LONGER DATED REVIEWS

(from One Million Words of Booknotes, 1995)

Over the past three decades, I’ve had occasion to review many examples of what I’ve come to call Cultural Magazines’ Retrospectives, which is my term for anthologies selecting from what has previously appeared in such magazines’ pages. What these books offer intellectually, better than individual issues would, is an overview and thus the opportunity to examine what a magazine has been doing. Some of these reviews appear as miscellaneous notes on sheets of paper inserted into the book; others were typed on 4″ × 6″ notecards.

From the latter come the following entries, arranged alphabetically by author or magazine, at times reviewing individual selections, at other times identifying overarching purposes, sometimes noticing peculiarities. As the notes are dated at their ends, one implicit chronological theme is my growing awareness of the value of such books, especially to an avid reader of cultural journals, and thus the existence of a scarcely noticed genre. I gather these notes to appear not only in a literary journal but eventually also in a catalogue accompanying a proposed exhibition of these important books.

ANDERSON, Margaret, ed. The Little Review Anthology (1963). It seems that the publisher Coburn Britton has developed a crush on Margaret Anderson (1886-1973)d, wherever she lives, as the most stylish old lady of American literature; and the record of her magazine, which was founded (would you believe?) nearly sixty years ago, is certainly impressive. In just ten years she published Pound, Eliot (who regarded it, in a reprinted note, as his favorite U.S. outlet), Ford Madox Ford, and James Joyce. The Little Review even published Gertrude Stein, though Anderson tells us that she did not like the work (and it seems that Stein may have had a thing for Anderson’s associate Jane Heap). Perhaps the secret of their success is a scrupulous, almost capricious estheticism. The terribly Jamesian story that came unsolicited from an Irish writer (still unknown) can serve as an index of their fundamental critical biases. Didn’t Upton Sinclair once return a subscription with the complaint that he couldn’t understand a word of it, to which Anderson refused a Sinclair publication because she understood every word of it. Anderson was crazy in love with Heap, whose specialty was pungent remarks, especially in reply to letters to the editor; and these are abundantly reprinted, even though their contexts are often as trivial as her opinions. What the book could have used at this time was an introduction that provided context, explaining how The Little Review differed from, say, the Dial and the older Seven Arts crowd, which was more political. VERY GOOD (May 1972)

ANTREASSIAN, Jack, ed. Ararat (1969). Out of the blue, on my answering service, came an invitation to review this book, a self-anthology from an Armenian-American literary magazine [of the same title]. My incipient benefactor was a young poet named Harold Bond, a fellow contributor to Paul Carroll’s The Young American Poets; and after I reluctantly agreed to look at the book, it took a while to reach me. I hate to make ethnic generalizations, but most everything here struck me as exhibiting the self-conscious respectability of minority people on the conventional make. Therefore, little here is different either in kind or quality from what can be found elsewhere, except, of course, a recurring concern with Armenian history and culture; so that the magazine depends upon a double standard, admitting to its pages pieces that would remain unpublished were their authors or subjects not Armenian. The most impressive essay was a detailed biography of Arshile Gorky, done it seems by a relative; and though inclined to platitude, as well quotations of platitudes by others, the piece is also full of facts I had not seen elsewhere. The creative contributions were particularly square, except Annette K. Baxter's parodic correspondence between Henry Miller and Henry James. I was disturbed by the contributors' apparent reluctance to relate the Armenian's plight to that of Jews. FAIR (June 1970)

BIXLER, Paul, ed. The Antioch Review Anthology (1953). Antioch Review is one of those university quarterlies which has never really defined a unique and necessary function for itself. I suspect it saw itself as a defender of political liberalism, but it never mustered enough hot information or alternative analyses to become a quarterly rival to, say, Foreign Affairs. Nor did it manage to print too many articles considerably different from what one found in The New Republic or The Nation. So, like so many other undefined magazines without regular contributors, Antioch became a resting place for prepublished book chapters, university lectures, and so forth. For this reason, little material here strikes me as particularly important; the exceptions are John P. Roche’s essay on the British Labour Party, Ralph Ellison’s riffing on Richard Wright, and Robert K. Merton’s oft-reprinted definition of "the self-fulfilling prophecy." It it useful to have Stanley Edgar Hyman’s survey of Marxist literary criticism that was part of a chapter foolishly omitted from the paperback reprint of The Armed Vision, but the original chapter included an appreciation of the unique achievement of Christopher Caudwell that is not reprinted here (and that I for one would like to read again). FAIR (December, 1965)

CHAMBERLAIN, John, ed. National Review Reader (1957). One reads this journalistic collection with the sense that while the magazine has a few solid writers, its heart is pretty frivolous and naive. William Buckley is not a positive political mind. Since his greatest joys come from debunking, and being debunked by, the liberal intelligentsia, he devotes a long essay to detailing what John Fisher, Dwight Macdonald, and Murray Kempton think of him. This essay is very ad hominem in its arguments, revealing the personal failures of all his opponents. Morrie Ryskind’s writings I cannot follow at all, wondering whether he could have actually worked as a script writer for the Marx Brothers a generation ago. Sometimes the NR writers have touching stories about fighting Communist faculty, at Smith College no less, and about one man's personal gripes against an alien literary world. Neither William Schlamm nor John Chamberlain are particularly good as literary critics, though someone previously unknown to me, Ralph Oliver, demonstrates a concise wit in his one paragraph book reviews. For all its superficial liveliness, this journalism is intellectually unimpressive and unpersuasive. GOOD (March 1962)

