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by Michael Coren

IT was G. K. CHESTERTON who said that "A modern thinker will find it easier to make up a hundred problems than to make up one riddle. For in the case of the riddle he has to make up the answer." He said it some eight years before the birth of Hugh Hood; which is intriguing, since it could have been in direct reference to the essays of the author in question. For Hugh Hood resembles one of those people who queue up in front of the complaints departments of large departmentstores, and advise fellow plaintiffs on how many times they have been forced to censure the people behind the desk. He regrets the absence of a Catholic literary tradition in English Canada, is angered, and a little frightened, by the structure of authority in the country, and is shaken by the hypocrisy of abortion. Fascinating stuff: But it is relatively easy to pose questions, but so difficult - and so imperative -to formulate answers. It is the duty, the obligation, of writers to do more than tear down; they must also build up. Not that we should doubt the eclectic wit and wisdom of these vibrant writings; Hood is an Anthony Burgess figure, courageously treading a tenuous path from medium to medium, genre to genre. But he lacks Burgess`s puckish charm, and he lacks Burgess`s self-mockery. There is an injection of solipsism into these dozen essays - sometimes self-consciously ironic, sometimes simply self-conscious which is disturbing. In the concluding piece, "The Intuition of Being: Morley and Marshall and Me" (which is titular revelation par excellence), Hood writes: With the best will in the world I can`t claim James Joyce as a Catholic writer. Evelyn Waugh and Grahame Greene, both convinced Catholic converts, signalled to their readers for decades that they did not care to be read as "Catholic writers." Nor do I. Apart from the fact that this is a misjudgment and a misunderstanding of Evelyn Waugh, it is an example of another fundamental problem with the book: its perversity of perception. Hugh Hood initiates his writing with Hugh Hood, then the external world, then the written page. The equation is wrong. It should read: the external world, Hugh Hood, the written page. The results of the former approach are like looking at tantalizing issues - "History as Myth;` "The Persistence of Romanticism," "What is the Difference Between Thinking and Feeling" -through the wrong end of a telescope. Our view and understanding of the world is not magnified by Hood`s set of essays, but reduced and distorted by it. In the best essay in the collection, a sagacious, amusing sojourn entitled "Televisic, Dramatic, Cinematic;" Hood dismantles, and then partially reassembles the separate, and inevitably conflictual theatrical disciplines. "(Alec) Guinness has the perfectly shaped head for a television actor," he writes. "It just nicely fits into the nineteen or twentyone inch screen space, and it has that agreeable roundness of form." Shape, agreeability, form. We writers evidently have much to learn from thespians.

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