1. “Like many recovering English majors before me, I have a longstanding infatuation with heavy Russian novels.”

    — A Calm Place to Think: On Reading the Classics by Guy Patrick Cunningham (via millionsmillions)

  2. “Back in Macdonald’s era, it was still just possible to think of the English language as a single great stream with its sources in literary tradition, rolling majestically past the evanescent slang and jargon scattered on its banks. That was a glorious fiction even then. But it isn’t a credible picture when all the old distinctions have been effaced — between high and low, formal and casual, print and oral, public and private.”

    — 

    —Geoff Nunberg On The Significance Of Language Wars : NPR

    If we’re talking about Webster’s Third dictionary (and we are—there’s a new book out about it, David Skinner’s The Story of Ain’t) then we must also be talking about Dwight Macdonald’s skewering of it, “The String Untuned,” collected in Masscult and Midcult.

    On the same topic, have a listen to this interview with Skinner at Slate’s delightful* language podcast, Lexicon Valley.

    *Any program Bob Garfield hosts is automatically delightful.

  3. 'Style is the Man' - Clive James on Dwight Macdonald

    As with all great essayists, his writing had a poetic component, but it was a poetry cleansed of poeticism. No modern American prose writer of consequence ever postured less: compared with him, Mary McCarthy is on stilts, Gore Vidal grasps a pouncet-box, and Norman Mailer is from Mars in a silver suit. At his best, Macdonald made modern American English seem like the ideal prose medium: transparent in its meaning, fun when colloquial, commanding when dignified, and always suavely rhythmic even when most committed to the demotic.

         — Clive James on Dwight Macdonald’s Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain in the current issue of The Atlantic, read the rest of the article here

  4. Dwight Macdonald in The New Statesman

    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’.

  5. Mac the Knife—the Literary Critic →

    "Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear

    And he shows them, pearly white.”

  6. Dwight Garner reviews Dwight Macdonald's 'Masscult and Midcult' →

    "The late, great literary and social critic Dwight Macdonald (1906-82) was on the receiving end of some of the best literary insults of the 20th century. Gore Vidal said to him, ‘You have nothing to say, only to add.’ Leon Trotsky reportedly declared, ‘Every man has a right to be stupid, but comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.’ Paul Goodman cracked, ‘Dwight thinks with his typewriter.’

  7. Masscult and Midcult & Baffler Tour Dates

    Come duke out the vexing question of massculture, middlebrow culture, and high culture with John Summers (editor of the soon-to-be-revived journal The Baffler) and his decidedly high-culture guests in Cambridge, Chicago and DC.

    Are you a snob or a democrat? Are you a democratic snob? Find out all this and more at the events below!

    October 14th:
    J.C. Gabel and John Summers at Stop Smiling Storefront, Chicago

    October 20th:
    Louis Menand and John Summers at Harvard Bookstore, Cambridge

    October 22nd:
    Andrew Ferguson, Chris Lehmann, and John Summers at Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington DC

  8. Masscult and Midcult

    Yesterday was the publication date of Dwight Macdonald’s Masscult and Midcult, a collection of his best essays on culture edited by John Summers, editor of The Baffler. As an example of the ‘Midcult’, Macdonald reviewed James Gould Cozzens By Love Possessed, published in 1957 and a huge success both critically and financially. Here’s a paragraph that exhibits Macdonald’s famed ‘damming’ style:

    ”’He has always written with complete clarity,’ wrote Granville Hicks, ‘but here, without forsaking clarity and correctness, he achieves great eloquence and even poetic power.’ On the contrary, malphony exfoliates, as our author might put it. As:

    'The succussive, earthquake-like throwing-over of a counted-on years-old stable state of things had opened fissures. Through one of them, Arthur Winner stared a giddying, horrifying moment down unplumbed, unnamed abysses in himself. He might later deny the cognition, put thoughts of the heart's mute halt at every occasional, accidental recollection of those gulfs admitted their existence, confessed his fearful close shave.”

    'Succussive' is cake-walking, since it means 'violently shaking…as of earthquakes' and so merely duplicated the next word; a good writer wouldn't use four hyphenated expressions in a row; he would also avoid the 'occasional, accidental' rhyme, and the reference to unplumbed abysses; he would ask himself what a mute halt is (as versus a noisy halt?); and he would sense that 'close shave' is stylistically an anticlimax to so elevated a passage. It's all very puzzling.”

    Needless to say, Cozzens and his ‘great book’ By Love Possessed are hardly read now.

  9. If you live in NYC come to this tonight. →

    John Summers, editor of The Baffler, has put together a collection Dwight Macdonald’s best essays for our original book, Masscult and Midcult. Tonight, he’ll be discussing Macdonald and his legacy at McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho.

  10. “In some literary circles, James Agee now excites the kind of emotion James Dean does in some nonliterary circles.”

    — 

    Dwight Macdonald in the essay “James Agee,” originally published in The New Yorker, November 16, 1957 and collected in the forthcoming book, Masscult and Midcult.

    Autre temps, autre moeurs