Dwight Macdonald’s Masscult and Midcult was reviewed by Leo Robson in the British newspaper the New Stateman recently, with particular attention paid to the variety of writing that Macdonald is famed for:
I first read the name Dwight Macdonald in the pages of Pauline Kael’s review collections, where it was invoked frequently and always with deadly intent. In a review of Jules et Jim, Kael quotes Macdonald’s relief that Stanley Kauffmann also disliked the film—‘one doesn’t like/want to be the only square’—adding: ‘If it gives him comfort to know there are two of them.’ In a piece on Akira Kurosawa, he comes in for a parenthetic bashing: ‘Movies are, happily, a popular medium (which makes it difficult to see why Dwight Macdonald with his dedication to high art sacrifices his time to them).’ A review of a film by Satyajit Ray makes reference to ‘Dwight Macdonald, who calls any place outside New York ‘the provinces” and who ‘condescends promiscuously’. Kael doesn’t defend Brando against Macdonald’s charge that he ‘has always fancied himself as like an intellectual’, but then turns the knife on the attacker—‘surely a crime he shares with Mr Macdonald’.
It came as a surprise to discover, some years later, that this parochial, promiscuously condescending, pseudo-intellectual square, besides being film critic of Esquire, was an essayist admired by T S Eliot and Isaiah Berlin and a hero to younger journalists, among them Clive James, who remembered being ‘bowled over’ by his work; James Wolcott, whose New York Times piece ‘Dwight Macdonald at 100’ celebrated a ‘generalist whose specialty was … exposing highfalutin fraudulence’; and Geoffrey Wheatcroft, who, also writing on the occasion of Macdonald’s centenary, regretted that, for all his influence and significance, his work ‘cries out for proper reissue’.