May 15, 2007


The Little Magazine That Could (THOMAS MEANEY, May 15, 2007, NY Sun)

The New Criterion was born at an important cultural moment that shows no signs of subsiding. In 1982, Hilton Kramer, exasperated by waning critical standards at the New York Times, left his post as chief art critic to start a new magazine dedicated, in T.S. Eliot's words, to "the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste." Along with his co-editor, the late Samuel Lipman, the first issue featured Norman Podhoretz on F.R. Leavis, Joseph Epstein on the state of literary culture, Frederick Brown on Simon de Beauvoir, and Elias Canetti on his first impressions of Bertolt Brecht. Many of the best New York intellectual journals — the New Leader, Partisan Review, Commentary, the New York Review of Books — gave prominent coverage to the arts, but here at last was one devoted exclusively and unabashedly to high culture.

If the 0household gods of the magazine have been T.S. Eliot and Evelyn Waugh, its perennial targets have been the academy and assorted depredations of the art world. The magazine pits itself against the complacent, jacket-copy style reviewing of the popular press, as well as the obscurantism promulgated by some corners of the academy. Itching for old-style literary brawls, the editors have cherished their enemies and welcomed new ones. Few other conservative journals would deign to take an interest in a small magazine like the New Left Review, but Mr. Kimball was more than happy to oblige with an excoriating polemic. More recently, Stefan Beck launched an early attack on the newborn n+1, a magazine that had been heralded elsewhere with much fanfare.

Like all institutions of a certain age, the New Criterion has its tics. Mr. Kimball has said the magazine aims to "repopulate the vista of our yesterdays, showing what once mattered still matters." But the New Criterion can sometimes lapse into a veneration of the past that finds the present so wanting that it can contribute to the very cultural stagnation it deplores. The editors revere Eliot, but his reservations about the cultural shortcomings of capitalism and its effects on the arts are rarely examined with the same critical vigor applied to, say, vestigial Marxism.

But part of the fun of reading the New Criterion is arguing with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 15, 2007 8:33 AM

I remember, about 13 years ago, going through the Detroit Institute of Art. In the modern art exhibit was one, it was a flagstone walk. Just like one I had seen in gardens. My thought was 'Some guy tore up his grandma's garden and sold the remains to the DIA. Why couldn't I think of that?'

There but for valuing my parent's respect, my desire to bathe regularly, and the fact that I look terrible in all black, went I...

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2007 6:39 PM