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OCTOBER 9 & 10

It has been more than a century since Oscar Wilde defended the critic as artist, but most readers are still uncomfortable with the idea, preferring instead the stereotype of criticism as the domain of creative failures. The popularity of this notion, as well as the sadly correct perception of ours as an age of theory, is perhaps responsible for the scarcity of truly artistic criticism, but fans of the form know Paul Fussell to be a master. Not surprisingly, the book Fussell claims he would most like to have written is neither a novel nor an epic poem, but Matthew Arnold’s ÆUL2ØCulture and Anarchy. It’s difficult, though, to credit such a desire coming from the man who in fact did write ÆUL2ØThe Great War and Modern Memory, an impeccably researched, relentlessly insightful, and, moreover, fiercely affecting study of the British literary experience of World War I. Fussell dedicated the book to a soldier killed beside him in France in 1945, and in 1989 he published ÆUL2ØWartime, an unshrinking analysis of “the Good War.” Elsewhere, Fussell collected “My War,” an 18-page autobiographical essay that I can attest, having made the mistake of first reading it in public, is his most moving work; it raised the profound hope that Fussell would one day undertake an expanded treatment of his time as an infantry officer. The author’s most recent book, ÆUL2ØDoing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, is that and more: a full-blown memoir from one of criticism’s (and self-criticism’s) finest practitioners. Fussell reads Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919; Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Borders, 11301 Rockville Pike, Rockville. FREE. (301) 816-1067. (Glenn Dixon)