Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Cars, Hockey, and Lit-Critics

Sorry to disagree with the poster who called my comments on James Wood "ignorant." I'd suggest that he himself is ignorant, for not looking at literature with a broader view.

James Wood, to my mind, is nothing but a shill. I'll not apologize or back off from that. He reminds me of the car reviewers who write for car enthusiast magazines, rating the newest models, making distinctions within their narrow world. "The new Dodge truck, though it's larger than a house and gets one mile to the gallon, doesn't kick ass when I gun it! I prefer the Ford model-- and you sit higher; like, your head is right there the roof inches away when you drive under a bridge." The writer isn't expected to step back and take a larger view-- he's just there to comment on the latest garbage. No analysis of why Ford and GM are on the verge of going out of business-- no examination of the magazine's own codes and message.

James Wood is like a beat sportswriter, on deadline to comment on the hockey game the night before. Yzerman had an off night and should retire. The Wings were tired. The Blues played better defense. He's not about to say in his report that the sport itself is dying, far less exciting than it was twenty years ago; that it's failed to develop new stars; that TV ratings have vanished and arenas are half-filled. Then all the arenas in the entire league become empty and the beat reporter is put on another assignment-- high school girls lacrosse leagues and such.

The good thing about cars and hockey is that there are journalists somewhere doing in-depth analysis, and shows on radio where the sport's or industry's decline is dissected.

James Wood doesn't even realize literature is IN crisis. Cronyism? Corruption? What's that? Far be it from this stooge to ever write about it. He's mentally incapable, for starters, of realizing that Bellow was from a different era-- that to continue to hype him many decades after he was relevant is a detriment to lit's condition as it stands now. I'd guess there is scarcely a non-English major young person who would possibly have interest in Bellow whatsoever. Putting him on the cover of your hockey season program guide is a distinct mistake-- it sends the message, "This sport is dead!"

The last true literary critic produced by the establishment, who looked at literature's corruption and looked at the art in context, was Richard Kostelanetz in the 1960s. Because he spoke the uncomfortable truth, they quickly kicked him out of their ranks.


Anonymous said...

I find it funny that you accuse James Wood of 'not looking at literature with a broader view', when you and your fellow ULAers seemingly only view literature from the so-called 'anti-establishment' perspective. Despite the cronyism involved, the work being produced by the literati, by objective standards, is at the minimum, good writing.

One thing you overlook with all of this Bellow stuff is that THE MAN DIED! To continue with your sports analogy: Yesterday I heard a segment on NPR about Lou Gehrig. He wasn't the best ball-player in the history of ball-playing, but because of his illness, and his famous speech, he will always be remembered as a representative of the human spirit -- a macrocosm of the struggle each of us face. What's wrong with celebrating that? The ULA is huge propenet of community-building, but you're so focused on the cronyism that exists in EVERY group dynamic, you can't appreciate it when something or someone transcends that corruption.

Wood's appreciation of Bellow is precisely that. He's taking note of an author who contributed a lot of positives to the American literary landscape. Plus, we all know about the praising phenomenon that happens when people die -- look at the Pope covereage. Of course, I'm not happy when facts become distorted, but in the face of death, what's wrong with being appreciative, for just a little while?

King Wenclas said...

While you have a point about Bellow's death, you DON'T about the constant hype the man received, for decades, long after he'd produced his best work. Many many segments of the lit-establishment continued to regard him as the leading figure in American letters. The guy was ALWAYS egregiously overrated; never had the kind of charisma as a writer and person to maintain lit's postion in the culture when it faced new competition. Literature never evolved.
One thing you have to hand it to the R. Catholic Church about is that when they were on the verge of destruction under Pope Paul, they had the sense to look outside their ordinary places for finding a pope (Italy) and chose a guy who was energetic, intelligent, robust, an actor who knew how to promote. He saved the "sport."
Such hysteria from our critics when we present a different viewpoint!-- which you'll hear nowhere else.

Anonymous said...

Hey King:

Curious to know what you think of James Wood's other criticism. He clearly had a soft spot for Bellow, so his recent TNR piece isn't really an example of most of his work (or maybe it is).

I was also curious to know your opinion (if there is an opinion to be had) of the following, in terms of their criticism and perhaps how it relates to their own writing:

1. Walter Kirn
2. James Wolcott
3. David Thomson
4. Alexandra Jacobs

,,,either as individuals or if they're lumped into a group.

King Wenclas said...

Have heard of Jacobs and Wolcott (I tend to avoid "Vanity" Fair), have read Kirn and find him a mediocrity, though he did write an honest essay recently about the sham of the Ivy Leagues. Don't know about the other guy..
I don't get as much time as I'd like to read.

Anonymous said...

In the last interview he ever gave, someone asked Saul Bellow what the finest short story of the postwar era was, and he said it was "My Name is Orlando Hotpockets" by Orlando Hotpockets. I bet you saw that and it made you jealous.

Anonymous said...

This isn't really a proper comment, but seeing that no-one else on the internet appear to have an opinion on the New Criterion, I don't really have a choice.
I am assuming that the New Criterion is American. Other than that I know little about it except that I crossed its path whilst looking for articles relating to Francis Fukuyama's 'The End of History'. I don't have the time to read all its articles to determine what kind of 'thing' (newspaper, journal, magazine?) it is, and its home page remains overly complicated and academic to give an indication of what values, audiences etc.. it actually portrays. I know you look at this from a literary perspective, not a social one, but I would like to quote Robert Kimball in an essay, but can't figure out his agenda.
So far all I can find out is that it's 'brilliant!' which tells me nothing really.
I appreciate your help on this. My email is: if you deign to answer.
Again, thank you,
Clancy Wilmott

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