Hugh Kenner is the preeminent interpreter of the works of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and other modernist writers, but his interests have never been confined to “literary criticism” as usually understood. Whether studying poems, paintings, or computers, Kenner is interested in the way things work. That passion to understand--and to explain what he has understood--is linked with a preternatural gift for intuiting the larger contexts that make seemingly disconnected or trivial details meaningful. What he is doing, to use his own metaphor, is making maps. Thought is a labyrinth (and never more so than in the age of information); the world is a maze of mazes. Kenner undertakes to trace a few paths in this seeming chaos; he is an entertaining and generally trustworthy guide.

The fifty short pieces collected in MAZES have been drawn from a wide variety of sources, so it is unlikely that even the most devoted Kenner-reader will have encountered them all. (At last, those fading magazine pages and photocopies can be discarded, though Kenner’s bounty could easily fill four or five such collections. Indeed, North Point promises a companion volume, more literary in emphasis, to be titled HISTORICAL FICTIONS; that will be worth keeping an eye out for.) Whatever their provenance, these essays are animated by Kenner’s lively intelligence and irreverent wit.