I had a dream the other night that I was at a library reading a book of essays by long-ago lit critic Philip Rahv.
It caused me to ask, "Where are today's literary critics?"-- influential cultural figures as once had been Ted Solotaroff, Edmund Wilson, Mary McCarthy, Norman Podhoretz, and company.
Conglomeratization has homogenized the writer and eliminated the literary critic. Instead of impartial critics we have Sven Birkerts-Tom Bissell-James Wood extensions of the literary machine.
We face a situation akin to the condition of literature in the old Soviet Union-- literature controlled by an embedded bureaucracy of apparatchiks. There is hardly a whiff of real dissent. "Critic" Sven Birkerts isn't going to criticize establishment pets Tom Bissell and Rick Moody when he teaches alongside them! The corrupt monied foundation of lit remains unnoticed and untouched.
Established literature is conformist, stale, and lifeless. Those assigned to criticize it are complicit in its conformity, their only desire to shut out the world, survive safely in their offices and university monasteries, and not make noise.
The ULA has arrived to make noise.