CHRISTMAN, Henry M., ed. A View of the Nation: An Anthology 1955-59 (1960). My earlier admiration for The Nation embarrasses me now, for the more I read it the more I become convinced that its editorial policy is depressingly confused and that its articles, in fulfilling familiar formulas, are more predictable and boring than not. Reading through this anthology only confirms my new opinion. Aside from Kenneth Rexroth’s famous, highly politicized appreciation of Henry Miller, the literary articles were uniformly unimpressive--overly pendantic, incoherent, unconvincing, inconclusive, or obvious. (That may account for why Christman didn’t include George P. Elliott’s inspired dump on the "New York intellectuals’" style.) By leaning heavily on either debunking facts or liberal snobbery, only a few transcend expectations, which is to say the magazine's limitations. Some of my favorites are were Wade Thompson's often sharply biting attack on college fraternities, Myron Lieberman's criticism of those who want to prevent national control of schooling, and Alfred R. Lindsmith's regular pieces on Congress and narcotics. FAIR (January 1963)

CLARK, Robert S., ed. High Fidelity's Silver Anniversary Treasury (1976). My biggest surprise was discovering how bad most of the writing in this book is. Some contributions are terribly clotted (Robbins Landon), others are so pathetically slight that between hard covers they seem ever slighter (e.g., Everett Helm on Paul Hindemith). I suppose it is indicative that the editor Clark reprinted this last piece in lieu of my own 1968 profile of Elliott Carter. The strong pieces were Glenn Gould's marvelously inventive interview with himself (where he manipulates the interviewer-persona far better than anyone I know), Van Wyck Brooks's impressionistic appreciation of James Gibbons Huneker's impressionism, and Eric Salzman's on the development of sophisticated recording studios. The book concludes with Robert Long's knowledgeable introduction to color organs and light shows, where I found him referring to precursors I'd not known about. I guess my biggest impression is that I could write better music journalism than most of these people. GOOD (March 1977)

CORRIGAN, Robert W., ed. Theatre in the Twentieth Century (1963). This collection of pieces from the first five years of The Tulane Drama Reviews slightly diminishes my sense of it as one of the liveliest and most substantial magazines in America today. In contrast to too many other American journals based in academia, particularly in the South or West, it is distinctly not conservative. Its major effort, resembling the tracts of Eric Bentley, is to bring European "theatre" (note Angilicized spelling) to America, initially in the form of plays that are often published here for the first time, interviews with or speculations of the playwrights themselves, and then to encourage critical articles on these Europeans. Since Corrigan provides no introductory statements about the magazine's aims and achievements, one would not know from this book alone of its central thrust; indeed, except for playwrights's essays, none of those other items are included here. The emphasis seems to be upon familiar names and, in the critical essays, on general questions. Some of the last, rehashes of the rehashes, are pretty depressing, such as John Gassner's meliorist statements questioning the possibility of modern tragedy. GOOD (March 1964)

CROOK, Arthur, ed. TLS: 1 (1963). The idea of collecting the best pieces in the past year's Times Literary Supplement is a good one, for some of the longer articles appearing there can be very fine indeed. That recollection of the TLS, which I read religiously in London two seasons ago, leads me to believe that some of those 1962 articles left out might be better than the 1962 articles included here. While the essays on Italo Svevo and Ford Madox Ford are first-rate introductions, that on Gunter Grass takes too long to get to its point. I cannot believe that the conductor Ernest Ansermet deserves so much attention, while the kind words for the painter Francis Berry (perhaps from Herbert Read) were excessive. My major complaint against the TLS is that its unidentified (anonymous) contributors must be awfully old. No young man, in this case reviewing Roy Fuller, could have written: "The accidents of class or cash which, comparatively unimportant today, . . ." Some prig is more concerned with Claude Debussy's sexual activities than either his music or his professional life. How can one measure the illiteracy of an anonymous reviewer who regards P. H. Newby as a serious technical innovator? As F. R. Leavis knew long ago, in its judgments and its concerns, the TLS is too closely connected to the cultural establishment. FAIR (September 1966)

CROOK, Arthur, ed. TLS: 2 (1964). I found this less impressive than the earlier volume, collecting only from 1962, perhaps because 1963 was just a lesser year or because the editor (actually uncredited) decided to include several reviews of recent literature at the expense of longer articles. The short pieces on recent Russian literature were all inconclusive, as none of the TLS reviewers is as shrewd or decisive as Andrew Field, who has become the best I know at this subject. The essays on both W. H. Auden and F. R. Leavis said little, while the notice devoted to A Group Anthology was embarrassingly compromised. One critic referred to "Edmund Wilson"'s dichotomy of Paleface and Redskin when he should have credited Philip Rahv. The best single piece here is an extremely intelligent and perceptive review of Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy. Had I been aware of it before, I might have incorporated some of the reviewer's quibbles into my own piece. The attacks on Henry Miller and William Burroughs are embarrassingly philistine; for in spite of devoting so much space to truly contemporary literature, the editors of the TLS have a quarrel with it. FAIR minus (September 1966)

DEMBO, L. S., ed. Criticism: Speculative and Analytical Essays (1968). This anthology could have been important, as a symposium about current problems, especially since the questions posed by the Northrop Frye revolution have been less then entirely settled. Dembo's introduction, however, is vague and wandering. Murray Krieger's essay on Frye devotes too much energy to the unprofitable problem of evaluation, as distinct from illumination. Frye responds by separating knowledge from evaluation, contending that the former is "the only possible goal of literary study." The best literature to Frye--those books worthy of careful study--is those gaining "social" (i.e., professional) acceptance, as though the literary community itself represented a huge admissions committee, deciding what texts should be rewarded, etc. After a dense and incisive discussion of Krieger vs. Frye by E. J. Hirsch, a touted theorist once at Yale, the book has summaries of important continental figures--Georg Lukacs, who is put in his proper parochial place as circumscribing literture within a narrow critical system; Roland Barthes, whose work I've found pointless (except for an essay on Alain Robbe-Grillet that I once anthologized); and two Dutchmen, Edgar Du Perron and Menno Ter Braak, both of whom, wonder of wonders, died on May 14, 1940, the day I was born! FAIR (July 1970)

