In Ecstasy and Terror, Mendelsohn casts an eye at literature, film, television, and the personal essay, filtering his insights through his training as a scholar of classical antiquity in unexpected ways.
... a master class in criticism, a rangy, perspicacious, occasionally spiky excursion into cultures both ancient and contemporary. His breadth of reference is characteristically formidable ... He knows that a well-chosen example, especially one that collapses traditional distinctions between high and popular culture, can be erudite, authoritative, even cool, all at once. There are dozens here. But they always feel earned; he’s done the hard work. To read Mendelsohn is to gain a synoptic view of a subject ... His ability to interleave aesthetic with lived social experience gives Mendelsohn’s writing great richness ... Complexity is part of the fun, and, at a time when book culture risks falling prey to the same, simplistically partisan thinking that’s laying waste to the rest of the world, Mendelsohn’s commitment to nuance makes him invaluable ... offers proof of Mendelsohn’s assertion that 'criticism is its own genre . . . as creative in its way as any other.' Reading him, one is convinced utterly by the 'drama' of criticism. If Mendelsohn is the sentinel of both the Review and the review, their integrity is surely secure.
Lots of critics routinely make light references to Greek myth and literature, but in Mendelsohn's writing such connections mean something, they illuminate more than his own glibness ... The one flat essay in this collection is, unfortunately, is the one readers won't need to be sold on: namely, the Game of Thrones essay....it's 'off' in its sense of audience, containing so much plot summary that devoteés of the show will be bored and non-initiates will be numbed ... Mendelsohn's rare fail makes you appreciate just how hard it is to pull off his distinctive blend of storytelling energy, erudition and emotional resonance. Nowhere is that charmed triad more in evidence than in the final autobiographical section of this collection ... To read a signature Mendelsohn essay is to be educated and entertained, and, always, freshly aware of how much more there is to read and know.
Mendelsohn is either one of the great critics of our time or an unregistered cultural lobbyist sent from Mount Olympus ... His ambitious project is not to resuscitate the classics but to remind us, as he put it in an earlier collection, that no such 'mausoleum of culture' exists ... The long and searching essay is a powerful tool for those who can make use of the space. Within it, Mendelsohn assumes different roles. Judgment is important but not the sole purpose. Some of the finest moments in this collection emerge when he examines our misinterpretations ... Mendelsohn takes pleasure in outlining new theories, demonstrating the vitality of ancient poetry as it makes its arduous journey through the centuries, surviving fires, floods, critics and 'disapproving church fathers' ... his assessment is forensic and revelatory ... Pans are necessary, and the burden is noticeable in each negative Mendelsohn review — not in the prose itself but in the evident lengths to which he has gone to familiarize himself with the author’s previous works ... It’s a rare fairness.