Proposal for an anthology of The Art of Literary Demolition

Would you and your colleagues please consider contracting me to produce a collection that would contain classic pieces that, as far as I can tell, have never been gathered together between a single set of covers. I would concentrate upon essays by Americans, mostly about American literature, especially since, as far as I can tell, Americans do this sort of writing more artfully than others. In choosing individual essays, I'll observe two principles: first, effective examples of the art (and so will include demolitions of minor or forgotten figures only if those essays were artfully done, such as Edgar Allen Poe on Thomas Ward) and, second, covering all of American literature, thereby making this collection a counterweight to all the anthologies of laudatory remarks.

Among my initial selections:

Mark Twain, “Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offenses,” which has been frequently reprinted.

Edgar Allen Poe, “Flaccus--Thomas Ward,” “William Ellery Channing,” “Simm's The Wigman and the Cabin,” all reprinted in Volume I of Edmund Wilson's Shock of Recognition.

H. L. Mencken, “Dreiser's Style,” reprinted in Volume II of Edmund Wilson's Shock of Recognition; “Poetry in America,” Prejudices (Sixth Series) (Knopf, 1927).

Edmund Wilson, “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroydt' [re crime mysteries], Literary Chronicle (Doubleday Anchor, n.d.).

Stanley Edgar Hyman, “Edmund Wilson and Translation in Criticism,” The Armed Vision (Knopf, 1948), which was excised from the paperback abridgment; “Bankrupt Treasuries” [re folklore scholarship], Kenyon Review (1958).

Yvor Winters, “Spiritual Drifter [on Robert Frost],” On Modern Poets (Meridian, 1959).

Eric Bentley, “American Drama (1944-54), Avon Book of Modern Writing No. 2 (1954)

Dwight Macdonald, “By Cozzens Possessed” & “Updating the Bible,” Against the American Grain (Random House, 1962).

Leslie A. Fiedler, “Dead-End Werther: The Burn as American Culture Hero,” An End to Innocence (1955).

Mary McCarthy, “Dry Ice [re Eugene O'Neill]” & “Streetcar Called Success [re Tennessee Williams],” Sights and Spectacles (1957).

Randall Jarrell, “Anthologies,” Poetry and the Age (New York, 1953).

Edmund Fuller, “The Female Zombies,” Man in Modern Fiction (Random House, 1959).

John Simon, several selections from his criticism.

Richard Kostelanetz, “A Magazine of Worse [on Poetry],” The Old Poetries and the New (University of Michigan, 1981); & “Joseph Brodsky,” The New Poetries and Some Old (S. Illinois, 1991).

Each selection should be prefaced by a headnote, just as the whole should have an introduction. I know from experience that once a book like this is contracted and permissions are solicited, colleagues tell you about other appropriate possibilities. I think it would appeal to general readers who have a taste for this sort of writing. The Art of Literary Demolitions should be whatever length its publisher thinks feasible. As there is nothing like it, I expect that such a book could develop an aura and sell quite well over the years.