DOLMETSCH, Carl R., ed. The Smart Set Anthology (1966). I read this hoping for insight into a successful literary magazine and perhaps the writing situation in the 1920s, but found little. The biggest truth comes not from the editor, who supplies a long historical introduction, or the selections, which are largely familiar and/or dated, but from S. N. Behrman, who introduces the book. He notes that ~The Smart Set~ was open to young writers and that it took pieces "you couldn't possibly hope to get in anywhere else." To Behrman, it is the ancestor of both The New Yorker and Esquire, which is to say a popular literary magazine that was fairly hip for its time. Like the Esquire of the early sixties, and perhaps today, The Smart Set had a particularly strong influence upon emerging collegiate generations. Dolmetsch documents the magazine's connection to the circles gathered around the Algonquin, and notes as well the presense of a putative Arab who imported oriental mystery by giving hashish parties on Waverly Place. However, no truths emerged from all this material, perhaps because there were none, or because Dolmetsch could not find them. FAIR (June 1971)

GINGRICH, Arnold, et al., eds. The Esquire Reader (1960). At least six of the stories here support Esquire's reputation for publishing the best recent fiction: Leslie Fiedler's "Nude Croquet," Philip Roth's "Expect the Vandals," George P. Elliott's "Among the Dangs," Ivan Gold's "The Nickel Misery of George Washington Carver Brown," John Barth's "The Remobilizaton of Jacob Horner," and Alfred Chester's "Berceuse." Fiedler's story, as the earliest in this recent crop, is a nightmare reflective of Nathanael West, as older men try to impress young women. Several pieces, particularly those by Chester and Elliott, are quite sophisticated in their use of irony and blasphemy. On the other hand, none employs a changing narrative voice, among other structural innovations, as the avoidance of difficult forms of storytelling remains the measure of slick-magazine fiction. The freshest new talent here is Gold whom I'm willing to rank, after reading only two of his pieces, as an extremely promising tragicomic writer, successfully straddling the poles of terror and humor. VERY GOOD at best (January 1963)

GOODMAN, Paul, ed. Seeds of Liberation (1965). This retrospective selection from Liberation magazine turned out to be considerably better than I expected, making me regret that I'd not read the magazine before, because it contains material quite relevant to my masters thesis on Politics in the Negro Novel. I'm thinking particularly of Robert Williams's essay advocating reverse violence and Martin Luther King's eloquent reply. The sanest prognosticators for the future were Kenneth E. Boulding, whose books I must read, and Robert Theobald, both of whom contribute to what I've elsewhere called the New American Radical Thought. More disturbing were Theodore Roszak's essay on what he condescendingly christens "the looney left"--Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, et al.--and Dave Dellinger's essays, for they assume that belief in the proper ends can permit a compromise in means, even if the means directly violate the principles informing the ends. Women poets with various names contribute much posturing pretense, making me wonder why Hannah Arendt should be the only living woman to write perceptively about politics. GOOD (May 1966)

GOTTESMAN, Leslie, et al., eds. A Cinch: Amazing Works from the Columbia Review (1969). Though the notion of a "productive" teacher of creative writing runs counter to my sense of literary growth, I must admit that Kenneth Koch's pupils, the second generation more than the first, were among the more interesting young writers around. This anthology intends to represent their achievement, as collected in the Columbia Review through the sixties. It is full of that smug archness that, I'm afraid, won't carry far outside Morningside Heights (and repeats, in different forms, earlier parochialisms), and I'm now less awed by flat and wry language that I suspect will soon become familiar conventions. Nonetheless, there are some very good pieces here by David Shapiro, Aaron Fogel, Keith Cohen, Mitchell Siskind, et al., many of which I reprinted in The Young American Writers (1967). What other American teacher of creative writing has had so many promising pupils? GOOD (May 1970)

HAYES, Harold, ed. Smiling Through the Apocalpyse (1970). Though Byron Dobell seemed the most literate of the Esquire editors I met six years ago, his decisions as editor-in-chief of McCall's ill-fated book imprint were unadventurous. His most ambitious project is this anthology from his prior employer, Esquire, whose managing editor he had been all through the sixties. Although a lot of fine writing is collected here, the book is also at 981 pages far too fat for itself (almost to the point of discredit). One becomes aware of how the best Esquire pieces come from those individual writers who manage to transcend the magazine's oneupsmanship formulas (which Hayes doesn't reveal in his cynical introduction). I'm thinking of Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, William Styron (reviewing a remarkable book about Errol Flynn's last mistress), Gore Vidal (who can be a fantastic polemicist), and Gay Talese (especially in two great profiles of fellow Italians--Frank Sinatra, who is aggressive beyond belief, and Joe DiMaggio, who seems pathetically deferential). One editorial penchant is including the reader in highly privileged scenes--George Plimpton's Paris Review parties, the production of Kenneth Koch's The Construction of Boston. A woman who once wrote for Esquire told me that Hayes's problem was an inability to use writers well. That perhaps accounts for why Esquire has destroyed more young writers than it has developed--e.g., Jacob Brackman, Sally Kempton, and maybe Craig Karpel. It is indicative that the cover of this book should come from David Levine, who had always drawn for Esquire, but whose real talents for caricature were discovered by the New York Review. There are no biographical notes, as though individual writers aren't important enough to receive individual credit. GOOD at best (June 1971)

