One of the first things I did when I arrived at the , a novel I greatly admire. I praised of “taking down” writers like Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, and Don De Lillo. For one thing, no review ever does “take down” a writer: the writer has a way of popping up very punctually, three or four years later, with another offering.It’s not a “negative” piece, and is all the more horrifying for the mildness of its dismissal. For another, a serious critique, of the kind I have written of , a book I praised at length for its humane and moving rewriting of De Lillo yet criticized for its residual and contradictory enthrallment to a De Lilloian idea of the paranoid “social novel,” be seen as “a takedown”?
There I was, waiting for the sweets of positivity, for the proposals and manifestos and counterarguments, only to find the merest dusting of kiddies’ sugar: “And what can we do, with thirty-six weeks left on our discount subscription [to the ]? We’re young yet: so we’ll go and be among the young.” Perhaps this was ironically intended; a few lines earlier there had emerged the stronger hint of a proposal: “If only they had allowed more positive individuality, cultivated something new, and still kept an old, dignified adherence to the Great Tradition, running continuously to them (as they hoped) from the New York Intellectuals, whose ashes were in urns in the vaults if they were anywhere. ” Positive individuality; the cultivation of “something new” (anything, as long as it is something? The Editors had unwittingly proved the gravamen of their own critique: that it is easier to criticize than to propose.
; and rather than fall into easy pugilism, it might be worth defending, first of all, a certain kind of negativity; and then worth chancing a certain kind of positivity.
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