This collection of essays and reviews from the New Criterion's last six years represents both the best and the worst that...


AGAINST THE GRAIN: The New Criterion on An and Intellect at the End of the Twentieth Century

This collection of essays and reviews from the New Criterion's last six years represents both the best and the worst that ideologically charged criticism has to offer. For 12 years now, the New Criterion has manned the neoconservative barricades in America's culture wars. The clumsily written introduction by the editors refers rather cryptically to the absence of Bruce Bawer, whose scintillating literary essays were once the high point of almost every issue. He and Jed Perl (whose dissenting pieces on Anselm Kiefer and Mike Kelly are included here) were the two true discoveries of the magazine. Bawer's withdrawal corresponds to cultural forces now splitting conservative thought between those willing and those not willing to appease the radical right. Kramer and Kimball, two of the more ham-fisted authors here, echo the bellicose rhetoric that was once the province of the intellectual left, spewing screeds as ineffectual as the drivel of the most rabble-rousing neo-Stalinoids. To their credit, these embittered critics on the right have functioned as public intellectuals, writing for common readers and not just one another. At their best, they have debunked some of the worst trends within the university today, from the inanities of Afrocentrism (Terry Teachout on Houston Baker) to the cult of those French intellectual high priests, Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard (Kimball and Richard Vine, respectively). That political correctness pervades the cultural elite is a given among these writers, and many essays demonstrate its corrosive effect on contemporary art (essays by New Criterion stalwarts Perl, Karen Wilkin, and Eric Gibson), music (work by the late publisher Samuel Lipman), and theater (Donald Lyons on Angels in America). Not all the career assessments are negative: Included are definitive essays on Frederick Douglass, T.E. Lawrence, and Max Beerbohm--all of which cut through the obfuscations of academic critics. The worst note is struck by the editors, who would do well to subject their work to someone else's editorial scrutiny. Otherwise, an invaluable introduction to this most necessary of journals.

Pub Date: March 3, 1995


Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ivan Dee

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995