JAFFE, Hans L. C. De Stijl (c. 1971). I read this anthology of selections from the great Dutch art magazine with great expectations and was disappointed. Although Piet Mondrian's later essays are marked by passages of extraordinary clarity, too much of his early prose is terribly turgid and confused. Though he seemed to regard himself as transcending formalism, in the interests of spiritual qualities that transcend life, he failed to recognize that his artistic contributions would finally be regarded as formal. That is, his achievement came from making art out of severely restricted materials--a few colors in strictly vertical-horizontal geometrical arrangements. The other writers here are no more stunning, except Theo van Doesburg. There is mention of a composer named Jacob van Domselaer, whose work I should check out, if I am to regard Constructivism as a polyartistic movement. The paradox I must confront is why such a seemingly empiricist art is really not empirical in the end; and since nearly all the contributors to De Stijl descended from strict Protestant families, that probably involves an investigation of Protestant logic. I might also want to check Allan Kaprow's Columbia M. A. thesis, which deals with Mondrian's attempt to use art to transcend art. Jaffe's introduction is filled with so many good ideas I must recheck his longer essays on Constructivism. GOOD (September 1973)

KATZ, Shlomo, ed. The Midstream Reader (1960). Midstream, I conjecture, was founded to perform a cultural role that some Jewish intellectuals felt that Commentary was not doing (just as Dissent was founded some years before to counter Commentary's failure to deal critically with McCarthyism and continue the radical Jewish intellectual tradition). The motive here, I suspect (partly out of ignorance), is to defend traditional Jewish-Zionist positions against compromises. Because Commentary intends to challenge, rather than congratulate, its educated middle-class audience, it would print articles critical of the Israeli Kibbutz system or of Israeli policies toward the Arabs or the self-congratulation of suburban reformed Judaism. Midstream's visitors to Israel love the place and report that its kibbutzniks are staying on; its reporters regard the Arabs as totally to blame, and so on. In the fiction reprinted here, I was especially impressed by Maxine Steinman and Isaac Bashevis Singer and disappointed by Wallace Markfield, Herbert Gold, and Isaac Rosenfeld. The only surprise here is Leslie Fiedler's "Negro and Jew--Encounter in America," which displays a brilliant use of myth in understanding a contemporary social problem. Finally, this magazine is essentially intelligent. GOOD plus (September 1963)

LASKY, Melvin, ed. Encounters (1963). Given Encounter's pretensions, I found it difficult to believe what a lame self-anthology this is. The magazine I recall as more interesting than this anthology would suggest. Maybe the editor chose just O.K. pieces by O.K. names. I'm not familiar enough with its past issues to tell what else could have been included, except something by Dwight Macdonald, such as his 1957 memoir about returning to America, which did appear in Encounter and was reprinted in Dissent at the time but curiously not included in Macdonald's Against the American Grain (1961). Nearly everything here seems a celebration of rational (nontotalitarian) liberalism. The off-beat pieces, in this respect, turn out to be among the best, such as Nancy Mitford's analysis of U-language, Wayland Young's reportage among prostitutes, and Edward Shils's stunning attack on the British intelligentsia. I found the book's opening pieces to be dreary reportage. Except for H. R. Trevor-Roper's attack on Arnold Toynbee, most of the intellectual criticism was pathetic. The fiction was undistinguished, except for a modernist piece by Cyril Connolly that seemed out of place. FAIR

LAUGHLIN, James, ed. Spearhead: Ten Years of Experimental Writing in America (1947). When Laughlin came on the scene in America some thirty years ago there were simply no publishers supporting American avant-garde literature. Most of William Faulkner was out of print by the late 1930s, while Maxwell Perkins was still too concerned with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerlald, and Thomas Wolfe to look seriously at younger men. Laughlin could have had to himself all the major writers born after 1900. Not only did he become the first book publisher of Lionel Trilling, Paul Goodman, John Berryman, and Tennessee Williams, but he could issue samples of his contemporaries' new work in his immense annuals. Only with the rise in 1944 of the two-shot annual Cross-Section, edited by Edwin Seaver, did he have competition, but then Seaver seemed to focus more clearly upon writers of leftist persuasions and those who came of age in the 1940s (and were thus younger than Laughlin)--Ralph Ellison, Stanley Edgar Hyman, Shirley Jackson, Norman Mailer, et al. Though devoted only to American citizens (and thus neglecting New Directions' distinguished list of European imports), this Spearhead contains some remarkable material not conveniently available elsewhere: John Berryman's "The Imagianary Jew"; H. J. Kaplan's "The Mohammedans"; Georg Mann's "Azeff Wischmeier, The Bolshevik Bureaucrat," which is a satire of the Communist functionary (with material that is just too terrifying for the satire to be as funny as Mann wants); and a wild absurdist play by Gertrude Stein, "Daniel Webster," that struck me as considerably more successful in this vein than those of hers that are more often reprinted. On the other hand, most of the poetry reprinted here was too diffuse for me, as I suspect that Laughlin tolerates weaker poetry than fiction. The most striking was "The Greenberg Manuscripts" which is the suggestive poetry of a bed-ridden Jewish boy who was promising but died much too young. I did not care for the fiction here by Paul Goodman, Lionel Abel, Eleanor Clark, and Jack Jones, perhaps because I think any collection of best writing in the 1940s should have had stories by Isaac Rosenfeld, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, and even Ellison. VERY GOOD (February 1965)

