August 26, 2007

THE PROBLEM IS THAT HE GETS AMERICA SO MUCH BETTER THAN THEY:

The elegant assassin: How an Englishman in Somerville is becoming the most feared man in American letters (Christopher Shea, August 26, 2007, Boston Globe)

THE BLOOD PRESSURE of some of America's leading novelists no doubt just shot up: James Wood, The New Republic's famously stringent book critic -- scourge of John Updike, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo -- has jumped to The New Yorker, giving him a much wider audience for his coolly incendiary literary sermons.

For a hiring that followed a familiar pattern -- small, good magazine to big, good magazine -- Wood's move caused an extraordinary stir in literary circles. At The New Republic, his immensely learned, barbed essays, utterly unbowed by conventional wisdom, earned him an ardent following and the ire of novelists who failed to meet his standards.

Wood is controversial partly for his unusually clear (his detractors say crabbed) ideas about what a great novel is -- or, rather, isn't. He is especially set against "hysterical realism," his coinage for books that attempt to convey the raucousness of contemporary life through outlandish proliferating plots, allegory, bizarre coincidence, and high irony. In other words: Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, much of David Foster Wallace, the first two Zadie Smith books, and half of "The Corrections," by Jonathan Franzen. [...]

[W]hat does it mean that the most storied magazine in American history has aligned itself with a critic who essentially rejects the premises of a broad swath of contemporary American fiction?

"I think he just doesn't get America," says Lindsay Waters, executive editor for the humanities at Harvard University Press, invoking the argument that a messy, sprawling country demands comparable novels.


Except that Americans hate those books too. He just doesn't suck up to Academia and the intellectuals who pretend those books matter.

One of the best pieces he's written defended T.S. Eliot from an insipid charge of anti-Semitism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 26, 2007 7:01 PM
Comments

Or rather, defended Eliot from a charge of insipid antisemitism. Wood is convinced that Eliot was antisemitic.

Posted by: Ibid at August 26, 2007 8:28 PM

The key difference.

Posted by: oj at August 27, 2007 5:46 AM
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