INTELLECTUAL SKYWRITING: Literary Politics & The New York Review of Books by Philip Nobile

INTELLECTUAL SKYWRITING: Literary Politics & The New York Review of Books

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By their furnishings you shall know them"" -- still, the clue to editor Robert Silvers' ""Rosebud,"" which Nobile (a freelance journalist and Review watcher) is certain he needs if he's to judge the worthiness and personality of The New York Review eludes him as he wanders with an air of high-minded purpose through the ""funhouse of funky memorabilia"" that houses the staff. The problem is nobody's cooperative: not Silvers, ""devilishly handsome""; nor his co-editor Barbara Epstein, ""a frail blond Gelsomina"" whose outpost, in any case, is the ""lesser"" region of literature; nor her ""pear-shaped"" husband Jason, one of the founders and still a director of NYR, the mythic power and villain who, as a Random House executive as well, is responsible -- Nobile charges -- for overabundant coverage of his own firm's books. Elizabeth Hardwick, the ""blithe-spirited and madcap"" contributing editor, on the other hand, is agreeable enough, and A. Whitney Ellsworth, who became publisher at the age of 27, is ""an easy fellow to get along with."" But the house enemies -- how they do go on. Even Nobile seems to find Norman Podhoretz tiresome and peevish as the Commentary editor (considered a wunderkind until he soiled himself on his own dirty linen in Making It), rehashes ad infinitum his split with the ""Family"" during the mid-'60's as the NYR turned Left, Podhoretz Right. Polities, as his wife Midge Decter is quoted saying, is the religion of the intellectuals. And despite denials, Podhoretz does seem to have exerted tremendous influence on Dennis Wrong's much-discussed 1970 Commentary expose of the NYR. Nobile's attitudes re I. F. Stone are highly arguable, though he's more to the point when he charts by column inch the radicalization of the Review which hit its apogee in 1967 with a feature diagram of a Molotov Cocktail; then some apparent fence-mending started in 1968 during a phase which the author labels The New York Review of the Rectification of Errors. But bury Caesar? Rather with backhanded praise Nobile quotes from a Dublin pub graffiti: "" 'When sex is good, it's the most beautiful thing in the world. But when sex is bad, it's still pretty good.' That's how good is The New York Review of Books."" . . . But after all -- most of this insiders' infighting will be considered more of a gas at Elaine's than west of the Hudson where it must seem as parochial as the book essentially is.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1974
Publisher: Charterhouse