Johnny Cash, The Mafia, Shakespeare, Drum Music, St. Teresa Of Avila, And 17 Other Colossal Topics Of Conversation

David Kirby

New essays from one of our most astute and entertaining cultural critics


"This collection of fast-paced but well-wrought essays are really 'colossal topics of conversation.' They ebb and flow, jump forward and back in time, straddle the ocean, and bridge brows high and low, in the way of every truly great conversation. Kirby is able to bring the discordant parts of contemporary life into stunning relief. This swirling kaleidoscope, in Kirby's hands, is more than mere showiness or post-modern hip. To take on this wide, wrecked world takes more than ambition and smarts; it takes sensitivity, generosity of spirit, a finely tuned ear for culture, and someone who can write a crystal clear sentence. Kirby's got the goods."
—Ted Genoways, editor of Virginia Quarterly Review

"David Kirby has intensified his critical practice and enlarged his poetic focus; in Ultra-Talk he writes a kind of essay after Montaigne in which every book he has read, every country he has visited, every class he has taught, every phrase of his pillow-talk with his wife trembles beneath the zippy surface of his prose. He charges each sentence with the Whole Man and gives us in his lucubrations what must be called Post Criticism, an original genre by which I mean something very old, something to do with the origins of thinking and feeling rather than with the assault on mere judgment. It is an abrupt and sometimes chastening experience to be necessarily inside this mind, to be force-fed this sensibility. I read, I listen, I love."
—Richard Howard

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In Ultra-Talk, David Kirby poses a simple question: What makes a cultural phenomenon truly great? Exploring a wide variety of "king-sized cultural monuments," Kirby argues that one qualification for greatness is that a phenomenon be embraced by both the elite and the general public. Further, he argues, it must be embraced repeatedly over time.

Kirby turns his critical eye to subjects that have been studied and written about, sought after avidly, discussed passionately, and even resisted vigorously around the world. Auto racing, Dante, folk music, food, Leonardo da Vinci, films, poetry, religion, striptease, television, and the internet are just some of the topics he examines. In Rome, heads of state kneel before Bernini's statue of Saint Teresa in ecstasy, says Kirby, and so do people who can't read. And everyone watches TV.

Ultra-Talk pays homage to the work of two towering writers and critics. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Giacomo Leopardi both stated that a book was valid only if it had been accepted by both an intellectual elite and a vast public. Kirby would have added a second requirement: that the book's—or cultural monument's—popularity must have traction over time. By standing on the shoulders of Goethe and Leopardi, Kirby offers a way to read, see, and savor a post-theoretical worldview that everybody can share.

Page count: 280 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $24.95

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David Kirby is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. He is the author of many books of poetry and criticism, including The Ha-Ha, My Twentieth Century, and What Is a Book? (Georgia). His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Southern Review, Paris Review, and other publications.