LAUGHLIN, James, and Hayden Carruth, eds. A New Directions Reader. In many ways, New Directions was one of the most important publishing houses ever founded in America, largely because it was instrumental in issuing first books here by many first-rate Europeans (and a few first-rate Americans): Boris Pasternak, Bertolt Brecht, Lionel Trilling, Eric Bentley, Tennessee Williams, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller, Pablo Neurda, and Dylan Thomas. Thanks to Laughlin's fortune, as an heir to the Jones and Laughlin steel company, and the impact of Dudley Fitts at Yale, New Directions could take the initial risks. In this dissemination of new Europeans, Laughlin essentially took over what Alfred A. Knopf had done in the twenties. At the point that Knopf dropped out (around the late thirties), Laughlin came in; but once he has dropped out (in the middle fifties), that cultural role was assumed by Grove Press, which discovered Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Jean Genet, only to drop out themselves in the early 1960s, all of which shows that in America the duration of excellent perception gets shorter and shorter with each successive generation. It may be another sign of Laughlin's declining taste, but I found the selections included in this book less impressive than the list of New Directions publications added as an appendix. At any rate, it was good to read a little Neruda, Lautreament, and Gottfried Benn. The most satisfactory contributions, to my taste, were Nabokov's short story, the scenes from Brecht's The Private Life of the Master Race, and the passages from Trilling's monograph on E. M. Forester. I cannot escape the impression that, even though Laughlin is barely fifty, New Directions has declined. The latest annual is smaller in size than its predecessors and more dependent upon material previously published elsewhere. It would seem that the tragedy of being a serious publisher in America is that somehow the forces of history keep him from becoming best for very long (and in that respect does publishing resemble the writing of poetry or fiction in America). GOOD (December 1964)

LUCE, Robert, ed. The Faces of Five Decades (1965). Should the importance of a magazine be measured by how much it leaves to posterity? Though a quarterly can easily achieve that kind of importance, this measure becomes more problematic for a periodical appearing more often. What strikes me most about this anthology of fifty years of The New Republic is how little of truly lasting value is collected here and thus how little must have ever appeared in the magazine. Of the literary essays reprinted here, I respect only Malcolm Muggeridge's on Evelyn Waugh, Lewis Mumford's on Thorstein Veblen, and Robert Graves's defense of T. E. Lawrence's heroism. Perhaps the book's editor's choices were deficient. I was surprised to see John Updike speaking critically of James Agee; I did not think that Updike had that much discrimination in him. I find it difficult to believe that Otis Ferguson, given his reputation, did nothing better or that Irving Howe's miserably mistaken interpretation of Richard Wright represents his best work for The New Republic. Of the political pieces, I do not remember anything as important. The only reason for Arthur Schlesinger's 500-word introductions to the various sections is that the publisher wanted to put his name on the book's cover. FAIR (November 1965)

MACAULEY, Robie, ed. Gallery of Modern Fiction (1966). Poor Robie Macauley, he'll never edit a Kenyon Reviewas important as John Crowe Ransom's. One of the problems is that, unlike Ransom, he does not gather around him all the rising young eccentrics, regardless of their literary-political persuasions or writing styles. Since Macauley publishes only safe provincials, the stories here are mostly mediocre and, even worse, dull in ways that stories in literary magazines should not be dull, which is to say patent rejects from the more commercial magazines. (Is Macauley gunning for a job at a slicker journal?) Only three stories here struck me as worth reprinting--those by Boris Pasternak, Thomas Pynchon, and Doris Lessing. The last, "One Off the Short List" (1963), which I read before, is a truly masterful exposure of unauthentic motives in a passing affair (or the rechanneling of sexual desire into sadism in a competitive culture); it is surely among the great pieces of Marxist fiction in our time and very much worthy of close analysis. For quality, that's about it. FAIR (September 1966)

MAROWITZ, Charles, et al. The Encore Reader (1965). The greatest tribute to the periodical Encore comes from Richard Findlatter in his introduction: "What would we have done without it--through all the little revolutions, real and counterfeit, of the last decade." This suggests that Encore, unlike any radical American theater magazine, was a force within the theater--read by directors in the provinces, critics in London, drama teachers. Secondly, it felt related to elements of the ongoing establishment--to Peter Hall, the Royal Shakespeare, and Peter Brook. Thus, I find in its criticisms a participational concern absent from most highbrow American thater writing. Thirdly, it made reputations, even repairing neglect elsewhere, as in keeping alive the memory of John Whiting, salvaging Harold Pinter from his easy detractors, promoting John Arden to his present high status. Like all essentially coterie magazines, Encore passed away too soon (in October 1965), when all its major contributors found too much work elsewhere. As criticism, this self-anthology is very uneven. Some essays, such as Richard Roud's on Eugene Ionesco, are terrible. Others, such as those by Irving Wardle or Charles Marowitz (an American long resident in London), are first-rate. I find Peter Brook's contributions pretentious and evasive. Joseph Losey's memoir of Bertolt Brecht is edifying. Lindsay Anderson is a pompous fool. Jill Johnston's essay on Happenings is an excellent early attempt at definitions. Though Charles Marowitz generally has too much sympathy for revolt as such to see art straight, most of his pieces reprinted here are positive. The major failure of the magazine reflects its social conscience--a sentimental softness for social realism as a style and a complimentary vain belief that literary theater could influence the masses. VERY GOOD (March 1966)

