that I, or most readers/critics take when thinking about words, language, texts, meaning… I appreciate this kind of thing — by which I mean anything that forces me to consider a category with which I’m only somewhat familiar, and brings it forth into a totally new light.

I also like that the contents of this book derive from the author’s actual teaching experience and accumulated, gradually shifting approach to thinking about the texts in question and sharing the ideas that resulted from said thinking!

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-0520212886
  • Publisher: University of California Press

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