Friday, May 19, 2017

Sturm und drang und Manhattan

When I was a teenager, all the quality magazines and TV chat shows were filled by people who all knew each other and lived in New York City. After those commonalities, things fell apart. It was fascinating, watching them from 500 miles away, in towns they would scorn as small dunes in the Sahara of the Bozarts, whaling away at each other.

Here's a delightful review of some of the participants back then. It's hard not to love a survey of intellectualism that includes the line,
Given the long history of gangland strife between Commentary and the New York Review of Books...
From Columbia, Podhoretz, destined for distinction in the finest dojos of literary training, continues his studies at Cambridge, where the fearsome F.R. Leavis and his wife, Queenie, reign with a far scalier hand over their student disciples than the Trillings, Lionel being far more steeped in ambiguity, dialectical subtleties and flickering equivocations (Diana was another story) than the cocksure Leavises. Every Saturday on their lawn the Leavises conduct an informal seminar in which to evaluate literature and vent their grievances, deploring T.S. Eliot as a simpering turncoat and accusing the ‘metropolitan weeklies’ of conspiring to keep Leavis’s reputation on the down-low. Although the Leavis approach to literature, politics and criticism is temperamentally and operatively different from the Trillings’, young Podhoretz, nimbly adaptable to any suck-up opportunity for advancement, activates his overachiever superpower. ‘I became a Leavisian – not, perhaps, the most ardent of his young epigoni at Cambridge, but, in all truth, the others being a singularly dreary and humourless lot, the most adept.’ The best con men are often said to be excellent mimics, so perhaps we should be grateful that Podhoretz didn’t choose a more criminal calling.

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