So much of the art of criticism lies not in “judgment”, in the sense of sticking evaluative labels on pieces of literature, but the more ramifying forms of judgment involved in sustaining an engrossing conversation – judgment about what tone to adopt, how much intimacy to presume, how explicit to be, and so on. Decisions about such matters are decisions about who to be and who to assume your interlocutor is. It is more a form of tact than of passing sentence. Part of the dexterity of Wood’s own critical idiom lies in using the resources of the colloquial register to say just enough, leaving us to complete and digest the thought. His stylish brevity avoids the dogmatising implicit in all attempts to turn an observation into a theory.
Stefan Collini, review of On Empson, by Michael Wood, in The Guardian, Saturday 15 April 2017
I put William Empson, a ‘theoretical anarchist’, in the same brilliant box as Mikhail Bakhtin and Walter Benjamin. Collini’s piece reminded me of Sensory States and Objects, something I wrote for an exhibition a while back – consciously influenced by the two Bs and, doubtless, unconsciously influenced by Empson.