MORGAN, Frederick, ed. The Modern Image: Outstanding Stories from the Hudson Review (1965). Hudson Review has, because of its Princeton and New Critical ancestry, always been committed to intelligence and complexity, the former represented by the fact that nearly all its regular contributors have doctorates and the latter by their patently anti-millennial conservatism. Though it will always be a substantial magazine (its part because its editor/self-patron doesn't have much else to do), it eschews another opportunity available to a quarterly journal--of taking cultural initiates ignored by everyone else. Inconsequentiality notwithstanding, I usually find at least one story in each issue to be very good and suspect that the average quality here is probably higher than that in any other journal. However, little sense of such excellence emerges from this anthology, which instead makes us more aware of the limitations of the journal's conservative taste. First of all, any true selection from its pages should have included Kenneth Burke's "The Anaesthetic Revelation of Herone Liddell" (1957). Second, the editor should have cut two regulars, George P. Elliott and Herbert Gold, for more valuable stuff. (Why did the magazine print so much Ben Maddow, who was never more than a Hollywood hack, whose reputation benefitted from unnecessary blacklisting?) Two stories here belong among the masterpieces of our time: William Carlos Williams' "The Farmer's Daughters" and H. W. Blattner's "Sound of the Drunken Drummer." The critic Robert Martin Adams had, as usual for him, nothing to say in his introduction. GOOD as a whole; EXCELLENT at best. (June 1965)

OSBORNE, Harold, ed. Aesthetics in the Modern World (1968). Poor Victor Weybright and his son-in-law Truman Talley. They foolishly sold their patiently established paperback empire (New American Library) to the Los Angeles Times and found themselves quickly ousted. Despite their advanced ages, they founded a new publishing house under their own names; yet they seem unable to issue any interesting books. This anthology was probably picked up for next to nothing, as its British publisher Thames & Hudson probably offered it first to Praeger (which has done other T&H books). Consisting entirely of selections from The British Journal of Aesthetics, it is all but entirely irrelevant to understanding contemporary art. To make the book's significance even less likely, Osborne confines his selections to British authors, vaguely crediting the pre-eminence of British estheticians during the eighteenth century. I found only two consequential essays: William Empson's "Rhythm and Imagery in English Poetry" (which includes that notorious statement deprecating William Carlos Williams) and J. N. Finlay's courageous attempt to work from the ground up with some amorphous terms that are nonetheless valuable. FAIR (April 1970)

PARIS REVIEW. Best Short Stories From (1959). This is a rather disappointing collection, largely because the taste of the magazine is too self-consciously eclectic to be firm. The range of effects in these stories is enormous--on one hand the Jewish humor of Philip Roth and on another the self-conscious beatdom of Jack Kerouac. The overbearing satire of John Phillips contrasts with the seething hate of women in Pati Hill's story, which is one of the finest pieces here. This book includes stories about adolescence, such as William Fain's tale of initiation through the experience of peeping at the pimples on a girl's behind, and social protest from Owen Dodson. I especially liked the "Stones" section from Samuel Beckett's Molloy (1951, English translation 1955). FAIR (May 1963)

PHILIPS, William, and Philip Rahv, eds. Modern Writing No. 2 (1954). The editors of Partisan Review were apparently commissioned to select pieces for books published by the mass paperbacker Avon. In this second Modern Writing I especially liked Delmore Schwartz's story, "Successful Love," about a wealthy seventeen-year-old exurbanite who goes to New York City to get seduced by a swarthy Italian. Her father can't understand her deviant living. While Hermann Hesse's "My Life: A Conjectural Biography" was good, it was also too close to Thomas Mann's characters for comfort. Alberto Moravia's story, "Back to the Sea," I'd rank among the most sensual I've seen from him. Elliot Stein's "The Babies" is grotesquely imaginative. Herbert Gold, Dan Jacobson, and Mary McCarthy do fairly well, while Pawel Mayewski, Benjamin DeMott, Milton Klonsky, and Anatole Broyard do not. Hilton Kramer's essay on grotesque literature is interesting, while Eric Bentley's report on reviewing New York plays is very perceptive. VERY GOOD (February 1960)

PLIMPTON, George, ed. Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews (1963). Reading these interviews is, by and large, a waste of time, for not only do the writers not tell us very much about important things, what they do tell is too platitudinous to be helpful or so vague as to be misleading. Moreover, for too many people these interviews serve as a substitute not for criticism but for first-hand knowledge of the writers' works. If an interview takes so long to appear in print (and then be reprinted in a book), the purpose of asking a writer about his current work becomes getting a vision that will finally be judged as incomplete. The book is also filled with those tid-bits that are gossip rather than biography, which is to say conversational handles that are intrinsically interesting without becoming insights into character. The only interview with artistic value is the Hemingway one, which becomes a comic encounter between an eager young man and an old pro who relishes putting the young man down. The dialogue here is hysterically funny; its publication reflects the interviewer's, Plimpton's, aristocratic self-confidence. If interviews function for readers as substitutes for first-hand acquaintance, for Paris Review they substitute for the fiction and poetry that ought to appear in its pages. I was reminded of T. S. Eliot's 1949 response to fourteen questions most repeatedly asked of him, as reported in Hugh Kenner's monograph on Eliot: "Imagine that you have just seen the first performance of Hamlet, and try to set down fourteen questions for Shakespeare to answer, parallel to these fourteen. Then consider whether it is not all for the best that Shakespeare never answered these questions, or if he did, that the answers have not been preserved." Yes. GOOD (May 1963)

PLIMPTON, George, ed. Writers at Work: Vol. IV (1976). There is something wrong with this latest installment of ~Paris Review~ interviews--too much talk about careerism, in self-congratulatory ways, and too much about the mechanics of writing. One wishes that more was said about particular imaginative purposes and about literary politics. Perhaps the problem is that interviews provide too blatant a forum for self-dramatization, especially if the interviewer is predisposed to butt-kissing. I suppose that scholars might find them most useful as keys to an artist's work, but even there they can be deceptive, especially with ironic writers who relish half-true, or incomplete, statements. The prefatory notes are unedifying; the capsule biographies perfunctory; and the accompanying illustrations unilluminating (except for the Dos Passos', which shows how actual newspaper clippings were spliced into his text). Every once in a while someone says something revealing, such as Elizabeth Hardwick's confession that she has never been able to travel alone or Mary McCarthy's that she "has never been without a man for a day in her life." FAIR (July 1977)

