THE DEVIL IN THE FIRE: American Literature and Culture 1951-1971 by John W. Aldridge

THE DEVIL IN THE FIRE: American Literature and Culture 1951-1971

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Aldridge is the Saint George of journalism. He makes a grand fetish of slaying the paper dragons of literary fashion. Death to the sell-outs -- that's his portentous motto. In this collection of review-essays, covering some twenty-five years of work, though the rhetoric changes from decade to decade, the self-styled ""evangelical zeal"" and ""moral purity"" remain aloft throughout. Discussing the postwar novelists in the late '40's for instance, he has all the earnestness of the editor of a college newspaper determined to make his mark: ""In comparison with the innocent boys who set out, more than twenty years earlier, to save the world for democracy, the young men who went into the second war seemed terribly aware. . . . They came to consciousness in the midst of breadlines, strikes, and milk riots."" By the mid-'50's, we see he has grown more sophisticated and can sprinkle names with the best of us: ""Mr. Morton Dauwen Zabel, in his excellent short story of Graham Greene, could well have been thinking of Danny's problem along with the problem of what I have been calling the 'Bovarist vacuum' . . ."" (Danny is a character in Farrell.) No doubt responding to the whirling Zeitgeist, by the mid-'60's he becomes a publicist of sorts, as witness the dizzy encomium for Why Are We In Vietnam?: ""Hence, behind every apocalyptic orgasm is an apocalyptic defecation. . . . The route to salvation is thus from anus to phallus, from organic excretion to orgasmic ecstasy. If there is in a fact a Great Chain of Being, Mailer's advice would obviously be to pull it."" This later style is so scathelessly a parody of itself one would not wish a word changed. Recently Aldridge decreed the cult of youth to be the new sacred monster. What more can one say? He writes of Porter and Frost, Barthelme and Styron, Dos Passos and Hemingway, politics and culture. Aldridge is a critic of middle-seriousness who takes himself very seriously indeed.

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1971
Publisher: Harper's Magazine Press Book