Saturday, April 23, 2005

Where Are the Literary Critics?

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.

2 comments:

Tim Hall said...

I don't know, Karl, I've always considered Norm Pod and Rahv precisely the kinds of literary reactionary, Columbia (ie, CIA front) teat-fed, originality-hating sorts of shmucks we'd have been fighting against 50 years ago.

Pod had an almost pathological hatred towards the Beats that was wholly irrational on final analysis; Seymour Krim eloquently debunked the whole New Criticism/New York "Intellectual" school in his brilliant essays.

Julavits has pined for those bad old Partisan Review days and is in fact trying to resurrect the old witch hunts - substitute the old "intellectual" for today's "ironic" (actually "cynical") crop of hyper-conservative, reactionary, brow-beating art-haters.

Bottom line: I feel the old hardcore conservatives are still very much with us, transforming their cults of personality into quasi-religious cults of intolerance and hatred towards genuinely new ideas and literature.

Rhonda Tostada said...

"The ULA has arrived to make noise."

No it hasn't. You guys are all guilty silence when it comes to the most important work of literature ever composed on a roll of toilet paper by a retarded alcoholic with a head injury writing in his own blood. You read "The Heat of My Pockets" by Orlando Hotpockets" and it scared you into a conspiracy of whispers. But people are catching on.....