RIKHOFF, Jean, ed. The Quixote Anthology (1961). Quixote was a literary magazine, begun in 1954, that was perhaps important in its time. However, the most terrifying thing about this book, purportedly collecting the best, is how many of its contributors, supposedly chosen from a larger pool, have since disappeared. Who were Garnet Owen, Jack Hockenhull, Richard Tiernan, Morris Brown, Karilyn Adams, Tom Poots, Joseph Slotkin, Jim Rikhoff, and Andrew Jolly, to list the first ten contributors, whose stories in sum consume one-third of the book. The prefatory biographical notes tell little. While I conjecture that Miss Rikhoff, whose husband Rust Hills was at the time editing for Esquire, may have weak taste, such wholesale disappearance deserves a larger, probably sociological explanation. Since so few places at the time were open to short fiction, only a novelist could survive. (What happened to novels by these people is, I suppose, another story.) This anthology was done much too soon to raise such questions, which occur to me over a decade later. Instead, the running prefaces detail Rikhoff's trials in producing the magazine and thus portray her as a suffering servant. One hanging question is why, if she had money from home, was she so cheap in paying her contributors and finding a printer? (Can anyone nowadays resist thinking of her as Jean Rip-off?) She continually complains that bookstores would never pay for issues ordered, so that one moral of her story, I suppose, is that every American city should have a taxpayer-subsidized outlet strictly for literary magazines and small publishers, whose subsidy should be made contingent upon paying suppliers for work sold. FAIR (May 1972)

ROLLING STONE. The Rolling Stone Record Review (1971). Rolling Stone was founded at the nexus of rock and universities. It is my impression that most of the copies go to college addresses. (Didn't its publisher also discover that its readership was 90% male?) To an indubitably popular art, its writers bring some of the penchants for discrimination and scholarship learned in school. At first they even assert that rock is not quite up to serious music (as in an early review by its publisher Jann Wenner himself), but that theme gets dropped as the aspirations to "criticism" become more pretentious. Wenner in his introduction even speaks of a future scholarship that would distinguish trends in rock criticism. What is most striking from this self-anthology is that some of the Rolling Stone writers are clearly better at record reviewing than others--Ed Ward, Jon Landau, Griel Marcus, Langdon Winner, Pete Welding. Certain eminences appear once and only once--Ralph Gleason (in a closing paean to Bob Dylan), Julius Lester, Robert Christgau, Al Kooper, Paul Nelson, and even Bill Amatneek, whose older sister I once dated. (Among the better rock writers not included here, consider Richard Meltzer, Robert Somma, Richard Goldstein, Jonathan Cott, Don Heckman.) The truth that I came to accept, initially reluctant to consider rock criticism as serious, is that there is some mightily intelligent critical writing here. GOOD plus (September 1971)

ROSS, Alan, ed. Stories from the London Magazine (1964). The only story that I read from this book when I first got it, a year ago, was so good that I had high hopes for the whole collection when I returned to it. However, like The London Magazine itself, this book was nothing but disappointing. That one story was Ted Hughes's "The Harvesting," which I read as a symbolic portrait of man's quarrels with nature. Earlier, to judge from my notes in the book, I thought the story symbolic of a deathwish. The prose is so richly evocative that I look forward to reading more of Hughes's fiction, even though I've not much liked his poetry. Especially compared to this touchstone, so many of the other pieces here seemed little more than vaguely fictionalized reportage from around the world--Tom Hopkinson from South Africa, Francis Fytton from middle Africa, Barbara Skelton from lumpen New York, Paul Bowles from North Africa. Alan Ross, who is something of a traveler himself, seems to prefer stories about places abroad. In his introduction, he vulgarly condemns as primary concern with method as "the initial symptom of impotence." No wonder so much of this book was stylistically dull. I'm still unable to appreciate the much-acclaimed Jean Rhys. FAIR (June 1966)

ROSSET, Barney, ed. Evergreen Review Reader (1968). The common opinion is that Grove Press was once the leading literary publisher in America, shaping the tastes of a generation of adventurous readers (my own). However, after noticing that it was losing money and nearly selling out (in 1963, when Random House, ironically, was the most eager buyer), its owner and founder, Barney Rossett, decided to concentrate on making money. The literary side of his business was deemphasized in favor of a seemingly endless stream of pornographic works, including Frank Harris's classic My Life and Loves and John Rechy's City of Night (1963), which discovered the possibilities of a homosexual book market, and then revolutionary literature, beginning with The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1964). In recent years, Grove has forsaken literature for salacious Barbarella, so it is indicative that this anthology of selections from its "house organ" should open with a Samuel Beckett short story and close with Barbarella. There is much good stuff here, most of which I read before (and already have in my library); for the same taste that went into compiling the early Grove list informed this book. No other literary journal of recent times could gather so much quality between a single set of covers, at the same time that recent developments are undermining its reputation. VERY GOOD (February 1969)

SITNEY, P. Adams, ed. Film Culture Reader (1970). This is the best book on the avant-garde film available. It's far superior to Parker Tyler's unpersuasive ramblings. The strongest individual contributions are Sitney's, which attempt serious esthetic analysis, usually with convincing results. In this respect, he is superior to Jonas Mekas, who is really a romantic publicist, far most comfortable, as Sitney points out, with informal, zen-oriented films. Sitney is particularly adept at identifying evolutions within the avant-garde--away from the intensely poetic film of Stan Brakhage and even Jack Smith to the "structural film," as he calls it, though I would prefer the term "reflective film." In the works of Andy Warhol, George Landow, Tony Conrad, Hollis Frampton, and Michael Snow are emphasized characteristics peculiar to the film medium. While Sitney's definitions of the tradition are good, George Maciunas's criticisms, typically concise, are also worth reprinting. Also here is Andrew Sarris's first extended definition of his auteur theory, Gene Youngblood's enticing profile of Jordan Belson, and a famous 1952 debate on poetry in films (including Dylan Thomas, Arthur Miller, and Maya Deren). There is no doubt that Film Culture served an irreplaceable function in generating intelligence about avant-garde American cinema and thus became a model for underground commentary. I wish the introduction had revealed more about how this revolution was accomplished in spite of editorial indulgences and a small list of subscribers. VERY GOOD (February 1971)

