"BAD PAPER: The Bursting of the Fiction Bubble"

read it here.

September 22, 2008

Must be something in the Zeitgeist . . .

" . . . in How Fiction Works, James Wood has written an establishment polemic in the guise of aesthetics . . ."

A terrific discussion of Wood's ideologically tendentious conception of realism and reality by Tony Christini over at A Practical Policy, where Wood is placed - correctly, to my mind - in the critical camp of what used to be called the Cold War liberals, as a kind of latter-day Lionel Trilling.  

Before I read Christini's post I was unaware that Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic (and thus Wood's editor during his stint at that publication) had edited a volume of Trilling's essays.  Christini continues:

"then in 2004 [Wieseltier] promptly hatcheted the first prominent novel critical of the US invasion of Iraq. Even before release for sale by its publisher, Checkpoint, the proclaimed (yet self-nullifying) antiwar short novel from established writer Nicholson Baker, was denounced in 2004 by the New Republic’s literary editor Wieseltier in the New York Times, in easily one of the longest “reviews” the book received, as “This scummy little book,” which opened his review and set the tone of Wieselstier’s screed, a fraudulent and hypocritical defense of capitalism and subservient literature."

Wood's itinerary in the United States has been in the orbit of "liberal hawks" like Wieseltier, ostensible liberals who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq (and - no coincidence - who generally tend to be big Zionists).  These include among their number not only Wieseltier at the New Republic but also Peter Beinart and, of course, owner and chief editor Martin Peretz, and now at the New Yorker there's his new boss, David Remnick, as well as George Packer.    


Steven Augustine said...

Putting Mr. Wood's work/image/schtick in a political context is tremendously important.

O. D. said...

This is a remarkable blog, and I'm looking forward to reading future entries.

The coupling of Wood with Lionel Trilling feels right, in some respects. I'm actually a little more familiar with Trilling's work than with Wood's; he's a figure I have an interest in, you could say, though I'm still trying to determine the exact nature of that interest. In any case, there is a part of me, however ridiculous, which wants to come to his defense here--to assert that he was a more sensitive thinker than Wieseltier and ought not to be judged according to Wieseltier's actions. Which this post doesn't do, exactly, but it seems to come close; and I confess I was taken aback by the way Tony Christini's (intriguing and informative) original post attacks Trilling partly because it "may as well have been" he, rather than Irving Kristol, who denounced Maxwell Geismar on national television. A compromised Cold War liberal Trilling undoubtedly was, but surely it matters that he was not, in fact, involved in that affair.

Anyway, I think an essential difference between Trilling and Wieseltier is captured rather well in Wieselteir's new piece in the New Republic, which presents itself as a defense of Trilling against the "vile attacks" of Louis Menand. It's a mystifyingly aggressive, bullying response to a very modest article.