the "ambitious" cliche

literally an ambitious writers one who must do the best work he can.
hardly a criticism of him       but add innuendos & you have a powerful
weapon against good books

(1) kennebeck speaks of "William Gaddis's frighteningly ambitious
novel"      a revealing phrase!      "frightening"s intended to mean the
reader wont have any fun       an "ambitious" novels sure to be long,
difficult, dull, "what displeases"

Ambitious, Challenging, Bulky (dawedeit headline)

difficult, uncompromising, ambitious (highet)

ambitious, difficult, bitter (hicks 5/23/59)

the reader must be ambitious too, he'll have to work too hard:
  THE MOST AMBITIOUS novel in many seasons has arrived to
challenge the judgment of ambitious readers. Not only its bulk but
its density of style present obstacles to the unwary, and although
style and content both contain ambiguities, one flat statement
about the book can be made with confidence: Entertainment is not
a primary objective. (dawedeit)
lazy reader dont buy!      but critics underrate readers      who arent
that lazy after all      who read books voluntarily, not like critics doing
work they hate for money

(2) implying the writer is only ambitious personally:

The author, who has spent seven years on it, evidently intends it to
rival the most boldly original novels of the last generation. (highet)

ostentatiously aimed at writing a masterpiece (hicks)

as many critics have learned 1sthand, 7 yrs or 700 spent hoping to
outdo other writers wont produce a novel at all, much less one like the
      the critics cant even conceive a man may love his
work      they defile art at the fountainhead

professor hartman uses the lively word trick      (a respectworthy book
wouldnt "fling itself"):

For there is every indication that the author expects this work to
fling itself directly into a class with, say, Ulysses— if not somewhat
past that point.
  There is, of course, nothing wrong with such an ambition. I am
only sorry1 to say that Mr. Gaddis does not quite make it, and I am
all the sorrier because the amazing thing is that he does come
"Of course"!       hartman manages to make a book which, he says,
comes close to equaling or surpassing ulysses, 2 seem by virtue of
that fact
like a disgrace to its author       hes projecting his own unful-
filled literary-status ambitions onto gaddis

(3) last & worst, "ambitious" can "prove" the writer failed      its the
shoddy strawman trick: the writer is "ambitious"      hes trying to
achieve a great deal       maybe more than he can do      why, hes
reaching for the moon!       it cant be that good

ie as good as the critic said it might be      hicks & hartman lean
heavily on this trick       even in a favorable review the cliche is auto-

Very ambitious, it is powerful, if not always successful. (stocking)
all they ask is that the ambitious work have nothing questionable
about it       at worst the a priori failure is "PROBLEMATICAL" &
"pretentious" (kirkus)       at best its "in some respects an honest
failure" (hayes) or "an honorable failure" (hicks 5/23/59)

but "ambitious" novels are not usually failures      a guide for the lazy
but wellmeaning critic, how to recognize good books      exclude the
commercial trash, take the big "ambitious" novels & theyre usually the
good ones      dont read them just weigh them      once in a great
while such a books empty, phony like goodman's the empire city.
but most often its the good writer who takes the trouble to make a big
structure      the bad ones like to down tools early

i forgot, tho, the critics job is to make the good novels seem bad & the
bad ones good       he should say the good "ambitious" books fall short
of something       & the mediocre "pleasant" "modest" "appealing" books
succeed in something       & hope the reader wont see the 2 "some-
things" are worlds apart

1like a crocodile! (Back)

2to balance this hartmans next para begins: "Why then does the novel fail?"
how can it do both (Back)