WASSERSTROM, William, ed. Civil Liberties and the Arts (1964). Dorothy Norman was apparently a rich and beautiful woman who, two decades ago, ran one of the best literary salons in New York, as well as sponsoring the biannual Twice-a-Year and writing an occasional column for the New York Post. I remember a friend telling me a few years ago that Norman wanted to meet me, but I did not pursue it. Professor Wasserstrom, in his disconcerting introduction, claims that Twice-a-Year's demise represents the end of a tradition of highbrow journalism in America. This thesis might have been more persuasive had Wasserstrom explained why the magazines that became more important in the late forties and early fifties (e.g., Partisan Review, Kenyon Review) should have failed the tradition. The contents I read were generally disappointing, because they were too self-consciously belles-lettristic and thus too narcissistic. Even Richard Wright falls into this mold in his windy and confused early letters from Europe. I find in the end that Norman's magazine had little sense of the crisis in modern art, the crisis in modern politics (caught in Commentary and Partisan), and the crisis in modernistic thought (caught best in Marshall McLuhan' periodical Explorations). FAIR (September 1968)

WASSERSTROM, William, ed. A Dial Miscellany (1963). Wasserstrom wrote a rather pretentious book about The Dial that regarded it as a prophetic medium in the cultural (and even the spiritual) history of the U.S. between 1910 and 1960. Although The Dial supported many important writers, it also neglected such major contemporaries as William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. Think of it as the last outlet of the old WASP establishment. Refounded by two Harvard alumni, both influenced by George Santayana, it published emerging Harvard boys, such as John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, Gilbert Seldes, Malcolm Cowley, Conrad Aiken, T. S. Eliot, et al., along with a Princeton boy named Edmund Wilson. (The major exceptions were, of course, Marianne Moore, once of Bryn Mawr, and Kenneth Burke, a recent Columbia undergraduate.) One competing periodical, Lincoln Kirstein's ~The Hound and the Horn~, was founded by a Jew. Wasserstrom, whom I take to be Jewish, should have noticed that two Jews, Paul Rosenfeld and Lewis Mumford, left The Dial circle to found the annual American Caravan. The one virtue of this anthology is reprinting material unavailable elsewhere, beginning with an early version of Eliot's The Hollow Men. GOOD (June 1972)

WEIL, Gunther M., Ralph Metzner, and Timothy Leary, eds. The Psychedelic Reader: Selections from The Psychedelic Review (1965). I found this a substantial introduction to the psychedelic viewpoint. The selections ranged from Gottfried Benn's personal memoir to Timothy Leary's and Ralph Metzner's analysis of Hermann Hesse's experience to R. Gordon Wasson's diligent research. Leary and Metzner portray themselves as missionaries, offering advice to users of psychedelics. Everyone is so drearily scholarly, down to the plethora of footnotes and bibliographical sources to accompany nearly every reference. On page 8, Gerald Heard offers an introduction to the important quarrel with psychoanalysis. Only in our time do messiahs have doctorates and respectable academic styles. I'd like to know more about Leary. Who is he? Where did he come from? Here he admits only that it was in the summer of 1960 that he first turned on. GOOD plus (April 1966)

WEINSTEIN, James, and David W. Eakins, eds. For a New America (1970). The publisher John J. Simon has a genuine talent for co-opting possible antagonists. Perhaps to stave off possible criticism of his commissar's role in disseminating New Left literature to larger audiences, he commissioned this belated anthology from Studies on the Left, which was among the first and most intelligent of the recent radical magazines. Founded at the University of Wisconsin and very much influenced by William Appleman Williams, it was an academic journal that favored very professorial articles. One theme prominent in its pages was that a major reason for the failure of American socialism has been a paucity of relevant theory. Although such a theory is not developed here, the attempts toward it make an interesting, intelligent history. The most striking essay is probably Harold Cruse's, published back in 1962, which presents in concise form many of the ideas subsequently elaborated in The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967), which by now stands as one of the great intellectual achievements of the New Left. I thought it unfortunate that no cultural pieces, such as those by my friend Lee Baxandall, were reprinted here. GOOD (July 1971)

WOLF, Daniel, and Edwin Fancher, eds. The Village Voice Reader (1962). The Village Voice is in the end just another community newspaper with a little bit of cultural cream on top. As a community sheet, it prints a variety of aids to villagers (such as notes on the best places to pick up girls), ads from neighborhood shops, gossip from local bars, portraits of local characters, etc. Only occasionally does any real intellectual controversy get into its pages, but then only about such middlebrow questions as who might be the better TV critics in New York City (in a debate between Steve Allen and Nat Hentoff!), a report on the difficulty of finding editorial work, notes on beat writers and Jean Shepherd's millings, or Seymour Krim's documentation of intellectual revolt (so obviously, like most Krim stuff, an imitation of something else, in this case Norman Mailer's "The White Negro"). Lack of sophistication notwithstanding, this is a good, moderately engaging newspaper. The Voice's Michael Smith is nowadays a more intelligent drama critic than Jerry Tallmer, who, in his essays here, lets enthusiasm substitute for sense and insight. GOOD (June 1963)