August 27, 2007


Indispensable Encounters: a review of Counterpoints: Twenty-Five Years of The New Criterion on Culture and the Arts Edited by Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer (Paul Johnson, July/August 2007, The American Spectator)

In general, and thanks certainly to the consistency with which Kramer and Kimball have conducted the journal, the New Criterion is notable for four qualities. The first is the belief that there are absolute standards, not just in literature and the arts, but in public conduct and philosophical treatment of fundamental issues. The review is suspicious of relativism in any form but especially of its moral manifestations. Secondly, the paper and its contributions avoid any commitment to ideology and party but have a general disposition or temperament inclined to recognize the merits of long-established cultural facts, and to subject all novelties to skeptical scrutiny. Genuine originality, provided it is combined with skill and experience, is always acceptable and applauded. But here fashion gets short shrift, and every kind of specious neologism and euphemious dodging is cracked down on hard.

A third and important propensity is an eagerness to rescue from oblivion writers, artists, and ideas that have fallen from favor but are still relevant to our needs, and enjoyable. This is a very important task which, so far as I know, is undertaken by no other periodical. It is one of the chief reasons why I always look forward with relish to opening a copy of the New Criterion.

Finally, there is the sheer quality of the writing. There is nothing formulaic about the journal, none of the emollient uniformity that made the New Yorker, even in its best days, so tiresome. One gets the impression that editing is minimal. The real control of quality is exercised by the selection of the writers, who are notable for their clarity of expression, their ability to organize their material, and their liveliness of idiom. They, like the journal that gives them the hospitality of its pages, form a wide but also intimate circle of civilized men and women who light wise candles in a world that often seems threatened by modernity's tenebrae.

It's been on the bedside table this Summer--the perfect sort of book to dip into for an essay one at a time. Here's a favorite rescue from several years ago, The “deliberate sense” of Willimoore Kendall (Jeffrey Hart, New Criterion)

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 27, 2007 6:42 AM
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