Kazin and Caligula?

"Our literature is infested with a swarm of just such little people as this—creatures who succeed in creating for themselves an absolutely positive reputation, by mere dint of the continuity and perpetuality of their appeals to the public."
—E.A. Poe

In our age the business of literature has become as stale and well-organized as the reports, memoranda, and self-help books that comprise the literature of business. The days have long since past, when book-reading publishers hired learned editors to put out magazines like The Nation and The Atlantic or solicit original books for Scribner's or Little, Brown. In our time vast conglomerates hire division managers to supervise publishing operations and promote the latest efforts of the Collins sisters. If they are looking for "quality," they end up hiring a menagerie of schemers and poetasters who combine the literary taste of Alfred Kazin with the integrity of Gordon Lish.

Writers who make a living by running down the age they happen to live in—"the idiot who praises in enthusiastic tones every century but this and every country but his own"—have offered a variety of reasons for the decadence of our national literature. The usual suspects include the democratization of taste, the tendency of the marketplace to vulgarize everything it touches, the international...

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