Place of Asylum

The theater is dead, the novel dying, poetry extinct; biography is the province of graveyard ghouls, and history a battleground on which disheveled armies of academic theorists contend with hucksters and prostitutes for the fate of an entire civilization. These conclusions of a temperate man in a good humor pretty much sum up the business of literature in our time, an age that cannot decide between the merits of John Irving and Tama Janowitz—our own Dickens and Thackeray—and chooses to elevate Prof Bloom to the status of reigning Jeremiah. There are exceptions, good writers writing good books, but it is hard to escape the conviction that they are as irrelevant to the times as Dante and Thucydides; which is to say that they are highly relevant but largely ignored.

One review editor of our acquaintance sighs periodically over his monthly pile of publishers' catalogs. The author of Ecclesiastes probably knew of no more than a few hundred books, but the thought overwhelmed him with weariness of the spirit. He was unlucky enough to live before the New York Review of Books, whose exhausting actual reviews have made the reading of books obsolete. Of course the real purpose of all review journals has been to displace writers with critics, and this was true even in the days of the Edinburgh Review, when both authors and critics were veritable giants.

The causes of so much literary...

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