Tuesday, January 17, 2006

About New Criterion

BACK in the literary dark ages of the late 1980's and early 90's, before the Internet, before the explosion of print-zeens, few voices could be found which attacked prevailing literary orthodoxy: a complacent status-quo acceptance standing unquestioned and all-powerful within academia and its literary publications. One of the few contrary opinions to be found anywhere was that of the New Criterion. I read the journal (as did fellow ULA founder Doug Bassett), DESPITE its baggage of neo-conservative political ideology, despite the journal's enormous contradictions, because it was one place to find an alternative viewpoint; to encounter stimulating and provocative thought.

In the years since New Criterion has stayed in one spot, not expanding a bit (beyond belatedly adding a web site). It looks comfortably the same as always. Meanwhile the cultural world has grown, changed, expanded in all directions around it. At one time the pot of petunias stood colorfully vibrant among the other plants-- now it's overwhelmed by new foliage.

This is the hazard the ULA must avoid. If we become a debating society insular to ourselves; thinking we're widely read when we're not-- if we lose as an organization a constant activist fervor-- we'll lose our cogency and relevance. By standing still as the world moves ahead we'll fall behind and vanish.

In their January issue the New Criterion has re-entered the literary wars with a well-written full-gun assault by Stefan Beck on the trendy new lit-journal n+1.

What up with that? What, not another essay on Marcel Proust? We are surely entering contentious literary times when the buttoned-down prepsters at New Criterion awake from their snooze. (I'll comment on Beck's essay itself in a later post.)

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